Lessons From Silent Hill

With Silent Hill: Downpour on the horizon, here are a few lessons we hope developer Vatra Games learned from the series' past.

Silent Hill is a strange series. Since their initial release in 1999, the games have always felt a bit awkward. They had clunky combat, flat voice acting, and numerous other quirks, but despite all of this, they still managed to capture the curiosity of players across the globe. Something about the Silent Hill games was just so alien that it was hard not to be intrigued. Understanding and recapturing that magic is a tall order, but there are plenty of lessons that previous games can teach Vatra Games, the developer behind Silent Hill: Downpour. What the developer has shown looks promising; we just hope it keeps these examples in mind.

Silent Hill

The first Silent Hill was all about the town. The game did an excellent job of creating an environment of hostility and terror. It also didn't smack you over the head with its scares; instead, it nurtured a sense of foreboding through its presentation. A great example of this took place with the first otherworld transition sequence. Up to that point, your character, Harry, had been jogging through the fog-choked streets of Silent Hill looking for his daughter. Then, he turned down the wrong alleyway, and the whole thing went to hell.

This sequence made excellent use of framing and sound to craft a great introduction to Silent Hill.
Everything was the opposite of what had come before. The alleyway was narrow and claustrophobic. The traditional, third-person camera angle gave way to more disorienting fixed-camera shots. Music--a heavy, industrial thumping--swelled up from the background to join the iconic wail of an air-raid siren. Layered together, these elements stretched the player's nerves to the edge. Then, Harry was attacked--and killed. All of that buildup paid off in a moment of helplessness. This outstanding sequence made excellent use of the medium's fundamentals to craft a powerful introduction to Silent Hill.

Silent Hill 2

The story of Silent Hill 2 stuck in the minds of players long after the game was released, and that was for good reason. While the first game told a mysterious tale of cults and demons, the second grounded its narrative in something we could relate to: the characters. It focused on James--his guilt, desperation, and conflicting emotions with love-interest Maria. We witnessed his torment and became invested as he struggled to overcome this nightmare. The game also elegantly wove the town of Silent Hill into the plot and used it as a medium that manifested James' guilt in the form of horrific monsters, as well as one iconic villain. Silent Hill 2 was a gripping story of human emotion pushed to its limits, and it endures as a prime example of narrative-driven gaming.

Hopefully combat in Downpour will feel smoother than it did in Homecoming.

Silent Hill: Homecoming

Silent Hill: Homecoming featured well-crafted stages that broke from the series' tradition. Typically, players explored long hallways inside of hospitals, hotels, and the occasional sewer. Locked doors and broken locks were the true villains of these haunted houses. And while Homecoming was no exception, it had some new locations unlike anything seen before. Hell Descent was a great example. This stage presented an ongoing downward spiral that went into a tower of fire and rusted metal. The player was always climbing down, with the only locked doors being those labeled "Exit." It was a literal descent into madness. Hell Descent retained all of the monsters and puzzles players expected within a setting that offered a refreshing change of pace.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Things were different in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. This divisive game took a lot of chances by redesigning the look and feel of Silent Hill. In particular, Shattered Memories did an excellent job of getting in your head. The ongoing psychological exam, and its influence on the game's world, let you inject a bit of personality into the story. This was something rarely seen outside of the role-playing genre. The chase sequences forwent the game's clunky combat for a mixture of action and terror. Of course, sometimes this terror gave way to frustration after multiple failures--but at least it was something different.

Downpour will have chase sequences similar to those in Shattered Memories.

These are just some examples of what makes Silent Hill stand out. The series has always provided a horror experience that's difficult to find elsewhere in video games. Other series are fine with swapping scares for action, but the Silent Hill games endure with a slow, creeping sense of dread. When done well, these genuine moments of terror persist long after the pomp and circumstance of other games have faded. Executing on this takes a special talent, and with any luck, the team at Vatra can put its own, unique stamp on the series.

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Discussion

121 comments
Shytink8965
Shytink8965

I must have this game by New Years Eve. I this and Resident Evil can replinish the survivor horror genre. Much to the fact that it's hardly even alive like it used to be.

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

This and Silent Hill HD Collection are on my Day One Buy list.

