Welcome to Silent Hill

While I am currently working on marketing and planning for the launch of my Shadowolf novels, I am also busy with my first novel in the Silent Hill (SH) series. Since I received permission from Ster-Kinekor Entertainment, who owns the rights on behalf of Konami in South Africa, to write my own novel based on this popular franchise, I have been structuring my original plot to take place in this iconic town. There may be tie-ins to some of the games’ story-lines and monsters, and many of the landscapes and sites of the town from the games will definitely be found in the novel, but the main characters and their stories will be fresh.

This leads me to take a look back at my personal experience with the SH series and how it lead to writing my own novel. I’ve read many retrospective reviews on the series and films, some of which echo my own thoughts. However, in some cases my own opinion varies from the popular stance and in certain ways have influenced my other writing (which will be revealed later on). What follows below is not really a retrospective take on the series, as I don’t delve deep into elements such as the story-line and game mechanics, but rather I reveal how I felt about the game, together with my favourite and scariest moments ever. For a more in-depth retrospective, I quite enjoyed this Game Trailer‘s video which I also found featured in a New Age Gaming issue some years ago, and a more recent montage can be found here

**Please note that this article may contain spoilers for those who have not yet played any of these games**

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sh1

Like so many others, I will never forget my first experience with SH on the PlayStation 1: my sister and I in the 90’s, playing this new survival horror game that we at first rented a few times and then finally bought. My sister and I have a great love for horror to this very day, and we struggle to find any entertainment that still truly terrifies us with any lingering effects. SH was one of the first games that brought such a scary experience into our lives.

We only played at night, since playing during the day seemed to take the edge off the scare factor. We would put off movies or shows we had wanted to see just to get through the next chapter of Silent Hill. We didn’t want to rush it though; we played through a section and when we had been sufficiently scared through our wits or made it through another chapter in the story, we kept the rest for another night. I’m glad to say that this is one tradition that I have maintained through many of my first-time experiences in the series, and not rushing through it to attempt to “clock” the game in one night.

The first game surprised me in many ways. Not only did it actually manage to frighten me to the point of not wanting to go to the bathroom in the dark, but it killed me as the protagonist in the very first chapter before officially entering SH as we know it. It also had very intriguing puzzles that we loved trying to solve, not something I expected to find in a horror game. The story also manages to bring to your attention the story behind the town, behind the protagonist and his reason for being there, and the fascinating story behind Alessa – something that an author like myself can really appreciate.

Of course the most memorable aspects of this game that would become a keystone for the series was the fog and the change to the Otherworld. Ever since this game, I would grow to love any horror with fog or mist in it, such as the titular movies “The Fog” and “The Mist”. So too would grow my love for the church’s siren that sounded the change to and from the Otherworld. Whenever I hear that sound in real life, or while watching a movie, or hearing it in a song like Disturbed’s “Indestructible”, I would immediately get goosebumps with the hairs rising on the back of my neck… it is both an amazing and terrifying experience.

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250px-Silent_Hill_2

I had seen friends play a portion of SH 2 on the PlayStation 2 just after it was released, but I would not get my hands on it until 2014 when I obtained the Xbox 360 “Silent Hill HD remastered” edition that has SH 2 and 3 on it. By this time I had already seen the movie “Silent Hill” and played the remainder of the games in the series, so whatever experience I would have gained playing it immediately after the first game was already lost.

Be that as it may, I was still very excited to play the game. At first I was very irritated with the controls and character movement, but once I became accustomed to it I realised it added to the game’s experience. Only a few elements really stood out for me in this game, namely the appearance of Pyramid Head, the truly amazing visuals of the cut-scenes, and the reference to the Sullivan murders in a random article (more of this in SH 4).

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Sh3_boxart

Wow… a female protagonist… this was definitely something new and welcomed. It is also the last time I recall playing as a female character in the series, which hopefully will make a return one day (or a new system where you can choose who to play as, much like Resident Evil does). I played this one on my PlayStation 2 when it was released, and therefore was my next experience of the horrific town following SH 1.

One of the key aspects I immediately loved about this game was how you started where you would eventually end – at Lakeside Amusement Park. I sometimes enjoy this feature in movies and TV series, depending on how well it is done, and SH 3 pulled it off marvelously. This game terrified me even more than SH1, especially with the pink bunny that would find a home in the series. The most terrifying moment was in the Haunted Mansion of the Amusement Park, when the corpse drops from the ceiling. What follows in the house I’m sure was just as terrifying, but for some reason that moment is still ingrained in my memory. Another great moment includes the Mirror Room where everything fills with dark tendrils and you can almost not make it back to the door alive. I’ve read that this has to do with her eisoptrophobia, or fear of mirrors, just one of the indications of how the town plays on the fears of the protagonist to the point of paralysis.

I played the last few chapters through a stretch late into the morning. The plot towards the end really got me hooked to the point where I just could not put down the control, especially when I entered the church. When I finished the game at about 4am, I finally got some sleep and dreamt a very strange dream very much akin to the SH universe.  This dream became the foundation for the “Damned Souls Saga”, a 5-part book series I am busy with that will not form part of the SH series.

