Restless Dreams: The Important Past and Uncertain Future of Silent Hill

Opinion by Mark Delaney,
Growing up in a household where video games were not just permitted, but not really monitored, I'd often come home with video game rentals (remember those?) of whichever PlayStation game caught my eye on a particular day without needing any parental approval beyond them being the one to complete the transaction. I learned at an early age that I loved stuff like Crash Bandicoot and Madden, and didn't like stuff like Final Fantasy. I was developing — really discovering — my own taste on the console on which I cut my teeth as a passionate gamer. One day I brought home a game called Silent Hill, a spooky looking horror reminiscent of Resident Evil. It was a mistake.

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I could barely get past the early scene in the diner without losing my cool, when a pterodactyl-like creature would crash through the window and I had just enough ammo to finish it off. To my memory, it was soon thereafter I first saw some physically twisted, barely-human entities coming at me in an alley with little wiggle room. I had only been playing for a few minutes and had already hit several death screens and found the experience so intense that I never went back to beat it for many years.

I imagine many people had a similar first experience with Konami's important survival horror title when it debuted 20 years ago to this very day. The funny thing is, it wouldn't matter how old one was either. I was nine then, but I'm confident today it would still be unnerving, even as so many early 3D games from that era haven't aged well. Silent Hill can be included among those poorly aged games given the clunky controls and poor combat, but survival horror often overcomes deficiencies elsewhere because of the unforgettable mood of the genre's best games. The oppressive fog, the everpresent cacophony of metals scraping and clanking mysteriously, feet dragging around a corner you can't see yet, Akira Yamaoka's often juxtaposed yet haunting score, these are the sights and sounds that no fan has ever forgotten. Few games to this very day have been able to deliver such a stark sense of gutteral tension as Silent Hill created two decades ago.

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20 years on from that seminal work, we now haven't had a new game in the series in the last seven of them, which is remarkable really. The original game birthed a new horror franchise, and in many people's minds, it was bested if not perfected in the 2001 follow-up, Silent Hill 2. Later sequels, such as Silent Hill 3 and to a lesser extent, Silent Hill 4: The Room are also regarded as genre greats. Depending on who you ask it was either after the third or the fourth game where most people point to the beginning of the end for the once exceptional series.

Later sequels such as Silent Hill Homecoming, Silent Hill Origins, and the last console sequel, Silent Hill: Downpour all tried to rebottle the magic of the earlier games and they never quite got there, though they do each have their pockets of fans. The series seemed to die for good when the promising Kojima-Del Toro collaboration, Silent Hills, died on the vine after the famous game director's ugly departure from Konami in 2015. Nowadays, a PS4 that still has the otherwise inaccessible PT demo installed goes for big money on second-hand markets such as eBay.

In 2019, Silent Hill fans are left to look on as new horror greats such as Outlast emerge and Resident Evil is born again, reinvigorated by a return to its roots both indirectly with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and with the fully remade Resident Evil 2. Those wanting to see something, anything from Silent Hill are encouraged to go play one of the branded pachinko machines Konami has taken to crafting lately. This isn't what a series so important should become. Silent Hill has long deserved better, but this is true now more than ever.

Resident Evil 2 screenshotPlease, Konami, do this but with Harry Mason.

There are currently no signs that Konami cares to revive Silent Hill in any way, but fans should cautiously take comfort in the massive success Capcom has had with Resident Evil over the past few years, and especially with last week's Resident Evil 2. It feels like that could be the inspiration for Konami to revisit their own series in a similar fashion, and that's probably the best option anyway. The original games were made by Team Silent and it was when the franchise began to be passed around to other studios that the quality took a hit according to many fans. Team Silent isn't coming back, though maybe the right team does still exist to do a great sequel. Regardless, the first game's brilliance and time-tested atmosphere exist as blueprints for a new team to come in and remake the original game in the vein of Resident Evil 2.

The prospect seems like a win for everyone. Konami, apparently risk-averse and barely interested in making games anymore, can jump on the bandwagon Capcom is steering and cash in on an automatic hit, provided the remake is handled with respect. Fans, meanwhile, will get to experience the original game's glory reimagined for modern consoles. It's such a spectacle to see Resident Evil 2 in its new light, and no doubt the same would be true for Silent Hill if Konami would make the effort. "In my restless dreams, I see that town" so goes the iconic line from the sequel, and I'm hoping, in some form, Konami can promise to take us there again someday.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.