Restless Dreams: An Ode to Silent Hill

Why is it I continually choose to vacation in Silent Hill? The rooms are ill-kept and streaked with the blood of the semi-dead. Room service is delivered by a maître de with legs where his arms should be. The one pool lacks water, but is overflowing with wriggling, acid-spewing torsos. So, with Butlin’s just a short jaunt down the A27, why am I here?

In 1999 Konami gestated a series that would mature to become the high water mark for psychological survival-horror. The genre, previously populated by Lovecraft-influenced period puzzlers and the exploits of Racoon City’s finest, received a rusty pipe to the face when the original Silent Hill shambled onto the Playstation. Gamers willing to assume the role of Harry Mason were plunged into a disturbing other-world of lost daughters, religious cults, reality shifts and sonic turbulence. An emphasis on creating tone and atmosphere through bleak visuals, deeply unsettling sound effects and a sh*t-load of fog gave horror fans an uneasy, but enveloping experience that was markedly different from the ‘jack-in-the-box’ scare tactics employed by previous games. Five sequels have followed thus far, but it is the sophomore effort, appropriately subtitled ‘Restless Dreams’, that has forever embedded itself into the darker recesses of my mind.


Silent Hill 2, whilst adhering pretty much entirely to the gameplay mechanics of its predecessor, is an example of a chilling formula honed to perfection. As James Sunderland searches for his dead wife through the streets of the dilapidated ghost town, the player beholds sights and sounds that excite the imagination and repulse the senses. It’s difficult to convey the genuine sense of dread that this game manages to manifest through its terrifying audio and inspired creature design. Twitching, faceless nurses haunt abandoned hospital hallways, ungodly noises frequently pierce the relentless mist and a weird fellow with a triangle for a head molests everything in sight. Map reading, puzzle-solving and perilous melee-combat are the order of the day here, combining to create a tense mixture of head scratching thoughtfulness and violent outbursts. At times it is wise to avoid combat altogether – James is no Jin Kazama and the clumsy control system can make battering an enemy to death a tricky process. However, whilst awkward controls should cripple a game, in Silent Hill it only adds to your sense of vulnerability, actually enhancing the fear that death is just a footstep away. Inconclusive plotting further heightens feelings of confusion and isolation, with Konami’s designers generating fear from a tantalising absence of knowledge. You may be left unsure exactly what has transpired, but you carry with you the certainty that, whatever it was, it’s under your skin now. Forever.

As it turns out, I cannot get enough of the macabre beauty of Silent Hill 2. Every surface is a sickly, corroded delight, every corridor a claustrophobic tunnel of fearful promise, every resident a gleefully horrific perversion of the human form. These hands have played many technically laudable titles; these eyes witnessed unthinkable high-definition wonders. But no game has managed to surpass the emotional impact of my initial play through Silent Hill 2. I found something in that town. I think I might stay awhile…







10 responses to “Restless Dreams: An Ode to Silent Hill”

  1. Loz avatar

    Awesome blog James! I’m a massive of the silent hill series, especially the first two! I’m eagerly waiting the next one, lets hope it lives up to our expectations!


  2. Lorna avatar

    Fantastic and evokative ode to a game – I’ve never considered the Silent Hill games before as something for myself…you just changed my mind.

  3. MrCuddleswick avatar

    Really enjoyed reading this……anyone remember the bit where you get a phone call mid-way through the school (I think) in Silent Hill 1, and it’s just your daughter crying on the other end of the line. When the phone rang and I pretty well jumped out of my skin I realised what a great game/experience I was enjoying. Completely engrossing, and often completely gross too.

  4. Andy Turner avatar
    Andy Turner

    I enjoyed Silent Hill….It reminds me a little of my hometown but with less traffic.

    I never got round to playing 3 or the room (though I did get round to buying them.) Am hoping to pick up homecoming though and get back into it from there.

  5. Scott avatar

    Excellent (not to mention meticulously-constructed) first post, James! I’ve always been partial to the RE side of suvivor horror, but the more interpretive and introspective SH stories appeal also. I agree with your assesment of SH2; its atmosphere and imagery outshine what I’ve played of the rest of the series.

    Welcome to the team.

  6. David avatar

    Awesome first post James!! I myself am a big fan of the Silent Hill games and remember vividly playing the first one and trying not to get to scared!! I think you have capured the essence of the game perfectly and it makes me want to play the first one again – had i not thrown my playstation one away!! DOH!

  7. Mark avatar

    This is fab James, can’t wait to see more of your stuff.

  8. Barry avatar

    Ive always loved the Silent Hill series, obviously with Silent Hill 2 being the pinnacle of the series, the sequels that followed have had a lot to aspire to, even though they are good have unfortunatly been forced into SH2’s shadow.

  9. Jake avatar

    I *never* got the Silent Hill thing. Never. I played the first one – I don’t ever remember buying it or renting it but somehow I played it. I may have blanked out “theft” from my earlier memories, which worries me slightly. Got the second one, didn’t enjoy it and that’s where my care for the game ended. Maybe the new one will tickle my gamebuds a little.

  10. Darach avatar

    I’m a whole lot more excited about Homecoming than I was before I read this. But I’m even more excited to read your next blog James. Wow!

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