There’s a small town in Pennsylvania called Centralia. In the 1950’s it had about 2000 residents. Today, it has about 10. The reason being because there’s been a mine fire burning beneath Centralia since 1962. The fire was originally meant to be a garbage incinerator but needless to say, it got out of hand. To this day the fire still burns. There are signs in the city warning people to leave because the fumes could cause injury or death. Centralia became a ghost town: A ghost town that would help inspire one of the finest game series of all time, Silent Hill.
Known for its highly psychological, atmospheric, and symbolic horror, Silent Hill instantly became a paragon of perfection for survival horror games when it was released in 1999. Its first few sequels maintained this status, and for a while Silent Hill was arguably one of the best and most consistent game series on the market. After making 4 highly successful games, Team Silent, the team who had been developing the games, dispersed in 2005. For almost 10 years, the once incredible franchise entered what seemed to fans like an inescapable slump until the release of PT–Silent Hills–in 2014. A collaborative effort between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, PT was going to breathe a desperately needed new life back into the Silent Hill franchise, but a few months later the project was cancelled and even removed from the PlayStation Network. Needless to say, the Silent Hill franchise has experienced a number of horrors itself. Today, I’d like to walk you through those horrors and explain the incredible history behind one of the finest and most influential horror series of all time, Silent Hill.
Often called Konami’s response to Resident Evil, the first Silent Hill Game, simply titled Silent Hill, came out for the PlayStation 1 on January 31, 1999. Despite being a Japanese game, it came out in North America 2 months before it did in Japan–highly unusual, even today. Silent Hill tells the story of Harry Mason as he searches for his adopted daughter who has run away to a mysterious town called Silent Hill. Whilst looking for her in the ghost town, he encounters monsters, a fiercely religious cult, and traces of the horrifying history of the town. Silent Hill was met with incredibly positive reception, selling over 2 million copies and was included in TIME’s 2012 list of the 100 Greatest Games of All Time.
Two years later, the highly anticipated sequel, Silent Hill 2, was released on the PlayStation 2 and XBox. The story, completely unrelated to the first game, was about a man named James Sunderland who received a letter from his deceased wife that says that she’s waiting for him in their “special place” in Silent Hill. The town is almost completely abandoned, save a few people: Most notably a woman who has a striking resemblance to his wife, and a little girl who seems to know something that James doesn’t about the whole ordeal. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Silent Hill 2 is Pyramid Head–one of the bosses of the game–who has since become one of the mascots (alongside the nurses, who appear in every entry) of the Silent Hill franchise.
Like the first Silent Hill, Silent Hill 2 was endlessly praised upon its release. It sold over one million copies during its first month in North America alone. To this day, it still receives endless praise–IGN included it on their list of the Top 25 PS2 Games.
Acting as a direct sequel to Silent Hill, Silent Hill 3 came out 2 years later also on the PlayStation 2 and PC. It takes place 17 years after Silent Hill: Heather Mason (Harry’s daughter) is being harassed by the same cult that her father had conflict with in Silent Hill–they want her to birth their god and bring destruction and deliverance upon the world. Refusing to help them, Heather returns to Silent Hill to nip this problem in the bud and find out why the cult wants her, specifically. In doing so, Heather unveils more history about the town than any other Silent Hill entry. Like the other Silent Hill games at this point, Silent Hill 3 was barraged with praise upon its release and dominated Japanese sales charts for weeks.
The final entry that Team Silent worked on, Silent Hill 4: The Room, came out a year after that (2004) for PlayStation 2, XBox, and PC. Although it didn’t receive negative reception, it wasn’t overwhelmingly positive as it had been for the previous 3 entries. This is generally blamed on an emphasis in combat in this entry–something very unusual for a Silent Hill game, and as such, it wasn’t very fleshed out. Reception was generally lukewarm, but leaning toward positive. A review on Eurogamer said it “has gone backwards to the extent that it’s no longer our favourite horror series.” Still, the story of this game seemed to save it: You play as Henry Townshend, as he tries to escape the confines of his room. In doing so, he begins to have horrifying visions of everything around him, therefore beginning a conflict with a serial killer. The main thing that set this game apart from other Silent Hill entries (other than the use of combat) is that it doesn’t take place in Silent Hill: Rather, an apartment in a town called South Ashfield. After this game was completed, Team Silent split up to work on other games. Knowing that the Silent Hill franchise had become a cash cow at this point, however, Konami refused to let it end with The Room. Many say this game is where the decline of Silent Hill began.
