Level 3: The worst town ever!!
Boy, 1999 was a crazy year for me! I had a steady job, both the Matrix and Phantom Menace had come out (screw you guys! I like the Phantom Menace!), and I even managed to get a girlfriend (I know, that one surprised me as well). With all that great stuff going on, I was ready to declare 1999 the greatest year ever in the history of years…and then Silent Hill came out and ruined me. But before we travel to that awful little town, we need to make a pit stop first in Hong Kong.
Fear Effect (1999)
We all like cartoons (that wasn’t a question), and we all like horror stories (I’m just assuming), so what happens when you combine them? You get Fear Effect!
A couple things right out of the gate for this one. First, it was cel-shaded. There was a run in the years following this game where cel-shading was all the rage, but this one predated that jazz. Also, unlike the Resident Evil games, which used pre-rendered backgrounds (for the movie buffs, think matte paintings, for everybody else, basically static images) this bad boy did something different, it used full-motion video on a loop. This made the environment pop in a way that was not really seen at that time (it was also responsible for making this rather short game come on 4 DISCS!!!). Things were always moving in the background. Sure, it was a little weird if you hung around long enough for the loop to repeat, but hey, it was still awesome.
The gameplay was a mix of shooting, puzzle solving and quick-time events. You got your pick of mercenaries. A couple of grease balls named Deke and Glas, and super fox Hana. Obviously, I picked Hana. Mmm, Hana, in her tight leather pants and over-abundance of cleavage…
Huh? Oh, right, the game. A fun thing about Fear Effect was that you could literally be scared to death (hence the title). Your health bar would deplete if you ended up in bad situations. Hilariously, you could actually regain health by calming your character down (things like solving puzzles and killing baddies in an efficient manner) would bring you back to the green.
The plot found yummy Hana and her jerk-off partners hired to retrieve some Hong Kong crime boss’ daughter. The girl was kidnapped by a cult or something (cut me some slack, I’m going off memory here, sheesh!), and forced you to descend into hell to get her back. Besides Asian inspired demonic spirits, you also had to contend with a little known crime syndicate called the TRIAD!!! Yup, the odds were stacked against you. Also, did I mention it takes place in the future? I’m pretty sure I did…no, oh, well, it takes place in the future. It has a strong Blade Runner aesthetic.
Fear Effect was dope enough to get a sequel, called Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix. The second game had some fame of its own due to some implied lesbianism between Hana and a smoking hot blonde!
Alright, enough of that, it’s time to get to the real shit.
Silent Hill (1999)
I have to go back a bit for this one. Sometime in the late summer/early fall of ’98 I was reading the newest issue of EGM magazine (for my younger readers, a magazine is like a website on paper) and I came across a list of all the games shown at that years E3 (E3 was the mecca of gaming. For three days, the stats for acne and eye glasses would rise dramatically in the host city).
EGM kindly took the time to divide all the games up into their respective genres. And thanks to the huge success of Resident Evil 1 and 2, there was actually a survival horror section. Of the dozen or so games featured here, one jumped out at me: Silent Hill.
Even with nothing more than a grainy screen-cap the size of a matchbook, and a plot summery no longer than 40 words, I had this feeling in my stomach (it turned out to be gas from the 2L of ice cream I had just eaten, but at the time, it felt like fate!)
Flash forward to mid ’99 and I’m walking out of my local Electronic Boutique (before they changed their name to EB Games) with a copy of Silent Hill in my fat hands. I get home, head to my room, tear into a bag of Doritos (I’m assuming on the Doritos because I was super fat) and stuck that bad boy into my PSX. …And my life was never the same.
I was not ready for the level of shit that was going to be thrown at me. I can admit it. Sitting back, watching the opening cinematic, I was sure about two things in life: all computers were going to die thanks to Y2K and Silent Hill was just another Resident Evil clone. I was so wrong (and had a lot of bottled water to drink). Silent Hill is nothing like Resident Evil. RE is like going through a fun house, yeah, there are some scares, but it’s all just shits and giggles. You could probably bring your mom along and she’ll have a good enough time. Silent Hill is like getting locked in an insane asylum for the night, and then getting skull fucked by the inmates. And then, in the morning when the staff arrive, instead of helping you, they skull fuck you as well.
This game was pure nightmare fuel. Yeah, the monsters were scary, but it’s Silent Hill (the town) itself that ruined my life. In most games (hell, in most horror stories period), there are rules. If you want out, you just need to have a big enough gun, or a priest, or a gun that fires priests. You tell yourself (even though it’s a game) that the creatures and locations have to follow the same rules of physics that you do. Walls are solid. Bullets kills everything and if you find a green herb and a red herb you can mix them together to make a healing powder (just like real life). You can’t leave because you haven’t found the blue key card yet, but as soon as you do, you can open that physical door and be on your merry way. But Silent Hill throws you a curve ball because it doesn’t play by those rules. Some monsters you just can’t kill. Others seem to have no interest in killing you! The world changes and transforms around you. When you enter the front door of a house and it is daytime (although foggy as all hell) and leave by the back and it is nighttime for no reason (not because of lazy design either), you know the rules have gone out the window. And then, AND THEN, the air raid siren goes off. That’s the moment when Silent Hill goes from just another survival horror game, to a whole other thing. You see, when that wailing siren sounds, it means that the world you are in is about to change…FOR THE WORSE! Basically, the only way out of this nightmare is to see it through. You can’t run, you can’t hide.
Back to that siren. I’m not kidding when I say there were quite a few years after playing this game that when I would hear the air raid, I would start praying for a fucking tornado!
You play dim-wit Harry Mason who decides that he needs to take his daughter Cheryl (who he found as a baby, by the way!) to Silent Hill. A butch biker cop comes roaring past on the road into town, moments later, her bike is seen laying off the side of the road, she’s gone (I assume she either needed to change her wife beater shirt, we all know she wears, or re-spike her short hair). Anyway, moments after that, a figure walks into the road causing Harry to crash. When he comes around, Cheryl is gone. With the only thing nearby being the town of Silent Hill itself, Harry, running like a man with two prosthetic legs, heads in.
The story, which revolves around a cult and girl named Allyssa, hits you with all sorts of crazy mysteries and plot twists right up to the somewhat vague ending (there are actually different ending depending on how you played). When not fighting creatures that would have had H.R. Giger calling for his mama, you had to solve all sorts of puzzles. Some of these were pretty straight forward, while others took me for fucking ever to figure out (a particular one late in the game involving astrological signs nearly broke me—the sad thing was, the answer was as simple as could be).
Oh, and one more thing before we move on, Silent Hill had a nucking futs soundtrack. The tunes, an industrial music nightmare, would leave me on edge for hours. Fun note, I still jam to all the Silent Hill soundtracks when writing, it’s that synonymous with horror for me.
Silent Hill has 7 sequels. Some of them really good (part 2 and 3), some really bad (Homecoming and Downpour) and one that could have been great if not for the fact that like, half the fucking the game, is an escort mission (The Room). We almost had a Guillermo del Toro/Hideo Kijima produced Silent Hill game come our way, but that got canned because god hates us (Although you could play the terrifying demo, P.T. for a while).
Whelp, that brings us to the end the PlayStation 1. I feel a need to bring up a few more games before I leave though. First is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. This game was amazing. A vampire/Lovecraftian tale of epic proportions. Next, Nightmare Creatures 2, a shitty game with a great story and rocking Rob Zombie soundtrack. And finally, Dino Crisis (another Capcom game) which was basically just like Resident Evil except instead of Zombies, it was Dinosaurs.
Come back next week when we go next gen, and spend some time on a boat.