Sunday, August 15, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #2: "Daddy, Help Me! Daddy, Where are You!?"

A lot of video games are simply a fun diversion from the pressures of a stressful existence, but every once in a while, a game comes along that changes the way players look at the world or even the way they live their lives. Street Fighter II brought a host of new words to American lexicon, from the “Hadoken” fireball to the rising “Shoryuken” punch; hundreds of teens across the nation started taking guitar lessons after the advent of the Guitar Hero series (and almost as many kids, to their parents’ dismay, gave up in the first week); and thanks to a little game called Pokémon, obsessive children everywhere have been battling trading card addictions for more than a decade.

In my own experience, something I generally didn’t enjoy before playing the original Silent Hill title for PlayStation was urinating in my pants. However, I’ve taken to wetting myself rather frequently when behind the controls of this game. The first Silent Hill was literally the scariest media experience of my life and I know there are plenty of people who, after they wash the pee out of their trousers, would agree with me. After the horrors of Silent Hill, other “scary” things lose their punch. For example, for SH veterans, The Exorcist might as well have taken place in a McDonald’s ballpit and starred Pee Wee Herman as Fr. Damian.

In Silent Hill, Players take control of mystery author and hopelessly aloof father Harry Mason as he trudges through demon-concealing fog, abandoned amusement parks filled with author-chewing claw creatures, and a lizard-infested sewer that somehow manages to be a reprieve from the action up to that point. The voice acting is horrendous, but that seems to have been a staple in Konami games of the era – just look at Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Besides, nothing adds to the gut-churning tension of situation like a man delivering his lines with all the bravado of someone trying to decide what condiments to squeeze onto his tuna fish sandwich.

During his pleasant stay in the resort town of Silent Hill, Harry has a hard time searching for his missing daughter, Cheryl, who has short black hair and just turned seven last week. But he has a much easier time finding mighty truckloads of blood splashed on the walls, fleshless bodies hanging in bathroom stalls, thousands of yards of barbed wire and probably a roomful of all the teachers who ever berated you in elementary school, though I have yet to find it. And when the sirens sound, it’s a sign to the player to put down the controller and dash from the room, because things are going to get a whole lot more rusty and stabful in about 20 seconds.

Silent Hill is the typical father loses daughter, father looks for daughter, daughter merges with demonic alter ego and attempts to devour everyone around her kind of story, so there’s really no need to go into plot details since it’s such a cliché narrative. However, whether you’re running from misshapen alien children with sharp, sharp knives; or running from pterodactyls with player-rending talons; or even running from faceless zombie nurses that confuse your neither regions with their unholy mix of sex and death, there is but one thing you must remember: Never trust the Silent Hill manual.

For example, when describing the knife that Harry finds in the first few minutes of the game, the manual says it’s a “weak weapon but better than nothing.” The phrase “better than nothing” implies that one would be better off with the weapon than without it. This is not true. Any fool who attempts to use the knife will find himself flailing wildly, missing every attack and basically offering himself up to the enemy as a sort of well-educated but poorly-spoken flesh meal. Assuming that after months of practice you find a way to actually hit things with the knife, you’ll soon see that your kitchen cutlery inflicts approximately as much damage as a disappointing bedtime story. If it had been up to me, I’d have replaced the knife with an adult toy. It would have been just as effective as a weapon and few can deny the entertainment value of a man battling the forces of evil with a vibrating pseudo-phallus.

The manual also says that the iron pipe weapon is “harder to use” than the knife. Wrong again, manual! Last time I checked, whacking someone with three feet of cold metal is easier than getting close enough to stab them with a dull knife (or an adult toy as the case may be). The same is true in Silent Hill: Killing monsters is better than not killing them and getting your spleen torn out in the process. The more I think about it, the more it looks like the manual wants you to fail.

Let’s see if you were playing attention though taking a quick quiz. Pretend that the Silent Hill manual says that multi-grain fiber bread is an excellent tool for keeping Harry healthy and regular. When you find multi-grain fiber bread in the game, you should:

A. Eat it immediately to restore lost health and/or put an end to irregularity.

B. Toss it at the nearest enemy in hopes of causing damage.

C. Throw it away before it explodes, destroying your television set and blasting shrapnel into your tender eyeballs.

If you picked A, you’re an idiot.

You used the knife, didn't you?

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