Lets talk about Silent Hill (and by that I mean I talk, you read).
Not about Konami and their fucknutarry. But about the games we do have, the good and the bad.
As I mentioned in my Session 9 post, Silent Hill is deeply rooted in my childhood (okay teenhood), since I got the second game for Christmas when I was 13, then spend the rest of that day and days after playing it. I mean what else could get you out of the Christmas spirit better.
But Silent Hill is special to a lot of people going back much further than me. At a time where horror games were more intone with creature features, or just puzzles with jump scares, your Resident Evils and Alone in the Darks- not to faults those series as they did they own part in progressing the genre, but Silent Hill came in with something more mature. Less violence, but more atmosphere and story building, where you don’t play as a gun toting bad ass, but as a normal guy.
There were no end of the world conspiracy plots- well 1&3 kinda do- but were character driven and about real day to day fears that could actually happen, e.g. losing a loved one, marriages breaking up, guilt over the bad things you’ve done, ect. (Again I reference back to my Session 9 post). They became an alternative to people who didn’t want to kill the things that scare them, but think about why they do.
Now despite the series to this date having eight full installments, it’s as far back as 3 that people say the series lost it and has been in a never ending downward spiral it has yet to- and Konami has made sure it won’t- recover from. But I disagree.
My favorite Silent Hill games remain, Silent Hill 2 (which really doesn’t need any more talking about), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (the subject of this post), and Silent Hill 4 (the cult one). But these choices come from a gamer that cares much more for story than gameplay. I’ll put up with the worst fucking mechanics if the story grips me.
And that brings me to, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories; an odd duck in the series. A reimaging of the classic first game, that shockingly is actually a fucking reimagining and not just a remake for the money- like 90% of all horror movie remakes. It takes the classic story of Harry Mason searching for his daughter in the spooky town, blends it up and turns it into a snow cone; Shattered Memories: Silent Hill 1 on ice. Removing the silly occult plot but keeping the father daughter drama, it embraces the pure psychological stuff- a great move in my opinion. I don’t hate the occult laden stories of Silent Hill, but I’ve always found they make better back-stories for the town, than when they take centre stage.
Beyond its well done recrafting of the story (which I won’t spoil) the game’s other best feature is its great use of the psychology, not always subtle, but great. This takes the form of Dr Kaufmann, here your passive aggressive psychiatrist. The story of SM is framed round a FPV of you answering questions with your therapist. An idea a lot of people will recognise from this year’s Until Dawn, but is far better executed and worked into the plot than there (though it does lack the awesome Peter Stormare chewing scenery by the fistful).
As instead of just picking and choosing between stock fears that will inevitably show up, it actually does try to psychologically analyse you. Staying away from most yes or no, A or B questions , it gives you a lot of variety to personalise; like colour this family picture, who looks dead or sleeping, match the couples, ect. Now a lot of it is blatant; you talk about sex, the monsters and other characters are erotic. You like to drink, you end up in bars instead of diners (I know I’m using that as an example of blatancy, but I still find that so cool).
But for all the point A to point B outcomes, there are just as many subtle touches to affect how it plays. If you colour in the family quick and slapdash, then Harry is impatient and rude in the next scene, but if you take your time to be neat, then he’s calmer and nice. Or if you are honest about how much you drink, then what would be soda cans littered around, are beer cans. Small but affective.
And from the writer who would go onto create Her Story, its no surprise such effort would go into such small details. It is those little touches, used to dive deeper into the characters and story, that has made SM such a lasting game for me, and anyone who has taken the time to play it (though really it’s like a 5 hour game if you don’t rush).
Now a common complaint of SM is that it just isn’t very scary and for a horror game that’s a big fault. And I won’t disagree, beyond some jump-scares and damn creepy moments and locations; it’s more oppressive than scary. But was it ever really trying to be? I mean there are definite moments of horror and suspense, mainly the very frustrating otherworld chase sequences, but as I said; Silent Hill deals with relatable fears, and SM does this more than any.
Not dealing with murder or child abuse, but with simple divorce. Love ripped apart and the effect it has on all involved, from parents to child. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a horror by default, but drama by choice. And in a time where Gone Home, Life is Strange, and every Telltale game is so beloved, what’s wrong with that.