It’s Hallowe’en! Well not quite – but as it’s almost the spookiest time of year, RetroCollect will be taking a look at some of the scariest games of all time. They may not all be pant-wettingly terrifying, but they all have something different to offer in making us uncomfortable. The titles we’ll be looking at will be mostly retro, however, we will be touching base with some more recent offerings too.
So let’s start our journey with one of the forerunners of survival horror, a title that absolutely terrified us when it released way back in 1999. This game moved away from recent staples set by other survival horror titles, such as our protagonists being of military background and such, and instead put us in the shoes of an Average Joe. We were rarely scared by loud noises and other Hollywood clichés, opting instead to have the subtle sights and sounds that were drip-fed to us worm their way under our skin – and boy did they stay there.
I’m of course talking about……
Silent Hill (PS1 – 1999/PSN – 2009)
Writer Harry Mason is taking his daughter Cheryl on vacation to the sleepy town of Silent Hill, when he swerves to avoid a girl in the road just outside the border. They crash, and Harry is knocked out by the impact. He regains consciousness in the town and realises that his daughter is gone. Forced to venture into the now fog-soaked streets (the weather serving as an early indicator of Harry’s sanity, as it begins to snow in the summer), we soon learn that this is not the idyllic American vista we thought it was. And so begins our torturous descent into this psychological nightmare. As you progress through the story, our “hero” begins to unravel, turned slowly insane as the world crumbles around him.
This, for me, is what the game is all about. Instead of relying on impact scares the game makes you feel genuinely uncomfortable. Because it makes you think. This is much more than a survival horror game, as the story is so bent and twisted that it almost makes you feel dirty (if you played Silent Hill back in the day then you will understand). You actually feel sorry for Harry, and watching him fall apart on-screen is one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve had in all my years of gaming. There is little to no sound but the grim ambiance of the wind and the faint sounds of life, and the fact that you can barely see 10 feet ahead of you is horrifying.
The visual style of Silent Hill is one worthy of note, in fact. When indoors, it’s business as usual – textures are good, lighting and such are all excellent. However upon venturing out into the streets (which are all named after famous horror writers) you are greeted by a dense blanket of fog. Although this was primarily a workaround for poor draw distance, it actually proved to fit perfectly with the game’s themes of desolation and loneliness. You can never see more than a block ahead (if that) and often feel lost – and this helps create a sense of helplessness within the player. Couple this with the fantastic score from Akira Yamaoka and we find ourselves fully submerged in Konami’s monotone vision of hell.
The whole point of Silent Hill (the town) is that it is a last stop – the point of no return. The odds are that once you are there, that’s it – and nowhere is this more apparent than in the first instalment. Later titles may have gone slightly off the beaten track, but the original title was a masterpiece in making you feel completely isolated. The plot is at times intentionally vague (and often contradictory), and this adds to our confusion. You see, the game thrives on the player’s fear of the unknown – something all too familiar to us all.
This is one of the many things that makes us human. Something Silent Hill throws in our faces.
Silent Hill (Sony PlayStation) Gameplay Video
What are your memories of Silent Hill? Let us know in the comments below!
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