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Your grip tightens round the beat up old portable radio you hold in your hands. It's static hiss grows louder. Someone, something is moving in the fog just ahead of you. It's cold but sweat beads form on your forehead. You should run, now. But it's too late. The surrounding fog has parted. You stand transfixed. The lurking presence shuffles towards you. Now, you may scream. Silent Hill.

Released in 1999 for the Playstation, Konami's Silent Hill was most certainly not Resident Evil; and whilst Capcom's B-grade movies style zombiefest may have taken horror videogaming into the mainstream, Silent Hill was something altogether darker.

From the angular, industrial grindings of Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack to the drab, grainy, somewhat out of focus visuals, Silent Hill came to us not only darkly through the glass of our tv screens, but also crawled up and out of the inky voids of our own imaginings.

Resident Evil may have scared you with what was just round the corner but Silent Hill filled you with dread, whether there was anything there or not, the very essence of psychological horror.

In the first game we meet and play as everyday man Harry Mason, who after running his car off the road in an effort to avoid hitting a young woman, recovers consciousness to discover that his travelling companion, his young daughter, is missing.

Assuming that she would have made her way to the nearest town for help, Harry Mason takes both himself and us on a journey of searching desperatation. It is a search that will lead us through the ever increasingly un-nerving town of Silent Hill.

Today there is perhaps nothing which strikes a more immediate sense of alarm than to hear that a child is missing. It loosens the bonds we place around our primal fears and strikes makes us question the kind of world we’re living in. It is the stuff of nightmares.

And this, at its core, is what Silent Hill is - a waking nightmare, which you play as a videogame.

As anyone who has experienced a nightmare knows, what gives such dreams their impact is that uncanny mix of the concrete, real world details, mixed and joined with the fantastical. And so it is with the town of Silent Hill.

Surely no place, no matter what the climate, could be that damp, no place couple be so cold and shrouded in fog all of the time? Yet as you continue to play through the game, your acceptance of the unnatural goes unnoticed. Of course there are things in that fog, whispering and slouching their way toward you. And of course the static which plays on the portable radio which you carry round rises in scratching hisses when the formless, and often faceless creatures are near.

The game's steady but relentless pacing continues, creating a rising sense of urgency until it reaches one of several possible conclusions. As such the invitation to return to this hellish place in pursuit of a different ending beckons. The suggestion is that that while the choice of entering the town of Silent Hill is yours, leaving it for good may be an altogether different matter.

And so, a dozen years on since its release Silent Hill still possesses the power to unsettle.

A power which is only magnified with the addition of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3. Both games introduce new characters; James Sunderland, summoned back to the town by a letter from a dead wife and Heather, a young woman in search of answers about herself, answers that may only be found in the town of Silent Hill.

The narrative threads of all three games are ultimately interwoven - Silent Hill 3 is itself a direct sequel to Silent Hill - such a cross-plotting technique is not often exploited in videogames, and it is one that lends the first three Silent Hill games a depth and cohesion many franschises lack.

Overall there are eight games that fall under the Silent Hill banner, however only the first four were created by Silent Team, lead by directing genius Keiichiro Toyama. His horror obsession goes back to his childhood days, and there are clear connections to Japanese horror classics like Dark Water and The Grudge.

Mention must also go to composer Akira Yamaoka, who’s tense other worldly soundtracks create much of the forboding and tension experienced in the games. Indeed, one edition of Silent Hill included a bonus soundtrack CD, having experienced it, I simply dare you to play it in your car on a late night drive home. Terrifying.

Silent Hill 4: The Room, the fourth game in the series, can be viewed as a stand alone story and while it certainly ups the nightmare imagery of the series, and is certainly worth playing, it is also far more action orientated than the prior three games and has little to nothing to do with the town of Silent Hill.

It is at this point most critics agree that the quality of the series in both storyline and gameplay terms drops away dramatically, but the Silent Hill series doesn't have the psychological horror genre all to itself. Arguably the three Project Zero games (known as 'Fatal Frame' in the US) instill a fair level of mental angst too. Confronted with the twisted and misshapen forms of vengeful ghosts, against whom your only protection is a rickety old camera.

It’s not all about the Playstation and Xbox either, the Nintendo Gamecube game, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem may have its faults, but then so do all the other titles mentioned in this article. What can’t be faulted though is the ambitious breadth of this game's storyline and the way it seeks to involve the player unlike any other videogame. Madness can be catching, and developer Silicon Knights weren’t just satisfied with you enduring your character losing the plot. When your ‘Sanity Meter’ gets too high, the console starts to induce real world occurences, TV interference, game files which won’t save, controlleres disconnect at vital moments in the game. Most notable has to be the when the game volume drops and a fake tv volume graphic is displayed over the screen. A clever design intended to cause you to question your own sanity.

Wondering whether you are going insane is possibly the ultimate goal in psychological horror.  

These games will not be to everyone's taste. As the warning screens which appear during loading advises, these titles are full of gore, violence and cruelty. However, if you are a gamer who is wants to experience the full gammat of what videogames have to offer, then you need to visit the quiet little town of Silent Hill.

Just be sure to leave a light on.

LINK: Silent Hill PS1 - UK

Silent Hill , released in 1999 for the Playstation. It is the original NTSC Japanese release of this game which is most disturbing, containing the character of a small dead child which Harry Mason must avoid or do battle with.. When Silent Hill was released for in the US the 'grey child' as it had come to be known, was altered to make it appear more like a small demon rather than dead baby. When the game was finally released for PAL regions the 'grey child' had been removed from the game altogether.

A Silent Hill demo is including in the original release of Metal Gear Solid.

LINK: Silent Hill 2 PS2 - UK
Silent Hill 2 2001 released for Playstation 2, Microsoft Windows and Xbox (Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears), 2002 re-released for Playstation 2 (Silent Hill: Director's Cut), 2006 (Also Available in The Silent Hill Collection, PS2 only)
Silent Hill 3 2003  released for Playstation 2 and Microsoft Windows, 2006 (The Silent HIll Collection PS2 only)
Silent Hill 4: The Room 2004 released for Playstation 2, Microsoft Windows and Xbox, 2006 (Also Available in The Silent Hill Collection, PS2 only)
LINK: Project Zero XBOX - UK

Project Zero 2001 released for Playstation 2 and Xbox
LINK: Project Zero 2 PS2 - UK

LINK: Project Zero 2 XBOX - UK

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly 2003 released for Playstation 2 and Xbox

Project Zero 3: The Tormented  2005 released for Playstation 2 only
LINK: Eternal Darkness GAMECUBE - USA

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem 2002 released for Nintendo Gamecube only
Article by Tony Flynn
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