Running Up The Silent Hill (The Bottom Four)

After the rare srs bsns post, I’m back to my scheduled programming of hurrmedia. This will be the first of many posts I write on the subject of video games. It’s not only the medium I’m currently most interested in, but also the one of which I might be able to add the most unique content.

This post, however, won’t be exactly ‘unique content’.

“It’s a good year to be a Silent Hill fan!” some might say. The second movie will hit theaters on October 27th, an HD re-release of “Silent Hill 2” and “Silent Hill 3” has already hit shelves, and two new video games will be added to the canon.

Oh, wait. What if you have no clue what the shit I’m talking about? Well frankly, I’d be fairly surprised if someone like you, who stumbled upon an obscure media blog like mine, doesn’t know what “Silent Hill” is. But in case you’re some manner of weird selective nerd, then let me explain:

“Silent Hill” is a very unique horror video game series.

Also, “Silent Hill” is the only long video game series (‘long’ meaning that it consists of five or more titles) which I’ve followed since the very beginning. It captivated me as a wee lad, and kept doing so as I grew. Sure, it became a shadow of what it used to be after number 4 was released and the original developing team disbanded and filthy Westerners gave the series a try. Still despite this, I’ve consistently played and beat each game within weeks of its release.

Someday, I will write more about the uniqueness of this series, or why it’s one of the foremost franchises and titles when it comes to horror video games. That day isn’t today. Today is the day I do something simpler. This is the post in which I will rank the eight ‘canon’ games that have been released thus far from worst to best, taking into consideration everything that has made this series great.

I enjoy ranking shit, and I’m generally of a controversial opinion, but I fear this might be a list that will sit well with most of the absolutely deranged fanbase. If by some miracle this gets enough views, we’ll see if the comments section (there’s a comments section, guise—use it!) turns into a warzone.

8. Silent Hill Downpour (2012 / PS3, 360)

Don't get too excited; the game is never as dramatic as this pic suggests.
Interesting fact: On the first draft of this post, “Downpour” was placed as number 7, but as I wrote and re-read it I realized it really didn’t deserve any other spot but the last.

The most recent entry in the series might very well be the worst. There are very few things Vatra Games (a Czech developer) got right with “Downpour”. The graphics are atrocious (despite using the familiar Unreal Engine), the music—and songs—are forgettable, the visual design is very bland, and it’s almost completely devoid of scares.

I didn’t enjoy playing this game. I hated the horribly disjointed combat system. I hated how the developers had the subtlety of an axe murderer in a Godzilla costume when it came to horror. I hated the broken "subway" system. I didn’t like the new openness of the world and its incorporation of many pointless side quests which, granted, added a shitload of replayability but ultimately felt like padding. I hated how useless the flashlights were, and how sometimes it became so dark you literally saw nothing on screen. I hated the boring and lengthy exploration of the town. I particularly hated the numerous ‘Otherworld’ segments in which you’re meant to escape a mysterious world-eating force. They were the worst kind of challenge, had no tension, no sense of exploration or space, and felt completely arbitrary. I hated how they took the surrealism of “Silent Hill 2” to an almost comical extreme. Finally, to make it worse, it gave me the impression of being lazily developed; you can't interact with virtually anything in this game (doors, windows, items, etc.) unless they have a specific function.

Yes, the gameplay was an almost complete failure and rarely ever felt like a Silent Hill game. Sadly, the story wasn’t much better. Though the concept was clever, it made the mistake of letting mystery take the wheel, so for 80% of the game’s length we have no clue about what’s going on with Murph, who he is and what he wants besides escaping Silent Hill. This also cost the game to lose a lot of its visual symbolism and many of its minor details. However, when the story began to gel, and we started to see just what the eff was going on, it did become exponentially more engaging. Many twists take place in the end, some of which are very effective, and we finally get a sense of dimension for some of the characters. Though I did enjoy the ending I received ("Forgiveness"), and the fact that the story is sufficiently straightforward to be understood completely,  many characters seemed to be there for no reason at all, and had no closure whatsoever. This did bother me.

“Silent Hill Downpour”’s only real triumphs were a few cutscenes worth of quality story, and the ambition of trying something new with the series. This is a very mediocre survival horror game, and as an entry in the Silent Hill series, a terrible misfire.

7. Silent Hill 0rigins (2007 / PSP, PS2)

Returning characters turned to have
very disappointing roles.
The first game to be released by American developers after the disbanding of “Team SILENT”, who developed the first four titles, was conceived as a prequel to the first game, and the first time the series ventured into handheld territory. Though I have a certain degree of distaste towards this game, it might just come from my standards being very high at the point of its release. Yet, even in retrospect, "0rigins" failed in more ways than it succeeded.