I must just add that I thought the movie “Silent Hill Revelations” which was adapted from this game was superb. No adaptation truly reflects the original story perfectly, but I feel that this movie came very close to being just that. The actress pulled off Heather extremely well and, although several key elements were missing from it, this movie will be one of my favourites to re-watch several times.

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 theroom

This one truly amazed me, not only in the game itself but by the reviews it received. I played this one intensely and is the first in the series that I played several times to get the many endings. The Room scared me beyond what any other SH has before and the effects still linger to this day – in fact, it may truly be the best in the series for me (I’m still deciding – spending nights on end bonding with my sister in the scare factor with SH 1 kinda still trumps the experience, but as a game on its own this is my favourite). And then I read the reviews and I started to wonder if everyone else was playing the same version I had.

To begin with, so many reviewers and critics have said that it is a standalone like SH 2 was and does not relate to any of the other games….  If you have read my SH 2 portion of the article, you will see I make reference to Walter Sullivan’s murders, which is a key focus of SH 4 and that you spend the core part of the game investigating. You even visit Walter Sullivan’s grave in SH 2, and find his body in SH 4. Frank Sunderland in SH 4, the Superintendent of the Heights, is in fact James Sunderland’s (SH 2) father. Perhaps they meant the plot is not quite as tied to the plot of SH 2 as SH 3 is to Sh 4, but for me this is definitely a following from SH 2, even if Walter’s murders were only mentioned on the side.

The second unfortunate part is that SH 4 received so many negative reviews. I loved every single chapter of this game, so much so that the theme of everything replaying over with major revelations occurring in the second part that were only hinted at in the first part is a theme that I am carrying over to the first book of my Damned Souls Saga, “Birth Rite”. I really felt the plot of SH 4 is just genius if you follow it very carefully, and has a mixture of crime scene investigation with survival horror. The fact that the room itself was an embodiment of Walter’s “mother” – epic in every way and so psychologically twisted it can only be described as brilliant. Those that know me well would say that this is the type of story that only I could come up with – which probably doesn’t say much for me, considering the negative reviews.

There are several aspects of The Room that will stick with me for a very long time. For one, it helped me realise I have a real problem with monsters that look or sound like babies, and my brother and Bernadette will probably remember this most of all. Silent Hill Wiki  refers to the specific creature as the “Twin Victim”, but I think a description of my personal experience with this beast is more apt. I was walking towards Toluca Lake from the orphanage and just saw the shape of the beast by the cave. It took me a moment to realise it had two baby heads on a big furry body, only supported by two long arms from the ground. In other words, no legs. I stopped playing and breathing for a moment when the beast lifted up an arm, pointed at me, and then ran towards me. I dropped the control in a panic and ran out my room to the kitchen and paced up and down for a bit. When I had calmed down I returned to my room to find my character laying dead on the grass, the grotesque monster running around him. I only plucked up the courage to play again a few days later, but was more prepared and anxiously destroyed them in the Water Prison stage.

I remembered this experience last year when I was playing Minecraft with one of my best friends. There is a creature in the Nether world known as the Ghast, a huge floating monster who has the misfortune of making baby sounds now and again which helped me realise that my fear is not restricted to SH. This was further recognised when I watched the playable teaser trailer for what was going to be Silent Hills and the baby sounds were very clear. For whatever reason, I do not like this aspect of horror at all… monsters should just not look and sound like babies.

Of course it didn’t help when my room in SH 4 became infected with a demonic presence and the wall above my inventory box was filled with crying baby faces. But moving on before I change this post’s title to “horrific baby monsters”…..

One final way in which this game impacted me in the real world: the sounds the game makes when monsters or ghosts were close-by. Now, as fans of SH know, there is always a radio or some mechanism involved that alerts the character and player that some form of evil is nearby, as it creates a sort of white noise on the device. Despite this being in all the previous games I had played in the series, SH4’s noise affected me the most. After a night of playing it quite late, I was at work the next day and thought I heard the exact same sound in my office and freaked out…. only to realise much later it was the fax machine. I am so glad technology has advanced to scanning and fax-email and there is less of a chance of embarrassing myself like that again.

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origins

That is such an awesome cover for this game. I only found out after I had played this game that this was ported from the PSP to the PlayStation 2, which apparently caused some problems with the control of the character. Of course I was oblivious that it was ported and thought it a PS2 original, and from my experience the control wasn’t so bad. Because of the “Origins” title, I thought this was a prologue to the entire series but after playing the game I am not actually sure. Even Konami and many sites refer to it as the prequel to the series, and Travis rescuing Alessa in the beginning seems to cast this in stone. I wish I could remember more of this game, but it doesn’t seem to have left as deep a mark on me as the others. Many of the monsters in the street were just large and bulky and there seemed to be more of an emphasis on escaping them than taking them on (ok, yes it is survival horror, not whack-a-mole).