Alphgroup
Alphgroup

it's too bad without Team Silent and Akira Yamaoka

analgrin
analgrin

@montblanc512 Yes you're right, they used to use fog mainly because consoles didnt have enough power to render lanscapes that disappear into the distance. They should perhaps bring back fog which would free up resources and enable developers to make everything in viewing distance ultra detailed and realistic.

analgrin
analgrin

The first silent hill is the best IMO. I still recall the moment the nurse (Lisa) turns. The creepy chilling almost sad music as she talks to you, Blood starts to come out of her nose, eyes and trickles down her face. So moving, so chilling. Its one of the best scenes in any game ever!! I tracked it down on a well known video site, put this after the .com of you tube /watch?v=jMMs6eHn3YA

montblanc512
montblanc512

Okay, I'm going to say what EVERY critical survival horror reviewer has said before. The genre is relatively dead, and the reason is the idea that everything has to be rendered to make a beautiful game, and that's what matters, but that lack of seeing and understanding is what makes horror scary (which is why most shooters with horror elements have been reduced to jump scares). But what I don't get is, why don't survival horror game makers just cut the render distance really short with fogs and darkness, and focus that power on close objects or occasional movements in the fog and distance? It doesn't make sense to me that every reviewer says that these games have the same issue, and all the people making these games just flat out ignore the criticism. That being said, I really respect that Downpour seems to have some heavy fog in the town, and really, really hope it's not going to follow the recent trend of jump scare, ugly monsters, now fight them, BS as homecoming was.

Benifited
Benifited

I with i could get another try at origins and the room didnt get to finish them, but they felt like a part of the series. origins felt a lot like 1 which i liked since i never got a chance to get far into that game. the room felt like it was part of 2 for some reason, id like to get my hands on these games again to finish wat i started

irishkd
irishkd

Silent Hill mmorpg could be great !

NightFox313
NightFox313

Silent Hill 1 had some wicked camera angles...

LilRoss2k3
LilRoss2k3

silent hill is dead. i've finally accepted that fact.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

Judgin by all the videos it will be a disappointment.

HeCtic_GaMer
HeCtic_GaMer

i think the new character in downpour looks too tough for a survival horror, the game should have you play as a character that makes you feel weak and defenceless, while i was playing home coming i didn't feel scared, the character was an experienced soldier, but still a good game.

PeteyFord
PeteyFord

I mean... it's Silent Hill, it's true terror. The kind of terror hat stays with you even when you're not playing. This isn't like the Resident Evil series (which I too love, btw), this isn't a dog jumping out of the window to scare you, it's the ambient, it's the atmosphere, it's the genius music of Mr. Yamaoka and the always creepy as hell story. Man, we should be supporting the series, since to me, it's the only true horror series there is left.

Gbullet
Gbullet

Perhaps one day we shall see Silent Hill 1 remade, the same game with a few extras and some new areas, but with the same opressive and scary ambience. I'd pay alot to get my hands on that.

redskinStu
redskinStu

I thought Origins was a good game.

kaijukrash
kaijukrash

It sorta begins and ends with 1 and 2 for me. I've played them all and 1 was chillingly brilliant and 2 was IMO a perfect horror game. I liked 3 but there was something that didn't grab me the way the previous two had. The Room was a great idea and it was executed nicely. I hated the ghosts though. They weren't scary or fun to fight and I felt like they really just didn't belong in the game at all. They kinda killed it for me. Homecoming... well that really just felt wholly inspired by the very mediocre movie. And it really ruined it for me that you play as a guy who knows how to shoot a gun and handle himself in a fight. One of my favorite and most memorable SH moments is in 1 when you go to the school and it all goes to hell. You're standing in this dark hallway and first you hear the inhuman squealing and out of the shadows come a herd of those little demon children. You raise your pistol at the approaching hoard, take aim, squeeze the trigger... And miss! I can still remember the jolt of panic that sent through me. No game had gotten to me like that. I was sh!t in a fight! And that made me feel the tension ten-fold. I remember playing it with my GF and her saying at one point "I think I'd have eaten a bullet around now" And I wasn't particularly hasty to disagree. Homecoming just didn't have that. 1, 2(especially 2), and The Room got that oppressive, lonely, hopelessness. That was for me what made the series work. Those are the models I think they should work from.

AzinAshe
AzinAshe

This is gonna be awesome...

desperate001
desperate001

Why do people nag so much about the controls? I've never had an issue with it, and whether it was all the previous games were capable of, it worked well. Why do people expect karate experts and fighting champions in Silent Hill games?

ElijahDerron
ElijahDerron

I Love silent hill always have since a child. Can't wait for the new one

Black_Id_Jenova
Black_Id_Jenova

I also fans of silent hill, played since kids in PS1 and to be honest, latest Silent Hill Homecoming is actually fair easy and i don't feel Horror experience different with previous Silent Hill, Shattered memories well fair scary but not that scary, and when i see Downpour trailer i feel Good Expectation since the horror feeling quite intense. Hope that Downpour will answer the Horror Experience of true Silent Hill.

drknessfeeds
drknessfeeds

I believe all the silent hills had some moment in them that was unforgetable, i enjoyed them all, the first 3 being my fav.

666Rich666
666Rich666

I have been a huge Silent Hill fan since its release on the PS1. I have played every installment (with the exception of the Wii version) and have high hopes for this next iteration of my favorite game franchise. While no game in the series has recaptured the depth and story of Silent Hill 2 (in my top 3 games of all time: 1.Dark Souls, 2.Castlevania:SotN, 3.Silent Hill 2), I have still enjoyed every single version. Although Homecoming was admittedly not up to the previous installments high standards, I hope that Konami has learned from it's mistakes and brings Silent Hill back to where it's loyal fans expect it to be.

