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    Silent Hill Review (PSX)

    by Bernie Schmalzried

    The horror.  The horror.  That best sums up Konamiís first attempt at the survival horror genre and I donít mean it in a bad way.  Silent Hill brings the survival horror genre to a new level, as you are totally immersed in a world that is as familiar as it is terrifying.  Before I precede any further into my review, Iíd like to state that making the comparison between Resident Evil and Silent Hill is not the most intelligent way to go.  You see, while the Resident Evil series relies significantly more on action than fear, Silent Hill is quite the opposite as confrontations take a back seat to the suspense and terror that make for what I consider to be a masterpiece in video game design.  Donít get me wrong, I love the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill just does such a great job of building up tension that it seems more like a well-written Stephen King novel than a mere game.  But can all of these great elements make a game playable?

    STORY

    Silent Hill centers around Harry Mason, whose car swerved out of control on fateful night, cause him to lose consciousness on impact.  He wakes up to find that his daughter, Cheryl, who had been riding next to him is no longer there.  His daughter is, unfortunately, all he has to live for since his wife died of a mysterious disease, and he is not about to lose her!  He heads off in the direction of her footprints leading into the resort town of Silent Hill, trying to shrug off the notion that it is unseasonably cold, especially for it to be snowing. 

     Now, Harry isnít your normal hero.  Heís not running into this town eager to tare up any God-forsaken creature he encounters, heís cautious, like any normal person would be in a seemingly deserted town.  Heís also not a weapons expert, which is evident when you first receive a gun.  You must have a very clean and concentrated shot to make contact.  Harry Mason is just an average guy who wants to find his kid.

    GAMEPLAY

    as the above would suggest, gameplay is very realistic.  You can find it easier to relate with Harry since he is a normal guy without any extensive training to handle what he must encounter (I know I say this a lot, but itís a point I feel is worth emphasizing as it is rare for a video game hero to have such average qualities).  Forget about picking off the beasts of Hell from afar, if youíre not at least 5 feet away from your target you will most likely miss it.  I also find it amazing the way that you become Harry, and react to the situation the way he probably would.

     One of the things that make Silent Hill so utterly frightening is that it plays on your connection with Harry as a normal guy to involve you in whatever is going on.  Never before has a game allowed you to become the main character so completely.  Your nerve ending begin to tingle as you follow a mysterious figure resembling your daughter down a narrow alley, passing an overturned wheelchair as the sky becomes very dark, very quickly.  When I experienced this particular part I began to say to myself ďItís only a gameĒ over and over again.  I was literally shaking with fear by the time this sequence was over.  I had to save and take a breather to digest what had just happened.  Now thatís quality game design.

     What also adds to the gameplay is an intriguing mystery surrounds the town.  You donít know what the hell is going on, but you gain more clues as you continue your search for your daughter, which takes you all over Silent Hill.  Thatís the WHOLE town.  Not just one building.  You are free to roam about the town as you please.

    One thing this game has in common with Resident Evil is: Thatís right...PUZZLES!  Wait!  Donít click off of this review yet!  The puzzles are not all that difficult as they are pretty straight forward, but are still very intelligent and well thought out.  Since you can carry many items at a time (far more than in RE) you donít need to run back and forth so much to drop important items in a trunk, only to run all the way back to get it again.  There are a quite a few riddle puzzles, which can be trying, but rewarding to figure out.  I recommend writing some of them down to analyze them and figure out their exact meanings. 

     Now, on to the monstersí AI!  The monsters are surprisingly smart, for monsters.  The faster monsters will attack you quickly, and if they take damage they will run out of view only to attack from behind.  Some are attracted to light and are more likely to attack you when you have a flashlight on, but if you keep the light off you can only hear what is right next to you.  Sometimes the enemy that is unseen is the most frightening.  This is especially true when inside the elementary school building you hear a faint squeaking noise, and see what appears to be the spectral outline of a small child.  

     All of Silent Hill is not action, however.  Oh, there is monster smacking aplenty as you use weapons ranging from a lead pipe to a handgun to fend off the hordes.  Sometimes avoiding a confrontation is more beneficial then just cracking some skulls with a big metal pipe, though. 

     For a game played from an ďinferiorĒ CD (*cough* N64 lovers *cough*) Silent Hill rarely has to load, and when it does itís very brief.  Even when switching to a new track on the CD, the music loads seamlessly without any pauses at all.

     Although the control may seem awkward to at first because of its slightly slower response time than most action games, it actually feels quite natural as you character can perform numerous useful maneuvers such as a 180-degree turn, sidestepping, and walking with your gun drawn.  These control elements add great depth to the game as you have a wide variety of movements rather than the ever-popular point and shoot. 

    SOUND

    Few games have sound that can claim to have as much influence on the game than in Silent Hill.  First of all, Silent Hill boasts an incredibly ambient soundtrack, adding atmosphere and suspense as the music suddenly changes to fit what is happening.  During these changes there is no pause for loading, the track simply fades out as the new one begins which is the result of some brilliant programming. 

     Ambient sounds are used throughout the game, be it the shuffling sound of a skinless dog or the crying of an unseen girl in the deserted hall of a vacant elementary school.  My favorite use of ambient sound is the sound of your radio when you are nears a monste.  Early in the game you will pick up an apparently broken and useless radio, only to find out that static it picks up occasionally warns of a nearby demon.  Sometimes the radio is the only way to tell if there is something lurking beyond the darkness.

    GRAPHICS

    Graphics are Silent Hillís only flaw.  In order to maintain a decent frame rate the resolution is low enough to produce obvious graininess.  I feel that the graininess adds somewhat to the broken down and eerie feeling of the game, but those who wonít go near a game unless it is the newest AGP, accelerated, alpha blended, 100 fps version of Quake may not feel comfortable with the graphics.  The graphics donít hurt the gameplay, however, and a game that can still by enjoyable after its graphics become obsolete is truly a classic.  Plus the graphics still manage to be as detailed as technologically possible to make up for the low resolution. 

     Graphically, the game does have its up side.  The falling snowflakes, the light sourcing on your handheld flashlight, the ambient fog, and the real-time generated camera angles and backgrounds.  Thatís right, real-time!  Unlike RE, Silent Hill is totally rendered in real-time and it works very well.  The dramatic camera angles also add immensely to the game.     

    Hmm. Almost forgot about the enemy design.  The monsters encountered range from small, zombie-like freaks, to the larger and more threatening beasts, which would just take too long to describe.  High levels of detail can be seen on the enemies in both their outward appearance and animations.  Enemy motions are very smooth and realistic (that is to say they move like I think they would move if they actually existed) From the skinless dogs to the shambling freaks; the enemies are as creative and lifelike as they are scary as hell. 

    THE VERDICT

    Excellent gameplay, terrific sound, and outstanding control and realism, and an intriguing storyline come together to deliver the best horror game out there.  Whether you are wandering the deserted streets of Silent Hill or kicking a monster to make sure itís dead, you are drawn into every aspect of the game.  With several different ending and a slew of side areas to explore you will be playing this game for quite a while.  Buy this game now, and a few pairs of fresh underwear in case you plan on playing at night.
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