The area that I enjoyed / got scared the most (even though it was lower in scale relative to “The Room”) was the theater. The fact that those mannequins / dolls could just pop out of the shadows of any room had me very much on edge throughout that chapter. This game deserves more praise than my memory can do it justice though, so I think I will spend just as little time writing on this title as I did playing the game.

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250px-Silent_Hill_Shattered_Memories

Together with SH1 (which I lost somewhere among all my moving), this is the only other SH game I do not actually have in my collection. It was also the last SH I played on the PS2 console. I was staying over by friends (the same ones that I watched play SH2 actually) and discovered they had this game. They were very eager to get me to play this one, mostly because the game concluded with a psychological profile of yourself based on how you played the game. So far it had been right about them and they wanted to see what the result would be if I played it.

Due to the above, this is the only SH game that I did not spread over for days, chapter for chapter, and completed it during the sleepover. As a matter of fact, I believe I started it the morning and ended it sometime late that afternoon. It was very surprising to find no combat in the game and monsters had to be entirely avoided. The story-line, much like Origins, is another that has not really stuck with me. The only memorable part was the psychological evaluation, which my friends spent way too much mileage laughing at and agreeing with – although I must admit it was freakishly accurate.

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download

SH: Homecoming had many firsts for me, besides having many elements which I love in the game. It is one in the series that I will gladly admit to being the most perfect representation of the franchise. “The Room” still being my favourite,  I would rate this game the highest accolades of all. So let’s begin with my list of “firsts”:

  • The first game I could not wait to get the moment it was released in South Africa;
  • The first time I paid the heavy launch price for a game, because it coincided with bonus pay-out;
  • The first SH game I introduced my wife to, who at that time I had started dating (sorry that I dragged you through all the others thereafter, but you can’t deny loving it anymore)

There are so many elements to this game that I loved, I don’t know where to begin. While the world lamented the fact that a seasoned military fighter was being used as a protagonist as opposed to the casual civilian with no combat experience, I was thanking the heavens for the breath of fresh air. The new combat system was epic, and I spent many fights dodging then hitting. The moral decisions towards the different endings was a great touch… did they really have to make me decide whether to end my comatose mother’s life though? Hectic.

An element I love in many stories that was played out in this one was the founding of Shepherd’s Glen. Much like the movie “The Fog”, the founders of the little town have a lot to do with the main plot, something I truly enjoy although I am unsure as to why actually. I also enjoyed moving through the cemetery, tombstones and graveyard as it lent more of a scary ambiance to the game. Homecoming also presents the best monsters in the series and it was great learning to adapt to the ways you needed to deal with each of them individually. And yay, awesome representation of our favourite nurses and pyramid head!

Although “The Room” is my favourite because of its effect on me, Homecoming would be the one I would replay the most. It may even feature Shepherd’s Glen in one of my future Silent Hill novels.

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downpourYeah critics and reviewers, they actually made a SH where I agree with you. As a devoted SH fan, I was anxiously awaiting the release of this one. So was my wife, following her induction of Homecoming and the others. So many mixed emotions on this one, and I don’t want to really say I was let down…my following praises may not truly show it, but there was a modicum of disappointment.

Why they changed the iconic fog for rain, I am not sure but it did give a nice twist to the game. The characters still had interesting personalities and there were many elements I really loved (the never-ending stairs that just went up until I thought maybe going back would be the solution – and it was). The puzzles were still great and led you to areas of SH we haven’t been before. Buildings and plots were more accessible and much more detail went into the design.

The only area I can truly say I was disappointed in was the monsters, and mostly because Homecoming was so epic. This was especially true with regards to the monsters on the streets, which just changed in appearance the more you went into the story. Nevertheless, the effect of more creatures appearing when it rained harder did make me run for houses in greater downpour, so the effect of it worked, I just wish they had worked on creating other types of monsters for the streets and not the same rehashed ones.

Downpour did have a singular moment that made me drop my control again, although slowly and in controlled breaths. They are so evil… I climbed a ladder to a balcony using a hook to pull it down. Once I reached the balcony, I gained access to the apartment through the window. I looked around and then it dawned on me and my heart stopped… I was in the Room. As in “The Room” from SH 4. My wife asked me several times what was wrong cause I barely moved and then I asked her if the room looked familiar. She then saw the chains on the door and just patted my back…. well, if she wasn’t feeling sorry for me, at least I was.

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IN CONCLUSION:

I am very much looking forward to my novels in this world, especially for the areas that I will be personally creating for my new characters that have never been explored before. I was looking forward to “Silent Hills” after seeing the playable trailer, but I believe it has been cancelled. I would love to write a script for a Silent Hill game / movie one day, but until then I am now looking forward to a new game called “Allison Road”, which I believe was created by fans following the cancellation of “Silent Hills”. There is hope though… Konami have at least confirmed that the Silent Hill franchise will not die, and they still wish to continue with the series. That is great news.. I would hate to carry the SH Legacy ahead on my own 😛

The Count of Celenic Earth

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