Well… it’s been a little spartan around here this past week (‘Spartan’, geddit??), as I’ve been dragged willingly into Halo 4‘s all-encompassing orbit. Yes, I’m still playing campaign – I like to take my time and explore those vast Forerunner structures – and it really is pretty damn special.

Anyway! That’s not the purpose of today’s piece, as the title attests. One other gaming property that’s been occupying both my time and my thoughts recently is Silent Hill, Konami’s formerly peerless psychological survival horror series. This is partly thanks to the release of Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (I really wish they’d stop using ‘revelation’ for everything, whoever ‘they’ are). I really enjoyed the first Silent Hill film; it absolutely nailed the look of Silent Hill, had a decent stab at the atmosphere, and though the story was a slightly mangled retelling of the first game, I felt like it was the only videogame adaptation to do its source material any semblance of justice.

So I was initially quite excited for the sequel. Trailers showed a film based on Silent Hill 3 (for those uninitiated, a direct sequel to the first game); there was protagonist Heather, looking exactly as she does in game, ditto Douglas Cartland, the PI that’s searching for her; there’s Lakeside Amusement Park, a location that features in both Silent Hill and SH3; even Claudia, the enigmatic, otherworldly-looking leader of The Order is present and correct.

Indeed, the film is positively rammed with fan service (the Seal of Metatron is a major plot point, and the producers even manage to shoehorn Travis Grady into the end sequence), yet it doesn’t make a good film. The pacing is horribly, horribly off, with one sequence that feels as if it might lead into something bigger, only for the film to peter out and end, seemingly prematurely. Worse still, dialogue is often incredibly poor, to the point where even blaming the work experience kid wouldn’t explain it, and some segments of the film are painfully cheesy – not what you want your audience feeling if you’re trying to create a sense of unease.

As I said earlier, I was initially quite excited for the film, yet I came out of the cinema feeling massively disappointed, and honestly a bit sad. It had a lot of potential from the first film to build from, as well as an excellent horror game to draw inspiration from. The final product was so poor that I honestly wish I could pretend it didn’t exist. It just seems such a waste, and I wish the possibility existed for it to be done all over again, only done well.

So, with that in mind, I got home on Hallowe’en night with two objectives; first, to put the terrible film out of my mind, and second, to enjoy something of quality with the Silent Hill name attached to it. The latter was easy to do, as the film at least had a uniformly great soundtrack, with the final credits rolling up to the sounds of a Mary Elizabeth McGlynn song – a voice that has been a large presence in Silent Hilldom since the third game – and another piece of music taken straight from the Silent Hill 3 soundtrack. So my first port of call had to be to listen to some of that beautiful, atmospheric music. This feature has been rattling around in my brain since then, and after grabbing a copy of Vita dungeon crawler Silent Hill: Book of Memories last week and discovering yet more excellent music, I decided to get it down on paper. So to speak.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill Theme
Akira Yamaoka

The song that prefaced a thousand nightmares. That opening jangly guitar riff sends a shiver down my spine even now, years after I first played the game. I re-played it recently on my Vita, in bed at night with earphones in, and the soundscapes created by series’ composer Akira Yamaoka have lost none of their potency – if anything, the sound design is more powerful when you’re enveloped in the game, as you are in the dark with earphones carrying the sound straight to your brain; there’s nothing to distract you from the oppressive atmosphere. This piece is the first example of a feeling that is threaded through much of Silent Hill‘s music – it’s not what you’d expect for a piece of horror media. Sure, it’s brooding, atmospheric and haunting, but it’s also subtly beautiful and possessed of a sense of fragility – perhaps befitting a series that’s as much about what’s going on within its characters as it is with what’s happening around them.

Silent Hill 2

Theme of Laura
Akira Yamaoka

This one may be more well-known than the theme of the original game. Theme of Laura, again by Akira Yamaoka, again displays similar themes to the previous track, but this one brings with it a massive helping of isolation and loneliness. What strikes me about this song is just how damn listenable it is; it feels sad, but not in a maudlin sense. It seems to me to portray a sense of both longing and tragic inevitability – fitting, considering the direction the story takes at its conclusion.

Silent Hill 3
Now, this one’s a little more difficult for me, as I’ve not played it in years (this will be remedied soon, as the HD version is near the top of my to-do list), so I’ve decided to go with the piece of music I mentioned earlier, the one that played over the end credits of Revelation.

Rain of Brass Petals
Akira Yamaoka

Another Akira Yamaoka instrumental piece, as far as I know this soundtrack entry doesn’t actually appear in the game at all. But what a fantastically evocative name for a piece of music. It’s another piece that displays those Silent Hill motifs of strange, restrained beauty and isolation, yet this one is of a more darkwave bent. It definitely has an end credits feel to it, as if it exists to solidify in your mind the thoughts and feelings of what you’ve just experienced – almost like a kind of aural bookend – so at least the music people of Revelation were doing their job. Like Theme of Laura, this is another wonderfully listenable piece of music, and I find it especially good to listen to at night with earphones for that added layer of atmosphere – it’s almost calming, in a rather dark sense.

Bonus round! Silent Hill: Book of Memories

Now We’re Free
Composed by Daniel Licht, vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

I mentioned earlier that Vita spin-off Book of Memories had an excellent title theme featuring series collaborator Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and this is that song. The game itself may not be a shining example of a Silent Hill title – it’s certainly different –  but the song is Silent Hill through and through. I often find myself lingering on the title screen just to listen to this slice of lonely, atmospheric longing, and if a Book of Memories soundtrack is to be forthcoming, I’ll certainly be looking to buy it. It also puts my mind at ease that this piece was composed by Daniel Licht, composer of the Silent Hill: Downpour score. I’ve not yet played that game (it’s also near the top of my substantial to-do list), so my worries about the music have been suitably allayed thanks to this one song.

Where the series goes from here has many worried. Downpour didn’t exactly set reviewers hearts aflame (though some longtime fans have had better things to say), and many are dismayed at the direction WayForward have taken with Book of Memories. Hopefully, those that are sceptical for the future of Silent Hill will refrain from going to see the new film, as it may tip them over the edge. Personally, I’m enjoying the format of the Vita title, as it works very well for a handheld, and I shall refrain from ruminating on the series’ future until after I’ve played Downpour. I’ll also hope there are no further instalments in the film series – I don’t think I could take another Revelation.

Yet it’s hard to argue that the series hasn’t changed somewhat since Konami started farming it out to studios outside of Japan. Hopefully Downpour will surprise me, and bring back some of those uneasy feelings I enjoyed so much in the first three games (and to a lesser extent, Silent Hill 4: The Room). But for now, or at least once Halo 4‘s campaign is out of the way, I’ll stick to reliving my past in the relative comfort of Silent Hill 3.