Whenever horror games are discussed, Silent Hill always seems to feature. Why? Well, because the series inevitably raises the scary stakes with every release. Its dedicated fan base either howls with fear or howls with criticism as each new game hits the market, which proves horror is different for every person. Some like it subtle, some like it cerebral, while other like theirs with a bucket of still warm blood.
This latest incarnation of the survival horror series revolves around a new character called Murphy. He was a guest of the prison service up until his bus crashed during a prison transfer. Escaping to the town of Silent Hill is like tunneling out of your cell into death row - but any port in a storm, eh? Rather than rehash the old stomping grounds of previous games, this time the developers have you exploring the south eastern part of the town and its surrounds.
What is likely to be controversial about this release is the look and feel of the game. Its Czech developer Vatra Games has introduced their particular flavour to the genre, with sharper graphics but darker effects and an emphasis on light and dark. It depends what floats your particular horror boat, but for us we found the detailed style and richer graphics added to the overall mystery and horror. As the title of the game suggests, the game’s overriding feature is weather. Like the music audio prompts of the classic horrors, the heavy rain generally means you need to get your weapon ready or hide. The graphical effect is great and it’s not just the rain but also the accompanying gloom and mist which add to the tension.
Combat makes a welcome reappearance in this release, with you being able to carry one melee weapon and one firearm. Unfortunately (but realistically), the weapon durability has also returned, with weapons deteriorating over time depending on what they are made of. We particularly liked the fact that combat could be avoided by hiding, or conversely, everyday objects can serve as a weapons.
The town itself seems to take greater prominence in the game, with its sinister character being more evident than in past games. For us there were some truly scary moments where darkness, sound, and movement all combined to remind us why brown trousers should be worn while playing the game. The otherworld transitions are very effective as they are unexpected and visually are fundamentally different. All of this is delivered thanks to the Unreal 3 engine.
Puzzles also feature in the game and - thankfully - you can set them to three levels of difficulty (for those who want to be scared, not challenged). Side quests and free roaming also make an appearance and this helps to take the focus off what would otherwise be a linear storyline.
The story, although straightforward, quickly becomes more mysterious and vague (a feature of the series). No doubt this will cause some debate, particularly over the promised multiple endings on offer. 10 hours of game play is promised for the core game and more if all the side quests are completed. For those with the technology, this game will also play in 3D, in case you want to really feel a part of the horror.
The genre is called survival horror, and it has a particular formula of mystery, horror, and surprise. Something that the Silent Hill series delivers very well. This game will represent another step forward for the series and it will be interesting to see how the very opinionated fan base receives this game. As for us, we can't wait to be scared witless… although our dry cleaners may not be as eager.
The Good: Combat is back, and the town is way creepier
The Bad: Some fans will not like some of the changes
The Ugly: The judgmental fan base