Silent Hill fans have had a rough couple of years. While the hopes of the fanbase were collectively raised when it was announced that none other than Guillermo del Toro would be co-directing the series’ next installment, Silent Hills, those same hopes were devastatingly shattered with the 2015 announcement that the game had been cancelled. Thankfully, there’s a faint ray of hope: Allison Road, a “spiritual successor” to Silent Hills, went into development in August 2016 following its own beleaguered production history. Combined with the Duffer Brothers crediting the series for helping to inspire the Upside Down in their hit show Stranger Things, the franchise’s torch remains burning, if ever so faintly. While we await the release of Allison Road (date still TBD, according to the project’s webpage), I wanted to take a look back at the series thus far—the hits, the misses, what Allison Road will hopefully draw inspiration from, and what it’ll hopefully leave in the deepest trenches of the Otherworld…
Note: For the purposes of this list I’ll only be considering the main titles, omitting arcade and phone games, as well as the gaiden Shattered Memories.
The last game is also the least. Though it boasts the most beautiful graphics of the series, that was never what drew fans in (as the success of the first game proved). The more diverse locations (one lengthy section involves a trek through mountains and coal mines) eliminate the sense of isolation and dread developed by earlier segments, while also cutting down on the time spent in the eponymous town. Too, the game suffers from weak characterization, last-act problems, and the lack of a compelling villain. Despite some atmospheric sidequests that return to the glory of the earlier games (including a tense and beautifully executed trip inside a haunted film), it was obvious by this point that Konami had lost interest in the integrity of the franchise. No wonder its developer, Vatra Games, went bankrupt.
To be clear: Homecoming is an excellent game. It has a compelling story that effectively plays into the series’ Lovecraftian themes, and there are some really unnerving set pieces, particularly the leadup to the boss fights in the hotel atrium and Dr. Fitch’s personal Hell. As a Silent Hill game, though, there are too many missteps. Like Downpour, the narrative becomes too open, with a wide cast of characters and action sequences steering the game too far out of survival horror territory. Similarly, Double Helix felt too comfortable playing fast-and-loose with the previous games’ mythology, sloppily incorporating elements from the film adaptation. Too bad: As a standalone title, Homecoming might’ve been a classic, but the flaws it brings to the series can’t be overlooked.
5). Silent Hill 3
Seemingly the love-it-or-hate-it entry, Silent Hill 3 relies too much on rehashing elements of the first SH for its own good. The heavily linear nature is completely at odds with the open exploration of the best entries, and there’s too much reliance on the themes and locations from the first game without bringing enough new material to the table—it’s hard to scare with the same stuff twice. 3 also boasts the least interesting plot of any SH, essentially retelling Silent Hill’s story with Heather/Cheryl as the protagonist and further convoluting The Order’s already bonkers mythology. Perhaps worst of all, it’s got the weakest use of symbolism and blandest monsters of the series, some of which look so similar to one another you might be confused with what exactly you’re killing.
4). The Room
Like Homecoming, The Room had the potential to be a classic of the horror game genre had it been released as a standalone. It’s arguably got the most intriguing and original plots of any of the Silent Hills (which is crying out for a film adaptation) on top of the series’ greatest standalone villain. Ultimately, though, this is Silent Hill in name only. The linear structure and weird mechanics (I’m looking at you, haunted apartment minigame) are completely at odds with the open-ended exploration of the best SH games, while the early-aughts ghoul-metal aesthetics are completely at odds with the timeless monster design of the rest of the series.
Though the impetus for the game is uninspired—how did that baby get on the side of the road in the first game?—the execution is beautiful. Essentially House of Leaves: The Videogame, Origins was the closest the later entries came to capturing the thrill and tone of the earlier games, with compelling monsters, creepy locations, and a sympathetic protagonist. The red-lit hotel near the conclusion of the game is one of the most atmospheric settings in the series, and the Sad Daddy boss fight is among one of the most genuinely tragic moments in any of the Silent Hills. Though it falls into the same trap as Part 3, needlessly convoluting an already complex story (I’m still not sure what’s up with the final boss fight), it also manages to avoid that game’s mistake in reusing elements from earlier entries, building on what’s come before rather than just copying.
2). Silent Hill
It’s very, very difficult to think of a game more atmospheric and absolutely soaked in dread than this. The fact that the game accomplishes this with chunky polygons and pixelated fog—and retains its power to disturb even in the 2010s—only speaks to its power. Beautifully exploiting the low-res graphics and limitations of the original Playstation, the use of black expanses and absent space only enhance the game’s “this shouldn’t be here” ambiance, including a particularly unsettling sequence containing a body crucified in seemingly empty space. Similarly, there are just enough (intentional) holes in the story that you’re never quite sure what exactly is going on, even by the time the closing credits roll-it really does replicate the experience of stumbling across something you shouldn’t have. From the opening chase down an alleyway to the final, interminable run through the nightmare hellscape of Alessa Gillespie’s tortured subconscious, this is uncanny terror at its very best.
1). Silent Hill 2
Not just the best Silent Hill game, Silent Hill 2 stands as one of the greatest video games ever programmed, a testament to the narrative possibilities of the medium and a point in favor of the video game as a new art form of the digital age. With more complex storytelling, characterization, and symbolism than some Pulitzer Prize winners, Silent Hill 2 functions almost as much as a classic of western literature as it does a video game (perhaps not a coincidence, as the initial story by Takayoshi Sato inspired by Crime and Punishment). Not to be outdone by narrative, the sound design is also the most complex of the series, featuring randomized ambient noise that varies with each playthrough and immersive SFX (for example, the sound of your character’s footsteps will appropriately vary depending on whether you’re walking slowly, quickly, or running). More than any of the other games in the series, SH2 encourages multiple replays, not just to more thoroughly explore the painstakingly rendered locations but to find objects and thematic elements that might’ve been missed on the first playthrough (to say nothing of achieving the four different endings and two joke endings). If you’re only going to play one Silent Hill, it’s got to be #2, and we can only hope that Allison Road lives up to its legacy. It’ll be a tough bar to reach.
HONORABLE MENTION: Born from a Wish
Not content to settle with just creating one of the greatest survival horror games ever programmed, the creators of Part 2 put some icing on that cake with Born from a Wish, a minigame that finds players taking control of the spectral Maria. Set prior to the action of the game, Born from a Wish admirably picks up where the main action left off, with a spooky story all its own that simultaneously builds on elements of Part 2 and gives an alternate perspective on some of that game’s events. Too short to earn a ranking alongside the rest of the games, Born from a Wish nonetheless deserves a nod for expanding on Part 2 just enough, giving players one last glimpse of the world they’d come to embrace—and fear.