Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Silent Hill (PSX)

Silent Hill Playstation title screen
It occurs to me I've been getting a bit too comfortable with my genres lately. I'm trying to explore the whole weird and wonderful world of video games here, but I've ended up with a site full of first person shooters, RPGs and platformers instead.

So today I'm finally getting around to another requested game: the original Silent Hill on the original PlayStation, one of the original survival horror games. Honestly I'm not expecting to like this much as survival horror isn't really my thing, but I will try to give it a fair shot. You can all laugh at me as I get hopelessly lost and fail to solve basic puzzles.

I suppose I should "start" the "game" then.

The intro video begins with some creepy guitar music over clips from later in the game, so I skipped it. Then I immediately regretted my recklessness, as the game starts with a short clip of our hero Harry waking up in his wrecked car with no explanation to what happened or where he is. I get the feeling the intro might have eventually shown how this crash happened and explained who this 'Cheryl' person is he keeps shouting.

And so I was sent chasing after the mysterious Cheryl through the foggy abandoned streets of Silent Hill. I guess everyone must have left town when the volcanic ash started raining down, wisely heeding the lessons of Dante's Peak. Actually I'm sure it's probably meant to be snowing, but you wouldn't know it looking at the roads.

Damn, Harry actually caught sight of Cheryl for a moment then and shouted after her, but she totally ignored him and walked off down this nasty alleyway. I guess she must still be a dazed from the car crash. Harry sounds a little dazed himself, as his low key voice acting isn't exactly convincing me of his concern for his daughter.

He seems to control more or less the same as the heroes in Resident Evil: using only one stick for movement, with left and right rotating the character. There are side-step buttons but he steps so slowly that they're entirely useless. It's a shame really as the game has a full 3D world, no fixed pre-rendered backgrounds here, and it came out well into the DualShock era so they could have easily used the two sticks for movement and camera like... every third person game that's come out in the last decade.

Well I followed the alleyway all the way down to a dead end without any sign of Cheryl along the way, though I have found an eviscerated corpse strung up against a fence and a pair of vicious monsters that immediately knocked Harry out, then presumably got to work on him with their knives. Man, that girl is SO grounded when I find her.

Fortunately it was all a dream! Or maybe not, who knows? All Harry knows is that he's lying in a cafe, Cheryl's still missing, and he hasn't actually been torn to shreds. Yet.

Cybil Bennett, a cop from the next town over, explains that she just arrived here herself, and found the town entirely deserted except for him. She can't team up with him to help him find his daughter though because she's got to head back out to bring in some reinforcements. Great.

Well she hasn't lured me into a alley full of monsters yet, so she's still the most helpful person I've met all day.

Whoa whoa whoa Cybil, what are you doing? You do NOT hand your sidearm to a civilian! What the hell are you thinking? I don't care how many monsters are roaming the streets, that is not a good idea.

Maybe after you two have fought side by side against overwhelming odds for a bit, then you can start trusting the complete stranger with your gun, but not two minutes after meeting him.

Well, I might as well see what else I can borrow from this cafe before I leave. I wasn't a fan of the fixed camera angles in Resident Evil as they were always just that little bit useless, but this view is downright helpful. Sure the radio turned out to be a dud, but the camera is clearly beckoning me over towards to items on the counter instead.

Silent Hill save screen
There was a memo pad on the counter, which turned out to be a save point. These things are far better than the typewriters in Resident Evil because of one very important reason: they come with their own pen! In RE I had a very limited number of ink ribbons to use for saves, but in this I can save to my heart's content.

Oh shit! I thought this cafe was my sanctuary from evil! But then a giant pterodactyl thing crashed in through my window. Fortunately this time around I'm armed (with a tiny little knife) so I'm able to fight back and eventually win.

Combat in this seems more or less identical to Resident Evil (I'm glad I played that last week now, seeing as I'm mentioning it under every other picture), where I try to rotate Harry to face the right direction, hold R1 to raise my weapon, then keep tapping X to swipe/shoot. If I'm lucky a few of my attacks will even connect.

With the monster dead, and my pockets full of everything I could find (no six item limit in this, thank fuck), I headed back to the last place I saw Cheryl to look for some clues. Because that worked out so well the first time I tried it.

