This Influential ‘90s Horror Game Still Feels Like A Haunting Fever Dream

No location is truly safe in a town that seems to be stuck in time.

Silent Hill 1999

There’s something alluring about small, sleepy towns that compel visitors to slow down and savor their foggy landscapes and labyrinthine alleyways, removed from the urgency of urban cityscapes and the hyperreal qualities of existence. However, some towns sometimes carry dark, twisted legacies, hiding unsavory secrets beneath their carefully constructed dreamy exteriors. One such town is Silent Hill, an outwardly welcoming tourist resort in Maine that secretly harbors terrible conspiracies about ritualistic sacrifices and the awakening of something unspeakably sinister.

Published by Konami in 1999 for PlayStation, Silent Hill altered the psychological survival horror landscape by offering a gameplay experience that relied heavily on ambient scares and latent symbolism. The game’s soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka lends a surreal, unsettling quality to the in-game exploration, where players control Harry Mason, an everyman lost in this mysterious town. Helming a story that functions on dream logic, Silent Hill blurs the lines between grounded reality and nightmarish visions, leading to a disorienting journey punctuated by sordid secrets and mythical beasts.

A quick flashback explains that Harry and his now-deceased wife Jodie had adopted a child named Cheryl, who is seen traveling with her father to Silent Hill in the present day. An unfortunate freak accident overturns their car, rendering Harry unconscious. When he comes to, Cheryl is nowhere to be seen in the fog-drenched townscape, prompting her father to embark on a one-man search for his daughter, who seems to have a connection to a tragic fire that plagued the town seven years ago. After learning about a cult working to resurrect a primordial entity, Harry needs to make a string of decisions to save his daughter and the town itself.

The death of a young girl named Alessa Gillespie haunts every nook in Silent Hill, manifesting a dreadful alternate reality known as the “otherworld,” in which Harry frequently wakes up after passing out at several points in the game. While the real world is shrouded in fog and low visibility, the otherworld feels grimmer, marked with rusted, grimy pavements and bloody, mutilated corpses. Moreover, every time Harry experiences a scripted “death,” he wakes up in a new location, accentuating his (and the player’s) inability to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not.

Harry’s everyman sensibilities are directly reflected within the gameplay.


As Silent Hill is meant to be pieced together like a convoluted jigsaw puzzle, players progress at the same pace as Harry, who needs to uncover the town’s secrets by confronting monsters and solving puzzles. With no heads-up display (HUD), players need to open up a menu to check maps or Harry’s health and ammo, while a third-person view allows smooth exploration between the dual worlds. This leads to a more immersive (if somewhat cumbersome) experience.

Harry’s everyman sensibilities are directly reflected within the gameplay, as he is supposed to be a helpless parent on a desperate search for his daughter. As a result, he cannot withstand serious damage like standard horror protagonists, he gasps and wheezes after sprinting for a while, and his weapon handling is deliberately amateur and inconsistent. A flashlight can be used early on to navigate the town’s strange realms, but consistent use alerts enemies nearby, making combat significantly challenging due to Harry’s limited abilities to shoot and evade.

Every step in Silent Hill is designed to induce anxiety or claustrophobia.


Every step taken by Harry in Silent Hill is designed to induce anxiety or claustrophobia, especially when the environment shifts to darker tones and gives way to grotesque beasts or fleshy larval monsters. No location is truly safe in a town that seems to be stuck in time.

The choices you make throughout Silent Hill matter deeply, leading to one of five different endings, including a bonus joke ending where Harry gets abducted by extraterrestrials. And since the variations within the “good” and “bad” endings are significant enough to alter the history of Silent Hill, there’s significant value in replaying the game to achieve every resolution.

Harry in the “Otherworld.”


Comparisons between Silent Hill and Resident Evil are inevitable. Both franchises have painstakingly mapped player experiences that rely on atmospheric dread and storylines that feel inherently traumatic for the characters involved. While the first Resident Evil confines the terror to a dangerous mansion and expands on resurfacing biohazard threats in subsequent titles, the original Silent Hill uses Harry Mason’s tale to establish the hellish nature of its title town, which the franchise revisits time and again in novel ways. These foundational titles are cornerstones for the respective franchises that paved their way in divergent directions, and the legacy of Silent Hill in particular, can be acutely felt in its brilliant sequel, Silent Hill 2, which expands on the themes of the protagonist descending into madness, only on a more acute level.

To determine whether the first Silent Hill holds up to this day, it is imperative to look into the game’s 2009 remake, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. While the remake retains the original’s premise, it is a complete reimagining that takes place within a new fictional universe and adds new narrative elements to a familiar story. A psychological test that players participate in during the first part determines the nature of the gameplay and the kind of enemies they need to fight, making Shattered Memories a unique, independent entity that merely alludes to the original without any intention of faithfully replicating it. This allows the 1999 game to be evaluated on its own merits.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories launched in December 2009 for the Nintendo Wii and was posted to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable in January 2010.


Despite its dated graphics, Silent Hill employs stunning camerawork to tell a harrowing tale through subtle visual cues, where the player’s viewpoint is shifted around during exploration to convey a sense of mounting unease. Moreover, the in-game map is updated according to player progress in real-time, while the sound design is diegetic, becoming increasingly disorienting as Harry starts to feel like he’s losing his mind. Silent Hill is not about preventing a catastrophe — it is about survival while experiencing the aftermath of this dreadful event, where the outcome of Harry’s journey depends on the ending achieved, most of which feel more like narrow escapes than triumphant victories.

Silent Hill has endured the test of time, much like the maze-like pockets of horror of its resort town, patiently waiting to be rediscovered.

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