Thursday, December 31, 2009
Silent Hill is kind of a weird franchise.
The first Silent Hill came out roughly around the same time as the original Resident Evil, making it one of the longest running video game franchises to date. The players made their way through the foggy streets of Silent Hill searching for your adopted daughter and gradually unraveling the secrets of the town. As the series went on, the mythology got more convoluted but the characterization became much richer. Unlike Resident Evil, where the characters because more and more invincible, the protagonists in Silent Hill became more and more vulnerable and human. The town itself became a sort of terrible crucible, forcing its hapless victims to confront their personal demons, often to grim results.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories reboots the franchise at the first game, jettisoning the convoluted Cult/Alessa mythology that bogged down much of the earlier games. The story again revolves around Harry Mason's search for his daughter amid the snowy streets of Silent Hill. His search occasionally leads him into shadowy nightmare realms, much like the Otherworlds of previous games, where faceless screaming things chase him across a frozen landscape.
The game's big selling point is that it plays you while you're playing it, that actions you take during gameplay influence which ending you get. Most of this is accomplished by a framing device where the player interacts with a therapist. It's a great idea in theory, but too much of it relies on yes-no questions during the therapy sessions. The only elements in gameplay that tips the result are really minor, petty things: if you linger your gaze too long on alcoholic beverages you get the drunk ending; if you stare too hard at pin-up posters you get the lusty dad ending. I would have been much happier with the game if more of the mindfuckery occurred in the game, not through the Q-and-A sessions.
Most of the game suffers from similar great idea/poor execution problems. The nightmare sequences in particular were a really good idea. You can't actually fight the creatures that come after you and so each sequence becomes a heart-pounding chase through the tundra of the protagonist's soul. While this sounds neat in practice, the lack of guides and signposts mean that you'll spend most of the chase scene running around in circles. This gets really, really frustrating. It took about a half-dozen run throughs before I got comfortable enough in these sequences to know where the hell I was going.
These things both sound like huge negatives, but I really enjoyed Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The game's storyline and twist ending, while preposterous, was still pretty captivating. The variations in personality types keeps it pretty varied and exciting. I also liked the game's creepy sexuality. Without giving too many twists away, most of the hauntings in the game have a strongly sexual component, done with a depth and maturity not often found in the medium. Finally, the game's music, which is always a strong point in Silent Hill games, was spectacular. I particularly liked the sadly nostalgic song the girl sings in the high school auditorium.
For all the game's flaws, creating a playground out of a damaged psyche makes for a chillingly good time. This is definitely one to check out.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
As the first decade of the new millennium is winding down, all the blogs are doing their retrospectives of the best and worst of the past ten years. Mine's coming, but in the meantime, check out the one Bloody-Disgusting put together. You can find it here.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
I came across David Moody's Hater at the library across the street from where I work. The area I work in is conservative and quiet and the library shelves are usually stocked with tea-room mysteries and financial advice books. Moody's book, with its lurid, blood-streaked cover, immediately caught my eye. I picked it up, saw it got a blurb from Guillermo Del Toro, and decided to give it a shot.
The book tells the story of an unknown virus that turn people into primal, homicidal maniacs. Set in London, the story follows a man and his family as they slowly degenerate over the course of the crisis. After the family is divided by infection we learn the extreme steps the authorities have taken to quell the plague and we see the beginning of war between infected and the mundane world.
This is the first book I've read from Moody, who has apparently made quite a career self publishing post-apocalyptic horror fiction. He sells the world and the slow escalation of civil discomfort well. Most of the book is told in first person, with occasional delightfully violent interludes showing us other awful things going on in the Haterverse.
Much of the book feels like a zombie story. There's the sudden inversion of normal society, the panicked search for supplies and safety, the paranoid distrust of each other, and the sudden outbreaks of violence and civil unrest. As I've harped on incessantly in the past, I believe that horror is often a metaphor for social anxiety and Hater works particularly good at exaggerating the horrors of domestic terrorism. In an interview with Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, Moody confirmed that terrorism was at the core of Hater:
I’d always had an idea for a story which involved the human race ‘splitting’. I wanted to examine the impact that would have if people were forced to take a side, rather than choosing to. Originally, I’d planned for half of the population to become physically repulsive to the other! But then, in July 2005, I saw footage of the London suicide bombers which chilled me to the core. Incredibly, one of them was a classroom assistant in a primary school. I couldn’t believe how someone could have such a positive, important and trustworthy job, and then, literally days later, be on the Underground with a bomb strapped to their back, ready to kill as many people as possible. Those two themes combined were really the genesis of Hater.
As a tale of the fears of our neighbors suddenly doing us harm, Hater works remarkably well. It also stands out in characterization. One of the big things I took away from the book was my ambivalence toward the lead character. The protagonist, a family man trapped in a dead-end job, is pretty much a hater even before the plague takes over. He's petty, passive-aggressive, and simmers with barely contained rage at the people around him. His family, a bunch of chav-vy yobs, aren't any better. They read like the redneck family you stand behind in line at Target, the ones who are cussing at each other and are probably just an inch away from murdering each other. For a story about the destructive power of rage, this was an effective perspective to use, but I can't say I had a lot of fun hanging out with the guy.
Hater is definitely worth checking out. It ain't a happy story, but it touches a lot of buttons, both in terms of its War on Terror motifs and its disturbing take on domestic life. Take a gander at the author's blog here. As for me, I'm definitely checking out the next book in the Hater series, Dog Blood.
Friday, December 25, 2009
To my small cadre of loyal readers, I want to wish you all a safe, scary, and happy holiday season! Thank you all for indulging me in my little rants on one of my favorite subjects. I had a very nice holiday season myself, as I'm sitting on new copies of Laid to Rest, Sweeney Todd, Murder Party, and Dance of the dead.
Stick around. We got more podcasts, more interviews, more top ten lists, and more demented ramblings! Me and Professor Demon Bunny both thank you for your support and wish you a happy new year.