The Iconic sign as you enter the small town of Silent Hill is now one of the most foreboding and troublesome town limit signs as you’re ever going to see. But it wasn’t always so, back in 1999 when the original Silent Hill was released, little did we know just what kind of disturbing imagery we would see held within the confines of this disc. These days, of course, we see this particular road sign as a measure of a set of (mostly) great games and can look forward to seeing the set of monsters and abominations held within the town in the way that one might look forward to seeing a dear old friend.
Rewind all the way back to 1999 to find an 20 year old me who was only really about 3 or 4 years into proper horror fandom and I was consuming (appropriately enough) all things horror. Classic movie franchises were being binge watched on an almost nightly basis and classic Stephen King books were being read cover to cover. The only thing that was really missing from my horror vaults were video games, I’d never really played any games that could really call themselves horror. It was probably my own hardware choices as I’d had an Amstrad CPC 464 for many years and clearly attempts at horror on that particular computer were always going to be limited (see my Green Screen of Horror article for proof of this!). Then I had a Megadrive (Genesis for any US readers) which, again didn’t really have many horror titles and I couldn’t get hold of Splatterhouse 2 at the time so couldn’t even see that one! It wasn’t until I received a Playstation for Christmas of 1999 that I had access to what was considered to be more realistic games. I had briefly experienced Resident Evil 2 by this point and had to admit that some bits of it had made me jump which I thought was just great as I hadn’t seen a video game that could do that to me up to that point.
Upon playing Silent Hill though, it was apparent that this was an entirely different kettle of fish. The introduction to the game set the tone immediately and you knew it wasn’t just a case of a guy that had lost his daughter and had to go find her…I mean, it IS that but you knew there was something more to it, you could almost smell the air of mystery emanating from its very code and the first 30 minutes or so of gameplay did nothing to dispel that feeling as the story builds layer upon layer, minute by minute as you wonder just what the hell is actually going on.
So, you start the game chasing after your daughter and as your character, Harry Mason runs and shouts after her, it seemingly has no effect on making her stop and come back to you and she continues to run into the ever thickening fog until you lose sight of her altogether. It’s probably only at this point that you really stop and take stock of your surroundings, the town you’re in seems abandoned and empty. The fog never shows any signs of lifting and it’s snowing…or is it ash? I don’t think we ever really find this one out but it’s one of the things in the game that can be left to your imagination as you decide which is scarier? Snow falling or ashes raining down from the sky for no real reason.
The fog itself is great at contributing to the spooky atmosphere of the game but also actually serves another purpose which has probably been fairly well documented up to this point. Due to the technical restrictions of the original PlayStation and the fact that Silent Hill has a full 3D town as the centre piece of the game as well as more detailed versions of that towns location, the fog was implemented as a way of disguising the buildings just popping up out of nowhere in the game as the game struggled to keep up with the characters progress. The addition of the fog however meant that the building pop ups made much more sense as this kind of would happen in thick fog in real life as you went along. For something actually meant to hide a bit of a glitch with the game it really adds to the game more than the developers could have possibly hoped for.
The monsters also make an appearance pretty early on, the winged demons of hell chase you around all over the place and it’s not until you manage to pick up a gun that you can really sucessfully start to fend these bad boys off. Although I do seem to remember back in the day that if you had the lead pipe you could use this quite effectively if you could time it well enough – alas that particular skill seems to have eluded me now as I play through whilst just into my fourth decade on the planet. Then, if the demons weren’t bad enough, there’s the dogs! Those mother jeffing dogs are the bane of your existence in the first part of the game as they jump at you, tearing and ripping at you with their teeth, draining you of your life force and forcing you to hunt for the first aid medicines that will restore you to at least a portion of what you were before.
As you progress through the game the puzzles are used in order for to progress to new areas or for your character to find out more information on the whereabouts of Harry’s daughter – you remember her? The little girl who never stops running? Who has more stamina than Mo Farah?! As you track her and meet some of the game’s other characters who are each more strange than the last the puzzles and area’s get more fiendish and disturbing and that’s what keeps you going with Silent Hill as you wonder just what else is going to be round the next corner or who on earth you’re next going to meet – it really is a wonderfully crafted game to keep you hanging on like that to see what might happen next, it’s almost how you might binge watch a Netflix series to give it a modern day comparison.
It’s when the air raid sirens sound when things start to get really weird and the lines between reality and nightmares become blurred and you’re not sure if what you are seeing is real or if Harry is stuck in some kind of nightmare sequence as you do see that from time to time during your play through. When the sirens go off, you get to see a hellish alternate version of the portion of the game that you’re playing through giving you access to new locations or giving you the answer to certain puzzles or access to items you might need to solve a puzzle elsewhere in the game. I won’t give away any plot points here as usual if you have never played Silent Hill before but rest assured that much of the more strange moments of an already weird game take place in these alternate sections.
I would like to take a moment to applaud the developers here for providing a relatively open world town for you to play in. These sorts of big sandbox adventures might be quite commonplace now but they weren’t in the days of the PS1 and producing such a big detailed town for us to play in was quite an achievement even with the necessity of the fog. Granted, the town isn’t inhabited by anything other than creatures for the most part but this must have been quite some achievement at the time.
All in all, if you haven’t played Silent Hill then I would urge you to do so, even in these days of ultra realistic graphics and the impending release of PS5 and the new Xbox there is still fun and frights to be had with Silent Hill – a great game remains a great game no matter how many years removed you are from it.