This time however I found this piece of paper lying at the end of the alleyway, with a cryptic message on it saying "To school". 'Cheryl's hiding out at the school' Harry reasons, managing to completely ignore the fact that it makes absolutely no sense. How would she even know where the school in this town is?

Well I guess I'm walking to the school then. Fortunately I have a map so getting there shouldn't be a problem if I can keep evading these pterodactyl things by weaving through the trees.

I like how the radio starts picking up static when enemies are getting close, like a creepy warning system, because I can't see the bastards coming in this fog. I can't see a damn thing out here actually and that's not really a complaint, as it is only a humble PlayStation game, and I can't help but be impressed how they managed to use the hardware's weaknesses as a strength.

Well fuck, I guess I'm not going this way. The road to the school's not just out, it has totally collapsed. The streets are laid out on a grid though, so it shouldn't be hard to find another way around.

Old Silent Hill street map screen
I can't find another way around! It seems like every road leading up to the school has been crossed off.

I tried going north and taking the bridge from Finney St. across to Central Silent Hill, but that was a total failure as well. I guess I'm not actually meant to be going to the school just yet, though I haven't got a clue what the game wants me to do instead

You know, there's something really familiar about these street names. Bradbury and Bachman are both horror writers for sure (Richard Bachman is Steven King's pen name.), and Midwich sounds a lot like Dunwich (as in The Dunwich Horror, which is a story by Lovecraft.)

With nothing better to do, I headed back down the alley for the third time to see if there was anything I missed, but besides this disturbingly uncanny portrait of Harry I found nothing.
 
Crap, I really can't afford to keep wandering these streets. These unlimited monsters are burning through my limited supplies. I raided a convenience store for some health drinks, but something tells me that healing items aren't likely to respawn in this.

Oh one thing I should mention that doesn't come across at all in these screenshots, is that the camera generally turns to face the direction I'm heading in as I'm walking around, which feels like a revolutionary innovation after playing Resident Evil. Of course the fog ensures I still can't see a damn thing, but Harry can't see a damn thing either so at least that makes sense. Not like RE forcing me to walk blind into enemies that the character was clearly looking straight at.

MUCH LATER.


Well it turns out that Cheryl left me some more clues at the end of one of the blocked roads. I couldn't see the paper until I walked right up to the edge though, which is kinda dumb in my opinion. My tired and frustrated opinion.

The clues led me to a dog house, which lead me to a real house, which led me to this map. I'm definitely happy to know what I'm doing again, but I'd be happier if it didn't mean going back out there with the bloody flying monsters bothering me every few steps. They're worse than the cliff racers in Morrowind.

Right, I guess I'm going back down to the broken bridge again then.

Awesome, that's item number one down. Plus I even got some more ammo for my trouble. Playing Resident Evil the other day has made me really hesitant to use the pistol, but now I've collected around 100 bullets I'm getting tempted to unload a mag or two into these motherfuckers.

It wouldn't bring me any joy though, not really. As far as I can tell, developers have decided that combat in survival horror games can't be any fun, as that'd encourage the player to fight instead of running, so actually shooting one of these things down is more hassle than it's worth.

The second hint on the map was a line drawn down an alleyway, so now I'm searching through all the bins for key number two.

Or at least I was until I got mauled by a monster. Back to the title screen! Now I've got to load up my save and walk back to the bridge to collect the first key again.


EVENTUALLY.


Finally I've made it to the school! I've lost all patience for these creatures at this point though. I've decided I hate them all just a little bit more than I like having ammo, so I'm putting four or five bullets into each of them to make them sit, stay, roll over, then finally put them down for good.

I have to admit I'm really impressed by the way Harry's torch lights up a room. I don't remember ever seeing another PlayStation game with lighting effects this good.

Inside the first area of the school I found a notepad to save on, a map, and three messages scrawled in blood. You know who I didn't find though? Cheryl. She's long gone, again.

Oh great, cryptic clues, this time nothing to do with Cheryl though. All three messages have a different message and a different time at the top, and none of them make the slightest bit of sense to me right now.

Seems that the school is infested with monsters as well, which is a shame really because I was hoping I'd get ten minutes of peace in here.

Annoyingly this toilet turned out to be entirely devoid of anything useful (or otherwise), so I just wasted a third of magazine for zero gain. This guy will probably even respawn in here eventually. I'll have to be more careful with my shots.

