Amid the glut of video game horror franchises like Resident Evil and Dead Space, Silent Hill holds a unique place in the minds of gamers. While Resident Evil gained notoriety for its multitude of dragging zombies and its frequent indulgence in the schlocky excesses of B-movies, Silent Hill has cultivated a representation as a more atmospheric and authoritative horror genre.
The first Silent Hill was inspired by “The Mist” by Stephen King, in which a strange fog penetrates a small town in Maine and wreaks havoc on its inhabitants. The odd location meant Silent Hill could construct his own distinct sense of setting, tying his terror to a geographic location. While the fog is well known for being a way to hide the PS1’s insufficient drawing distance, it also gave the game a distinct feel and a deep, inescapable visual representation of the unknown. You see the fog and you know something is hiding inside.
Beyond this clearly ominous setting, Silent Hill also had a different and more refined take on his horror. The Silent Hill stories plunged headlong into complex emotional tales of death and loss. The first game established that mix of external goosebumps and internal struggle, like in this climactic cutscene that mixes grotesque horror with genuine sadness and an air of tragedy.
This cutscene also represents something fascinating about the Silent Hill games: their mix of video game storytelling modes. While Silent Hill didn’t invent this mix of visual mediums in the cutscenes, he might have done the best. The shift in in-game dialogue between PS1 graphical polygonal models to pre-rendered cutscenes is impossible to predict and keeps players on their toes. Anything can happen in this strange city, and the way we explore the world, the graphic fidelity through which we perceive it is also subject to change.
The enemies of Silent Hill were also more distinct than mere zombies or monsters. The lack of concrete answers and the lingering unreality in most of the Silent Hill games made the weird creatures stalking you more like something that was specifically happening to you, summoned from the dredges of the protagonist’s mind.
Silent Hill 2 exemplifies these narrative forces and is often considered the highlight of the franchise. In James Sunderland’s journey to this quiet town to find his lost wife, players went through a complex story of grief, one main character they couldn’t tell if they could trust, other equally memorable characters by their charm and their vices, and of course, the monster mascot of the series, Pyramid Head.
The success of Silent Hill 2 is well documented, but it also cannot be overstated. Its blend of heartfelt storytelling, quirky characters and environments, and pervasive atmosphere lodged itself in gamers’ minds as a defining moment in video game horror.
While subsequent games lost some of the emotional integrity of Silent Hill 3’s James Sunderland and Heather and focused on trying to mimic the weird vibes of the early series, as well as returning to the evil cult plot. More specifically, the strength of Silent Hill’s initial success made it seem like no hiccup in the franchise could dampen its cultural reverence.
Of course, the yields must have started declining at some point, although the exact moment was actually a bit difficult to pin down. Silent Hill 4: The Room has its defenders, and even the previous title Silent Hill: Origins had a strong atmosphere despite its efforts to tie into some kind of established and clear lore (a weakness of the franchise). The last suitable Silent Hill game, 2012’s Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the Vita, was an isometric dungeon robot that completely lacked the essentials of what made previous games so effective.
As for the more recent news regarding Silent Hill, we go back to the PT debacle. Metal Gear Solid’s Hideo Kojima, movie star Norman Reedus and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro were working on a new version of the series, tentatively titled Silent Hills, and released the famous ‘playable teaser’ (PT) in 2014. However, When the working relationship between Kojima and Konami deteriorated, Silent Hills got the ax and PT was controversially removed from the PlayStation Store so that no one else could ever play it. At least Kojima, Reedus, and del Toro all got to hang around while working on Death Stranding.
Konami effectively martyred Silent Hill when Silent Hills was canceled. Whatever this game might have been, good or bad, was made purely speculative, meaning it could have been what fans thought it would be. Now it’s been nine years since Book of Memories and seven years since PT, and all Konami has done with the Silent Hill IP is license “official” pachinko machines. For now, it seems that this strange city has completely vanished into the haze.
The biggest thing Silent Hill has going for him these days is, ironically, the fact that there hasn’t been anything new in years. For pro wrestling fans, he’s the CM Punk of survival horror – we love him because it’s gone, and we’re free to project whatever we want on it because it looks like it doesn’t. will never, ever come back (or at least he was until he came back and ruins the analogy).
A recent article on VGC alleges that Konami intends to revive Silent Hill, with other defunct Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania franchises in the near future. If (and let’s be honest, it’s still a big if) this does happen, the new Silent Hill will have to directly challenge fans’ insurmountable preconceptions of what a Silent Hill is meant to be in the modern age, and fans will have to adapt their fantastic versions with whatever reality throws at them.
As long as fans continue to go without a new Silent Hill game, the power that its previous games hold in their memories will only grow. At the moment, Silent Hill exists mainly in the minds of its fans, and the influence of its past continues to spread like an eerie shadow over the landscape of modern horror gaming. Silent Hill has no body in the present, but its presence is everywhere. It is now, in many ways, a ghost itself.
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