In 2006, a live action Canadian-French movie about the first Silent Hill game (also titled Silent Hill) was made. Despite replacing Harry Mason with a mother figure and including Pyramid Head (who, at this point, was exclusive to Silent Hill 2), the movie generally was able to well adapt Silent Hill. Highly praised for its stunning graphics but highly critiqued for its complicated and rushed story, it grossed about $100 million worldwide. In doing so, it also introduced several new people to the game franchise–including myself.
A year later, Silent Hill: Origins was released for the PSP. Taking place a year before Silent Hill, Origins tells the story of Travis Grady as he searches for information for a girl that he had once saved from a fire, and his search leads him to Silent Hill. Meant to have gameplay and elements that more closely resembled the first Silent Hill, critics panned it for feeling too similar to it–to the point where it didn’t feel like a new game. Some critics, however, liked that about the game, and for that reason its scores are generally okay. A year later it got a port on the PS2 which was panned for the same reason, in addition to lower quality graphics: A sin for the Silent Hill franchise, which has always prided itself on its visuals. So began the death of Silent Hill.
Later that year (2008) Silent Hill Homecoming was released on the PlayStation 3, XBox 360, and PC. It’s worth noting that this entry never came out in Japan for reasons that, to this day, still aren’t very clear. It was the first time that a Silent Hill game had been produced by a Western development team: Double Helix Games. The story follows a soldier coming home from war, Alex Shepherd. Upon his return, he finds out that his younger brother has gone missing. His search for his brother leads him to where else? Silent Hill. During his search, he uncovers a lot of information about his family’s past, cultist activity, and his town’s past. Development for this game is well known for having been a very messy process: There was a change in development teams, several ideas were scrapped to the point that it was almost a completely different game than what Konami had originally promised, and it had issues with several censorship laws–most notably in Australia and Germany, where it almost wasn’t released. Despite its hardships, it received very lukewarm reception but leaning toward negative for being very unoriginal and predictable. For anyone who was still in denial, this game is what made it abundantly clear that the once great Silent Hill was in the midst of a decline.
In 2009, a re-imagining of the first Silent Hill, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, came out on the Wii, but was eventually given ports to the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2. (Yes, you read that correctly: The PS2.) Despite meant to be a re-imagining, many say it feels more like a cover of the first Silent Hill, as many gameplay elements have changed to fit the Wii: Most notably an increase of combat and changing a few elements of the story. Although receiving decent scores from critics, the game didn’t sell particularly well. It wasn’t until it was ported that it was finally able to break even.
The next Silent Hill game wouldn’t come out for another 3 years–Silent Hill Downpour for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. Having waited an extra year for the usually biannual franchise and having just had a game that was decent in a pool of mediocrity that the franchise had become since the end of Team Silent, many had high hopes or Downpour. What they got was critically lowest scoring Silent Hill game ever at the time. The game is about a prisoner named Murphy Pendleton who enters an alternate dimension of Silent Hill and in doing so, unlocks several repressed memories. The game was highly panned for, blatantly put, painful mediocrity with poor gameplay and even technical problems such as freezing up on more than one occasion. The reason Downpour is only arguably the worst entry in the franchise at its time is a reason that came out only a week after it: Silent Hill HD Collection. Simply being a PS3 port of Silent Hill 2 and 3, it’s hard to imagine what could’ve gone wrong, right? Everything. Everything went wrong.
It had been 9 years since the release of Silent Hill 3 and even Konami knew that the franchise was in the midst of a major decline. Perhaps reminding people how wonderful the franchise used to be might encourage sales of the newer entries? If nothing else, perhaps they could cash in on people simply wanting ports of what are generally called the best entries in the series (alongside the original Silent Hill.) And so, an HD port of Silent Hill 2 and 3 was underway by Hijinx Studios. What Hijinx didn’t anticipate, however, is that when Team Silent left they took a lot of their files and data with them: Hijinx only had unfinished codes to work from making the development process so horrific that it’s almost legendary. There were few textures and sound effects in the files they were given, and perhaps most infamously is that in Silent Hill 3, Heather was completely blue. Upon completion, many agreed that although upscaled, the graphics were actually worse than they were in the original versions of the game. The audio quality dropped substantially, as well. The cherry on top of it all was that it had several glitches and was generally very buggy. Needles to say, the HD Collection was the epitome of a hot mess.