Man, what is it with survival horror games and out of place piano puzzles? I assume one of the cryptic clues refers to this, but I don't think playing Moonlight Sonata's going to help this time. Plus it seems that the childproof lock alone is enough to bewilder poor Harry right now, so I'll add it to my list of things to worry about later.

Oooh, creepy symmetrical bookcase wood grain.

I've used up half my ammo stash on these creatures so far and I still keep finding them everywhere. They're not hard to kill (thank fuck) but I really can't afford to waste any more of my precious ammo on them. Fortunately I just happened to have a large metal pole with me, which is a reasonable substitute to bullets.

The "gold in an old man's palm" puzzle was thankfully easy enough to solve when I got there. I've never heard of "sage's water" before, but seeing as there's only one kind of liquid in the school the game will let me pick up, it wasn't hard to figure out what to use here.

My reward is a gold medallion and I have to mention again just how incredibly grateful I am that the game doesn't have a limited inventory. I can carry crap like this around everywhere until I finally find a slot for it, no need to make trips back and forth from the storage box.

Midwich Elementary School 2F map screenshot
I really like how the game keeps track of where I've been, what doors were locked, and where the interesting items are. Saves me from having to draw out a map myself. Oh, by the way there's no Resident Evil-style door cutscene whenever I travel through a door, to my endless relief.

Okay I've solved the 'statue of hand', the piano's locked, and I can't see anything to do in the ? room. I'm a bit stuck really. I don't like using walkthroughs, but maybe I can have a glance at where to go next, just a quick look to point me in the right direction.

Man, I'm a fucking idiot. Turns out I was supposed to go to the school clock tower. The clue being a picture of a clock tower on the medallion I took from the hand. It never even occurred to me to check, even after having to rotate items for clues in Resident Evil. I'm subtracting 50 points here from myself for being thick.

Inserting the medallion turned the clock to 12:00, which I believe means it's time for a music puzzle! Hopefully that has unlocked the piano for me. Though I can't remember what the clue was, and the game doesn't store notes for you, so I'll have to go and check again.


LATER, IN THE PIANO ROOM.


A Tale of Birds Without a Voice
Annoyingly someone's scribbled a poem (in blood of course) all over the sheet music, so I won't be performing "Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty" by Moonriders today.

Alright so the white pelican comes first, then a dove flies beyond the pelican, a raven flies higher than a dove, a swan glides in next to another bird, and finally a lazy crow comes in and lands the first chance it gets. I'd be lying if I said this made the slightest bit of sense to me.

Well I'm not seeing any birds on the piano keys, white or otherwise. Oh duh the birds are all black or white, like the keys! Only seven of the notes actually make a sound though, so I guess I have to play them in the right order to solve the puzzle.

But of course nothing I try works. Yes it turns out I'm even worse at puzzles than I am at killing monsters. Alright fine, I'll check a let's play on youtube just to see where I'm going wrong...

Oh shit I really am a fucking idiot! How did I not get the most obvious clue? I only needed to play the youtube video long enough to hear a single sentence from the player and that was all I need to solve the puzzle immediately: "A Tale of Birds WITHOUT A VOICE".

I'd been pressing the wrong set of keys entirely.

And then after collecting the silver medallion I get careless and fail to dodge a group of enemies camping out next to the door to the clock tower. I'm kicked back to the title screen and now I have to do the piano puzzle again.

Then I managed to get caught by them the next time around as well! I'm kicked back to the title screen and have to do the piano puzzle again. Looks like I'm bringing out the pistol next time.

If I've learned anything from this, it's that I should save after everything. Well okay I couldn't save in this case as the door to the save room is after these monsters, but in the future I should save after everything. There's no limited ink ribbon bullshit in this, I can save as many times and as often as I want. I hope.


LATER.


The final clue is "Flames render the silence, awakening the hungry beast. Open time's door to beckon prey." I'm pretty sure 'time's door' leads into that clock tower I've been plugging medallions into, but I've searched this school top to bottom three times over, and I can't find anything relating to fire at all. Most of these rooms are absolutely empty in fact.

Alright I'll check a walkthrough one last time, just to get the school over with. Then I can quit the game in shame.


A QUICK SCAN OF A WALKTHROUGH LATER.


