Silent Hill

Year: 1999
Platform: PlayStation
Developer: Konami
Genre: Horror
Rating: ****

Harry Mason and his seven year old daughter Cheryl are going on vacation to visit the sleepy little resort town of Silent Hill. On the way there, a figure steps in front of Harry's car and he swerves off the road to avoid hitting her. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself in Silent Hill and his daughter is missing. But this isn't the Silent Hill he remembered... The town is deserted and enshrouded in an inpenetrable fog. Natural disasters appear to have blocked all ways in and out of the town, and strange creatures roam the streets. And then things start to get REALLY weird. Will Harry be able to find his daughter, or will the darkness consume them both?

This landmark game takes the "Resident Evil" survival horror genre one step further by providing a truly 3D environment and a story that's a psychological nightmare. Sure, the RE games are scary and suspenseful, but "Silent Hill" is downright disturbing. It's survival horror for the more intellectual crowd, and there's a lot less emphasis placed on action and fighting. The atmosphere alone is enough to give you the creeps, and you can never see more than about ten feet in front of you. The dramatic camera angles and spooky music add to the tension, and scary sound effects are perfectly utilized to scare the wits out of you. I don't know how many times I nearly wet myself after checking out a room and then having someone throw a rock at the window as soon as I turned my back. The story is challenging to follow, although it seems much more coherent than "Silent Hill 2" (2001). There's a history of bizarre religious cults in town and the town even has a drug trafficking problem. Could these factors be responsible for what's going on? As the game progresses, reality distorts more and more, but Harry doesn't appear to be losing his mind. It seems that he's being played as a pawn in some sort of twisted game, or maybe he's just a figment of someone's imagination. Unfortunately, the game doesn't provide any answers - it's vague and confusing on purpose, and challenges the player to come up with their own conclusions (very typical of Japanese horror).

The gameplay is good and the controls are responsive. The level design is excellent, and the creepy town of Silent Hill is wonderfully rendered. The game offers some replay value by having several difficulty levels and five possible endings based on your actions. Fortunately, the "easy" setting is just about my speed, since my biggest complaint about the RE games is that they're too damn hard. Even so, I did have to resort to a walkthrough about half a dozen times because clues were too obscure or misleading. Scratch marks on the floor? Never saw 'em... (I recall having the same problem in "Shenmue") For the most part, the logic puzzles in the game are of the "write them down on a piece of paper and figure them out later" breed, and are fairly straight forward. However, some of them are extremely unintuitive (the camera puzzle), counterintuitive (the zodiac puzzle), or even impossible to figure out (the Grim Reaper password) without some sort of guide. Either that or I'm just really stupid (which could certainly be the case). Definitely a scary and highly enjoyable outing that will make you think twice before turning off the lights.