Or why these underdogs are worth a shot
On the web, one can regularly stumble upon debates on the best Silent Hill title. The general consensus being that the third is extremely good but the second is comparable to that of the Mona Lisa, in the gaming community. In addition, usually it is also noted that the re-imagining of the original, titled Shattered Memories is also an excellent game.
The second iteration seems to be the most loved, not only in regards to the franchise but for many, it is the best game of all time. The majority of the fans of the series also believe that it all went downhill after the third installment, with only vaguely decent spin-off’s or remakes having any sort of merit for the average Silent Hill fan. For a short period however, there was hope of a new fresh start for the series, aptly titled Silent Hills, which ultimately was canned by the publisher. There are of course legitimate reasons why the latter installments aren’t so highly regarded but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad games. Thus, this post is going to center around some of the underdogs of this now-classic horror franchise.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
The Room took more of a Japanese-themed approach in regards to the horror. Clear “Ringu” and “The Grudge” inspiration can be seen all over the game, from the overall plot to the enemies. The protagonist even goes through a hole in his bathroom wall that is strikingly similar to that of the iconic well from The Ring movies. Graphically, it was the pinnacle of what the sixth generation of consoles were capable of running. Character models were very beautiful for the time and the environment looked quite a bit better than the, at times pre-rendered areas of SH3. Maybe the back-tracking (a staple of 90’s survival-horror) was considered tedious because of… well, because it was back-tracking – but I found it to be a great homage to the earlier days of survival-horror, which was quite intuitively integrated, so as not to feel too much like a chore. Basically, if you don’t mind that kind of mechanic in games like Bioshock: Infinitive, then You probably won’t mind it in this game.
Now while the plot is quite interesting, with the protagonist being locked in an apartment and entering Silent Hill through a portal in his bathroom to following a monstrous lunatic, who kills seemingly innocent people, the main character felt quite lacking in basic emotions. Henry seemed to be quite calm and even passive, considering the predicament he was in. While I did get a sense of claustrophobia early on, it dissipated quickly when the playable character is disturbingly docile about the whole thing. But then again, if they were going for this super-shy introvert, they definitely nailed it. When it comes to the rest of the cast, I am pleased. The antagonist and female support especially stand out, maybe even more so than the protagonist, and the game feels to be just the right length.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
(Also known as Silent Hill 5/Silent Hill V) is probably the most technically broken (at least the PC version), if you don’t count the Silent Hill HD Collection released for the home consoles. The random crashes, missing-stuttering audio and graphical glitches, to name a few, ran rampant. Hopefully, the digital releases currently available have fixed the majority of such issues but back at launch, they were serious concerns that rendered the game virtually unplayable. Again, talking about the PC version, though I’ve heard the console releases weren’t a whole lot better off. Oddly enough, I can’t remember it being a big issue among the gaming community. This was probably due to the fact that it was revealed early on that it would be the first game in the series not to be developed by Team Silent – the developers of the prior Silent Hill games. This might explain why many fans of the series skipped this iteration.
The selling point here is without a doubt the cast. Main character Alex was one of the very few gaming protagonist, at the time, whose outcome and journey I sincerely cared about. The plot evolves around a war veteran returning home to find his younger brother missing and follows him on his trials to find baby bro, all the while battling the monsters from Silent Hill, which is situated straight across a lake from Shepard’s Glen, the almost deserted town where most of the game takes place. Mostly the dialogues feels life-like and realistic. The text was kept light, with pauses played out expertly. Often their expressions and body movements of the supporting cast hinted at something more than they were letting on. One could definitely feel a Lynch vibe in the games tone. Gameplay-wise it was quite a chore when in combat and the side-quests were lacking, but the Jacobs Ladder influenced nightmarish segments and the final act plot-twist were the things that drove the experience home and ultimately left me satisfied even after all the uncomfortable bits I had to endure while going through this overall exciting and scary adventure.
Silent Hill: Downpour
This one was again created by a third-party developer, this time by Europeans (SH:H being made by the Americans). The PC release was skipped, which probably made sense, considering how lousy a job was done with Homecoming’s port. One of the biggest overall drawbacks of this title is that it goes too much the way of the modern Resident Evil, being more action than survival and more jump scare than legitimate horror. Stylistically, the visuals seem weaker at times than its 2008 predecessor and they even managed to dumb down the combat, which makes it all the more confusing, as it has a much larger emphasis this time around. The strong-suites are again the story and most importantly the puzzles, being probably the best in the series, but while excelling in quality, they are lacking in quantity. Another thing that has seemed to improve over the years in the Silent Hill games is the voice-acting which is above-average for the most part. The lead is believable and the rest of the cast don’t feel out-of-place either. Overall, the title is more similar to Homecoming than to its earlier entries. The morality system makes a similar return and I’d say Murphy is somewhat similar to Alex – though maybe a bit more talkative.
As stated earlier, side-quests (i.e. puzzles) do have more value to them this time around, being the highlights of the game, while also giving some background on the events leading up to the plot. Another prominent staple from the series, the Other World, has taken a cue from the expertly made and surprisingly successful Shattered Memories, where pretty much all you had to do is escape. That being, running away from whatever is chasing you. So again, if you can stomach the weak combat, the whole thing is not half bad.
Like Resident Evil’s later installments, so too are the latter games of this franchise often criticized for drifting away from their core formulas and while some of those points are valid, I find the overall evolution of such games to be natural and axiomatic. Tank controls, fixed camera angles and convoluted puzzles were once a staple, in order to be considered as a survival-horror game. However, many of these mechanics used back in the day seemed to be incorporated more out of necessity, brewing from hardware and thus, software limitations of that time, opposed to anything else really. So it’s no wonder such games are nowadays more action-oriented, though I think one shouldn’t hold it against them. Games evolve, sometimes not for the better but maybe if we were to look at a single game in and of itself and not judge it based on what its previous iterations were doing years ago, then we might find something worth checking out at least and I suppose to an extent, that’s the point of this blog: to point to games that aren’t necessarily considered great and maybe often times are outright panned for some queer reasons. But, if we focus more on what a game does right, than what it does wrong, then in the end, we may (and probably will) be left with a welcoming experience.