TheForthcoming1
TheForthcoming1

@brunorr I agree with you and SciFiCat. Also again thanks for the info and link!

TheForthcoming1
TheForthcoming1

@SciFiCat you and brunorr are right! I completely forgot about Jacobs Ladder but did post it on the SH facebook fanpage in the past. It did in fact inspire the Silent Hill series besides David Lynch's work of course. Creep movie! Thanks for the link btw. Also someone added a tornado siren to the movie Jacobs Ladder from a Silent Hill game on youtube which, if memory serves correct, was not in the original movie.

brain20035
brain20035

why does every one hate on The Room?? It was a great game!! yes it wasn't as good as Silent Hill 2 but still it was an excellent game!!

WillyWynn
WillyWynn

silent hill 1 and 2 are the only good games, pure survival horror, the rest is a completely garbage. After silent hill 2 the series die completely with poor and crap games.

itachi1993
itachi1993

@brunorr Jacob's Ladder was also a big influence on the game if I am correct.

brunorr
brunorr

@TheForthcoming1 Not only Eraserhead, but all David Lynch movies by the time, like Lost Highway, were a major influence in the SH series. The other inspiration was Jacob's Ladder. Watch this and you can see many, many elements known in SH, even the camera angles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXXbIOc9h4g

wexorian
wexorian

This is Only Game Makes chill and adrenaline on me and Makes me in to play more always :)))

wexorian
wexorian

my fav are 1st,2, homecoming and origins :)

riddlerj
riddlerj

Also, just like to add - Shattered Memories.. my god what a story. Will not spoil it for anyone whatsoever. But it is on par with Silent Hill 2, if not the successor for the definitive SH story. I felt wraught, emotional, nearly at tears by the end of it. Only story that has stirred me since was last year's To The Moon.

Dorimant
Dorimant

What?? There were no lessons to be garnered from Silent Hill 3?

ecs33
ecs33

Please let it be nothing like Homecoming (RE clone..and bad one at that)

Furbyballistik
Furbyballistik

sh2 will always and forever be my fav sh game..i can't even count the number of times i beat it

Drakes12
Drakes12

I always felt silent hill 4 was subtle brilliance. The apartment room itself was scary as hell. The use of images mixed in with silence really got to me. underrated.

Rasha93
Rasha93

always loved sh3 , heather was my sh idol and she fits alot in da series

M__T__
M__T__

SH 1 the best!!! till today

gix47
gix47

SH 2 was my fav

killip
killip

The series has limped on ever since Team Silent moved on from the series. Anything past 4 just hasn't been the same. I'm hoping Downpour can at least capture a third of what the originals had, but I'm not holding my breath... As for the HD collection, I'd be fine with it aslong as they weren't tampering with the voice-acting!

pauloafq
pauloafq

I dont know why in the hd collection only comes the 2 and the 3 what happend with the 4??

Raxyman
Raxyman

I've never plaed the classics, even though i've always wanted to. Bought Homecoming in Steam Holiday Sale and already finished Shattered Memories. I ought to say it's my favourite horror game, after Amnesia of course.

xtraflossy
xtraflossy

SH 1-3 were perfect, especially in their time. 4 was trash but I still finished it. Now, I've tried to revisit the expirence on occasion and always end up returning them (homecoming, whatever the new one was..) I don;t know, it's just not the same for me. In particular, I feel as if the controls should have evolved. You can still make me slow AND let me examine something on the first try. I want so hard to find the same enjoyment as I did with 1-3 but just can't.

vicke32
vicke32

The "clunky" controls was one of the most scary things, look, seing a guy charging at you isn't scary, the fact that he will catch up because you're to slow is what's scary, if you make the character good, you need to make the enemies "better", if they in for example resident evil went back to shambling zombies, then the game would have no difficulty at all, because you can aim and strafe. Fear is going "OH GOD TURN AROUND PLEASE TURN AROUND FASTER!!". Also, the obscure and stuck camera angles made you feel afraid of going around corners because you couldn't see anything.

gokuofheaven
gokuofheaven

the original Silent Hill is still the best in the franchise. From my own experience everything went downhill from Homecoming.

megatrunks
megatrunks

silent hill 2 was the best is the series It was amazing

pokecharm
pokecharm

I'm on the fence about pre-ordering this game, but I do love getting scared out of my mind by Silent Hill :)

DuaMn
DuaMn

I wonder why Silent Hill 3 is still the best looking game of the series. Homecoming looked like sh*t compared to 3. Same goes for 4 to an extent. I guess I know: Art Direction. It's not about creating high detail textures and models. It's about what you are creating and what does it mean. Even SH2 looks great compared to most modern games.