Saturday, June 28, 2014

Silent Hill

Yeah, I don't know what it is, I just felt like playing Silent Hill all of a sudden.  So I bought it. And a Playstation 1. As child, I played video games at other people's houses until I bought the Playstation 2. I would often play on my cousin's SNES. Anyway, I started playing Silent Hill and I could definitely see why it was a very popular game.

It all starts as protagonist Harry Mason crashes his car to avoid a ghostly child in the middle of the street. So far so good. He wakes up a short while later to discover that his 7-year-old daughter, Cheryl, is missing. You walk out into the street and see her, chasing her into a dark, bloody, spooky alley. Now, of course if I had a daughter I would attempt to find and rescue her at all costs, but if she leads me into an alley littered with corpses and a slowly-moving wheelchair she is so on her own.

Harry eventually finds his daughter's notebook, which suggests that she went to the local elementary school. Now, at this point I was thinking "Are you kidding me, an elementary school? Why don't you just make me go to a hospital and a fucking amusement park, too?" Oh, and then you get attacked by creepy skinless gray zombies and you run away but eventually you find a dead end and they corner you and... you wake up a short while later in a diner, rescued by a cop named Cybil Bennett (who also has no idea what's happening). She agrees to help you and together, the two protagonists come up with a great plan: split up. Yeah, split up. Seeing as how they shouldn't have survived this long in general, they're completely screwed in Silent Hill.

Unfortunately, this pair always splits up when there's trouble. Have to erase two extremely dangerous demonic markings? Split up. Found a secret demon shrine? Accidentally split up. If a toilet got clogged in Silent Hill, they would split up. That being said, I'm going to cover something that actually pisses me off: the controls. This game does not handle well. When you move, you can only move forward and backward. If you want to turn, you have to jam the analog stick in the desired direction until Harry is at the needed angle, and then you press forward or backward. I mean, I guess I understand the need; in games like that, with a beautiful mixture of cramped, close-quarters indoor areas and a spacious outdoors, spacial recognition is important. You're going to be more terrified and challenged if it takes a while to navigate a small, zombie-infested classroom or ditch that pesky pterodactyl monster. Also, the hallways are pretty narrow, so it would take very little time to get from place to place, but it's so annoying. I got used to it after a while, but it never stopped costing me some health every once in a while, and sharp turns are always a bitch when it's literally impossible to make a 90º turn without stopping and standing like an idiot for a second. If only Harry can communicate with the demons, he might say, "Whoa, guys, give me a second to make a right turn real quick, this isn't fair."

Also, the bumpers make Harry take exactly one step in the desired direction, with about a half-second recovery. I don't know when you would ever need that unless one of the skinless child-demons challenged you to a dance-off. I guess it's supposed to be a dodge, but I feel like the enemies are too fast or the space is too small depending on where you are. Or it could just be my idiocy, that's a definite possibility. What I love, though, is how you're just an average guy. You get more badass as you go along, but Harry Mason is just a middle-aged writer with some guns and a kick-ass emergency hammer (the best melee weapon by far, and everyone who thinks the axe is better should stop playing on easy). Because of this, you have marginally worse accuracy the farther you are from the target, and shooting in darkness is hell. This makes the game terrifying, and add in the fog that constantly surrounds you when you're on the streets as well as the fact that your radio emits static and then crackles whenever enemies are near, and you will always have a death-grip on the controller.

To be honest, I was pretty skeptical at first, partly because all the voices are recorded one line at a time, so the voice acting can sometimes be pretty bad, and it wasn't that scary when I was only facing pterodactyls and skinless dogs.

The stuff of nightmares?

At one point, you have to cross through some guy's house to make it to the school. It's foggy daytime when you enter through the front, but when you exit out the backyard, it's pitch black night. You survive by the light of your pocket flashlight, and that is when I got hooked, when I actually started bracing myself at the slightest sound. And then there's the school.

It was about eleven p.m. when I got to the school. I was already on edge because I had walked there in the goddam night, and then I went into the school courtyard and saw this:

The stuff of fucking nightmares.
And this is verbatim what I said as I threw the controller: "Shit no stop I was not ready for this stop I can't, I'm sorry, I can't right now screw this I can't," and then I turned it off and went to bed. The whole school is like this, and just to top it off, there are two dimensions to Silent Hill: the normal, foggy dimension which is scary enough as is, and a dimension called "The Otherworld," where the floor turns into bronze grates and the walls are also bronze but covered with blood and things are about a thousand times more terrifying.

The whole game is basically running around Silent Hill, solving puzzles and killing/running from enemies, trying to find your daughter while interacting with a few remaining humans and figuring out why Silent Hill's new motto is, straight from the game, "Welcome to Hell." Such safe and fun destinations include the local hospital (and its Otherworld counterpart), the sewers, and an amusement park. I know it's cliché to say this, but can I please just be sent to fight a giant mutant lizard in a brightly-lit airport or grocery store? One bone I have to pick, however, is the fact that in order to get the better endings (there are four total) you have to do totally random and unrelated side quests. I got the bad+ ending, which sucked balls, but then I played again with a walkthrough and got the best ending. It's very satisfying, I suggest looking up how to get the best ending beforehand, because I got really upset when I finished the game the first time. Also, for a Playstation game, the storyline is very rich and intriguing, with a pretty disturbing history. The only problem is that it's practically impossible to unearth the details, they're hidden pretty deep. I suggest using, it's well-written and very helpful.

Returning to the characters/dialogue thing, even though the voice acting leaves a bit to be desired, the characters are actually very fun. Even evil characters have some redeeming qualities, and I'll be damned if I didn't vocally cheer Harry on every step of the way, because his habit of interrogating people about his daughter's location along with his sympathy and no fear of doing what needs to be done to survive makes for a very lovable character, and I would have been very disappointed at seeing him die. Cybil was a softhearted hard-ass, the best kind of hard-ass, and I always breathed a sigh of relief whenever she showed up, even though I knew deep in my heart that the time to split up again was inevitable. The crazy Dahlia Gillespie, rude Dr. Kaufman, and sweet nurse Lisa are all good characters, and seeing how they all fit into the puzzle that is Silent Hill is always rewarding. And last but not least, and I don't know how I've neglected to mention her, the ghost-like girl Alessa, of whom you constantly have dreams and visions. The game has a lot to do with her and her connection to Cheryl. Oh, and as a bonus, I listed all these people without even having to look up the names, that's how memorable they are.

As long as you can get past the controls and don't mind being confused and scared, it's great. I love games with a plot, with soul, but I also pay a lot of attention to how the game handles and I still loved it. Some camera angles are a little annoying, but there are also some really quality ones (there are usually good shots in winding alleys), and there are lots of little details that make the atmosphere much more effective. This game also has very short and well-animated cutscenes every once in a while that, while not adding too much to the game, I thought were very cool. Overall, I'd easily recommend this game to most friends, and as long as you can appreciate the older stuff, this is easily one of the better horror-adventure games.

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