The controls on the PSP were clunky, many of the gameplay choices were terribly misguided (why would you give the player control over the reality shifts?) and the voice acting was atrocious. However, despite all of this, the main reason why this game failed was because of the story. After the bar set by the Japanese team, the story plotted out for “0rigins” was an unmitigated disaster. The lead character—who had the personality of a lawn chair—had no real attachment to Silent Hill, and only aimlessly moved around town for absolutely no reason, coincidentally discovering things about his past. “0rigins” barely connected with the first game, and ended abruptly after only five or so hours of gameplay. Shameful.

On a positive side, it did feature great graphics (for a handheld), fantastic music and songs, a couple of decent though cheap scares, and it definitely got the atmosphere of the series right. This felt like playing a very mediocre version of the first game again, but in the end was a remarkably pointless venture.

6. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009 / Wii, PS2, PSP)

I didn’t hate this game at all, yet I don’t think I’ll ever play it again, and it never returns to my thoughts. Still, I didn’t hate it. The first game to be developed for the Wii was something that not only tried to reinvent Silent Hill, but the medium of video games in general—something commendable, even if it didn’t quite achieve its ambitions.

Originally conceived as a remake or reboot of the original game, featuring pretty much the exact same premise, “Shattered Memories” (an ironic title for the remake of a classic game) was a very strange creature. First, it incorporated the psychological aspects of Silent Hill far more intimately into the gameplay. This time, the game attempts to literally read your psyche through a series of psychological tests handled by an in-game shrink, and then changes the game experience accordingly. This is a concept that would’ve been fantastic if it had been used to unnerve the player instead of merely amuse him. Yes, it’s interesting to see your test answers play out in-game, but it didn’t once try to use this knowledge of the gamer to horrific effect.

And that’s the biggest sin of “Shattered Memories”: it wasn’t scary, and what’s worse, it didn’t even try to be scary. With the sole exception of four ‘Nightmare’ sequences in which you randomly make your way through an icy labyrinth while escaping monsters (sound familiar? Yes, I don’t know why “Downpour” decided to give this terrible idea another go), there is not one single monster in the entire game. Not one. You can explore Silent Hill with the calming certainty that absolutely nothing is going to jump at you from the dark. The concept of having no combat at all is exciting, but they basically butchered any pretense of horror they had. It didn't help that the the overall look was based on a blue palette, creating a counter-productive soothing effect.

The story deviates from the original almost immediately, and is very bland and aimless until the very end, in which an admittedly surprising twist both grants coherence and negates everything that happened through its absurdly short length. However, the use of the Wii controls were the best I’ve thus far experienced (the cell phone device was freaking brilliant), there was a great moment of tension involving a sinking car, and Harry was a very likable lead. While it hardly feels like a Silent Hill—or a horror game—it was still a very ambitious and interesting experiment I enjoyed more than I disliked.

5. Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008 / PS3, 360)

"Homecoming" had some of the series' freakiest
Through most of the length of “Silent Hill: Homecoming”, I was ready to eat my words and say that Americans could very well craft a game worthy of the Silent Hill name. The story was twisted and extremely intriguing, the characters were likable, the atmosphere was perfect, the graphics were great, the visual design was great (these monsters are some of the scariest in the series), it was often frightening, and the music and songs were some of the very best the series had ever seen (“One More Soul To The Call” might be my favorite Silent Hill track).

So yes, for a good chunk of the game, “Homecoming” seemed to be doing almost everything right. Almost, as there are some unforgivably poor decisions, mostly in how the combat is handled. This held all the way until the final scenario, when the plot began culminating, twists began happening, and everything went to shit. I’m still trying to figure out how the fuck could the game take such a significant plunge in quality from one moment to the next. What was a great story resolved with an absurd twist, the subtleties of the horror turned—quite literally—into torture porn right out of a “Saw” film, and most of the endings were both lazy and incoherent (you could get the UFO ending as easily as you could get any other, on your first play through).

When I finished “Homecoming”, I wanted to smash the neighborhood because it was so fucking close to not only being as good as the original games—it could’ve been one of the very best, on par with Team SILENT’s efforts. But though I wanted to, I couldn’t deny that most of the game was a very good experience. The story was very much straightforward (as with “Downpour”, no plot guides would be necessary) and it was a great addition to the overarching mythologies of the town.

In the end, “Homecoming” was a bitter disappointment, but is by far and without a doubt the best Western effort in the series. Had the ending not been so rushed and sloppy, it would have been a very worthy entry in the Silent Hill saga. Despite my hatred towards the final act, I still very much enjoy the story, and often find myself revisiting it.

In Part 2, I finish ranking "Silent Hill" with my top four entries, which are to no one’s surprise, the first four games in the series.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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  1. As to not turn this into a warzone... I disagree...

    1. I, on the other hand, COMPLETELY agree with this.

  2. Homecoming a better game than Downpour? Really?

    1. I agree here downpour was a far better game than homecoming IMO. Saw the ending to homecoming within the 1st hour of playing, and the combat was just stupid. Downpour is the best western made silent hill.