I can't believe I searched the entire school three times over and totally missed this huge boiler room. All I had to do was flick a switch and open sesame, the door of time was opened.

In my defence its on a basement floor that I didn't know existed, as I assumed both staircases ended on the ground floor. But the staircases are not quite alike it seems. 

The clock tower door turned me around and lead me right back to where I came from, the school courtyard, except now it's night time and there's a strange symbol marked on the floor outside. Could this be a Darkseed style parallel universe version of the town of Silent Hill, twisted and warped by unknowable evil? If so, this is definitely where Cheryl went. That girl is drawn towards danger like moths are attracted to a flame, only it's always me that gets burned.

This building has the same layout as the school, but it's built from rusty metal grating coated in crap and blood. It doesn't even have any of those kids drawings to lighten the place up a bit.

It's a shame really, because now I'm curious what the evil version of the drawings would look like. I imagine they'd be a lot like the paintings in Undying, only drawn by an 8 year old.

Anyway I managed to get four rooms into the alternate school before being ganged up on by a group of monsters and beaten up again. GAME OVER.

Oh now you tell me! Well I think this is a good place to leave the game anyway. I'm definitely not feeling any strong urge to play it any further.


I didn't actually hate Silent Hill, though I didn't exactly enjoy it either. It definitely appears to be a well made game that builds upon earlier survival horror titles while fixing a lot of the frustrations, and I can't really find much to complain about so far. But the joyless irritating combat combined with a total lack of any reward for killing anything makes me kinda wish the enemies weren't even in the game at all, and that can't be a good thing. I suppose that's just the nature of the genre though.

I will say that it's probably the best survival horror game I've played all year, though it's still January and I've only played two so far, so that really only means I liked it more than Resident Evil. But hey, there are worse games to be better than.


Do you have any thoughts about Silent Hill, survival horror games, anything else half-way relevant, or just my site in general? If so, you're in luck as I have a comments box right there under this post especially for you!

Don't waste this rare opportunity to share your opinions on the internet!

9 comments:

  1. Would it improve your Silent Hill experience if you knew that the school was based on / copied directly from the Schwarzenegger classic Kindergarten Cop?
    http://kotaku.com/5875321/woah-i-didnt-know-kindergarten-cop-took-place-in-silent-hill

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    1. I can say with great certainty that it would not, as I actually already knew that. Somehow.

      Though if Detective John Kimble had shown up at the school for some co-op monster hunting, I think that would have probably had a noticeable positive influence on my experience.

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  2. "Bradbury and Bachman are both horror writers[...]". So is Richard Matheson. He wrote brilliant fantastic/horror short stories, and King cites him as an inspiration for his own work. I wrote "I am legend", twice adapted in film. I do heartily recommend everything he wrote.

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    1. The irony of being the last human alive in a town of monsters... and trying to escape from them by running down Matheson St. Imagine how differently things could have gone if the residents of Silent Hill had named their streets things like Asimov Street, Clarke Road, Ellison Avenue and Wells Lane instead.

      Honestly fictional towns in Maine should know better than to name a road after anything to do with Stephen King. It's like naming your fictional spaceship "Icarus", you've basically just chosen your own horrific fate via self-inflicted nominative determinism.

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  3. Midwich probably comes from The Midwich Cuckoos. And this is the censored version of the game. In the US and Japanese versions the monsters in the school look more like kids, and those clawed teddybear things only appear later on.

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  4. If you're going to play any more survival horror games, I'd recommend Silent Hill 2 as it's really good.

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    1. I'm kinda reluctant to play Silent Hill 2 as it's apparently really genuinely good like you say and the entire internet's going to turn on me when I inevitably find dumb reasons to hate it. Better that I stick to looking at rubbish survival horror games, that way we can all point and laugh at how terrible they are together.

      Actually I DO have Silent Hill 2 sitting on a shelf right now, taunting me, so I probably should try to find time for it at some point. Hopefully before the DVD crumbles into dust.

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    2. On the other hand, it's probably at its best if you play all the way through so perhaps it's not a good fit for the format of the blog.

      Delete
  5. Cool review. Silent Hill is a great alternative to Resident Evil.

    p.s. Those Cliff Racers in Morrowind can be a real bitch, a pain in the ass and I love Darkseed, hope their is a review of it on this site here!

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