During October of the same year, a second Silent Hill film was made: Silent Hill Revelations. This time, it was meant to be an adaptation of the third Silent Hill game. Despite this, it contained only fragments of the story of Silent Hill 3, and fans and critics alike panned it horrendously for not just being a weak adaptation, but a weak standalone film as well. Additionally, the jaw dropping graphics that were praised in the first film were noticeably absent from Revelations, which only dug its grave even further. It grossed $52.3 million worldwide, essentially half what the first Silent Hill movie had made.
Konami needed a good Silent Hill game for it to bounce back on, so they made Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the PlayStation Vita later that year. All they did was drive Silent Hill further down the pit which they had forced it into. Receiving even lower scores than Downpour, Book of Memories is generally referred to by fans as the worst entry in the series, barring the HD Collection since it’s a port. It’s the first Silent Hill game with a nameless protagonist–that being the player. On “your” birthday, you’re given a book with your entire life in it, and if you change the contents of the book, then your memories will change accordingly. You attempt to make some changes to your life, but needless to say, it doesn’t work out. Perhaps the best quote to describe the game comes from Greg Miller while he was working at IGN who wrote, “If you just want dungeons to crawl through and couldn’t care less about polished menus and engaging stories, great. Everyone else, don’t feel bad if you skip Silent Hill: Book of Memories.”
Silent Hill was in a horrendous decline. Fans knew it. Konami knew it. Everyone knew it. Would it ever return to its former glory? Without Team Silent, was this franchise doomed to fail? Not quite. In August 2014, a free demo was put on the PlayStation network called P.T.–or Playable Teaser. Developed by Kojima Productions (under the alias of 7780 Studios) this short teaser was absolutely brilliant: Critics and fans and even people who hadn’t played a Silent Hill game before adored it: A review by Erik Kaine on Forbes says, “I found myself getting more and more anxious as I descended the increasingly creepy building, looping the same hallways over and over again. Everything from lighting to sound design is pitch perfect, with a few great jump moments, but mostly just a rising sense of dread.”
At the end of the teaser, it was revealed that this was a teaser for a new Silent Hill game called Silent Hills–in addition to that, it was revealed that it would be a collaborative effort by Hideo Kojima (creator of the Metal Gear franchise) and Guillermo del Toro (director of films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim.) At long last, a Silent Hill game that could restore Silent Hill to its former glory was underway. It had been a long time since Silent Hill fans had been so excited to play a new Silent Hill game. For the first time since the release of Silent Hill 4, there was hope for the franchise.
That is, until Kojima left Konami.
Many of us probably remember drama that went down between Kojima and Konami during early 2015, but just in case, suffice to say, there was a lot of conflict between the two, resulting in Kojima’s departure. On April 25, 2015 P.T. was removed from the PlayStation Network–2 days later, Silent Hills was cancelled. So begins the brutal desecration of Silent Hill.
Hope shouldn’t be lost, Konami told the fans of Silent Hill, because they were working on something Silent Hill related. Although it had been a long time since a good Silent Hill game had been released, skeptical fans still were listening attentively. Surely, after the genius of P.T., surely this must be something good, right?
Alas. The new Silent Hill project that Konami said it would make in place of Silent Hills was a Silent Hill themed pachinko (slot machine.) Needless to say, fans were outraged. Fans are still outraged a year since its announcement. A P.T. inspired indie game called Allison Road recently resumed production after about 2 months of being cancelled. Konami hasn’t breathed a word of Silent Hill since the pachinko machine announcement a year ago, so perhaps an indie game inspired by it is what Silent Hill needs right now.
To quote Steven Hopper in his earlier review of Silent Hill Downpour, “Being a Silent Hill fan is a lot like watching Eddie Murphy movies. You keep thinking back and remembering the glory days, while quietly thinking that maybe this next one movie will be the one to restore him to Beverly Hill Cop/48 Hrs. glory (or in Silent Hill’s case, the days of Silent Hill 2 and 3). However, time and time again, we are ultimately disappointed among the Norbits, Klumps, and Homecomings. But we keep with it, remembering the good days, and in the case of Silent Hill, recognizing the key strengths of the franchise, and hoping that some capable developer will put the series on top of the survival horror heap where it belongs.”