|If you are like me, you find the interim between
Resident Evil 2 and the next real installment of the series more than a little annoying.
No film, no "Director's Cut," no special edition version of the game is really
going to satisfy my thirst for cinematic horror gaming. Fortunately, there's something
positive about the lag. Capcom left the door wide open for the genre, and companies like
Konami have not failed to notice the dramatic success of the Resident Evil series.
Silent Hill is a good rival for Resident Evil, but falls short of topping the benchmark. The play is almost identical to Resident Evil. The major difference between the games is plot. While the Resident Evil series is more of a straightforward zombie flick, Silent Hill has the feel of Clive Barker or Stephen King. Other than that, the control, graphics, puzzles and general feel are almost exactly the same. Unfortunately, Silent Hill falls just short of Resident Evil in quality and length. This makes Silent Hill a truly great two-day rental, sure to provide an intense day and night of gaming, but a disappointing purchase.
In Silent Hill you play Harry Mason, the terminally underwhelmed. Harry takes everything with the same monotonous calm. He is driving to Silent Hill for a summer vacation with his young daughter, Cheryl, when a mysterious figure appears on the road ahead of him. He swerves, lands his SUV in a ditch, and when he regains consciousness Cheryl is nowhere to be seen. Harry sets off into town to find his daughter, and that is where the game begins. Early on Harry encounters a group of zombie-like kids with big knives and is again knocked out. He comes to in a café being tended by a cop named Cybil Bennet. She gives him a gun, and he continues to explore the city, encountering undead dogs and flying monster things. Eventually he makes his way around the broken streets to an elementary school inhabited by more zombie kids. In the school, Harry enters the alternate dimension that is swallowing Silent Hill.
Harry leaves the school and has more adventures, but the above description takes you near the midway point, which is the biggest problem with Silent Hill. There is no way around how incredibly short this game is. Resident Evil is short, sure, but Silent Hill is shorter.
Despite the brevity of the game, it was a great play. Mainly Harry runs around collecting keys, solving mildly difficult puzzles, beating up monster-mutant-things, and breathing hard. While not anywhere near an original concept for a game, Silent Hill has a certain quirkiness that I'm sure will appeal greatly to a certain audience.
The voices in Silent Hill are horrible. I feel bad pointing it out, because I'm sure they are the voices of some poor programmers who never thought they'd be required to perform vocally, but they are annoyingly bad. Harry lacks any kind of emotion at all in his voice. Lisa, a nurse you meet along the way, is a whimpering fool who seems to be on a delayed feed.
Despite the performance flaws in the game, I found that Harry had a certain endearing quality. He's completely out of shape. Sure, he looks all svelte and cool in the FMVs, but he works up a pant after the slightest jog. He's also not a killing machine. He does much better with a club than a gun, and the game emphasizes that by separating enemies shot from enemies clubbed to death in the final score. And Harry can kick it. He delivers the final blow to many of his enemies with a boot to the head or chest area.
Silent Hill is also a very "ambient" game. Rather than spooking you with things jumping out as in Resident Evil, Silent Hill focuses on creating truly creepy settings. The Midwich Elementary School (one of the game's many references to horror literature, film, and games) is weird enough in the normal dimension: zombie children with knives and bloodstains everywhere. But in the alternate dimension, the school is downright twisted. The walls are replaced with chain link, revealing dead bodies strung up by chains; there is a skinned body hanging in the last stall in the little boys' room, and chains and rusty metal line the walls and ceilings.
Silent Hill also has a sense of humor. You travel down streets named Bachman, Bloch and Bradbury. In the Motel office is a girly magazine, and an explicit poster hanging on the wall. Little touches like these leave me wondering exactly what the creators of Silent Hill were going for. For the most part the game takes itself quite seriously, which weakens a reading of the game as any kind of commentary on the state of horror or horror gaming. Certain elements are obviously lifted directly from contemporary horror. The look of the game is decidedly Barker, and the concept bears more than a slight resemblance to any number of horror movies based on towns going wacky. The whole reason Silent Hill is in such a mess is because the founding cult is taking revenge on seaside tourism developers. Wait a minute, maybe it is all a big joke
Either way, I wholeheartedly recommend that you go directly to the video store and rent Silent Hill. If your friend bought it, he'll be done with it soon, so borrow it, and don't let him get all bitter because he got ripped off. If you bought it, loan it to a friend, because you aren't going to want to replay it, and next time wait for the review. In a way Silent Hill is doing you a favor. You can spend three bucks to rent it and save the other $47 for the new Resident Evil.