14 September, 2009

Your Personal Nightmare

As promised, here is my follow-up to the previous post on Silent Hill Origins.

Let's start by looking at the stats for my second play-through:

Total enemies killed using melee weapons: 188
Total enemies killed using firearms: 1
Total enemies killed using fists: 58
Total items collected: 330
Number of map views: 7
Number of times saved: 13
Distance walked: 21.97
Total game time: 4:26:50
Total flashlight use time: 0:23:48
Number of game completions: 2

Total game time was cut in half from my first time, down to just 4.5 hours. Saves were reduced to almost a third of the previous number - showing my increasing confidence and knowledge of the game. I made a conscious effort not to view the map (although I still instinctively picked the maps up, and doing so results in an automatic view - that counts six (Town, Hospital, Sanitarium, Theater, Motel, Othertown) plus one extra view when I accidentally pressed the wrong button), and to keep my flashlight off as much as possible. You can walk right past most demons with the flashlight off (if the room is dark), and they won't attack you, but of course, it can be hard to see things lying around (and some rooms are just really really dark). I also focused on just using melee weapons/fists (I was kind of undecided/confused about which to choose) - however, that one firearm kill is none other than The Butcher, whom I was too afraid to fight up close, considering his lethal Great Cleaver.

As you may have suspected, all of these special conditions I fulfilled for the express purpose of earning accolades, which I briefly mentioned in the previous post. Extras in Silent Hill Origins are separated individually, such that you can earn them one (or more) at a time, and you get to keep the bounty on successive play-throughs (instead of just the next play-through). Previous Silent Hills gave rewards for high star rankings (abolished in this game), the best reward reserved for the nigh impossible ten star ranking. In Origins, you can work on the different accolades independently, instead of having to satisfy all the right conditions in a single play-through.

For example, there is a Sprinter Accolade, for beating the game in under two hours, and a Daredevil Accolade for beating the game without a single save. Previous games would require a minimum number of saves *and* a low completion time (along with myriad other requirements) for the ten star ranking, but this way, you can play the game through once, focusing on speed, saving as much as you want in order to perfect your timing, and then play it again, taking as much time as you need to beat it, but without saving your progress. Afterwards, you'll have both rewards in the subsequent play-through!

Well, that's exactly what I was planning on doing, but I started my sprinter run and I just thought to myself, "I don't feel particularly threatened", so I just didn't save and made it my daredevil run as well! Here are the stats for that run:

Total enemies killed using melee weapons: 4
Total enemies killed using firearms: 0
Total enemies killed using fists: 23
Total items collected: 88
Number of map views: 21
Number of times saved: 0
Distance walked: 6.66 Km
Total game time: 0:57:52
Total flashlight use time: 0:03:04
Number of game completions: 3

Zero saves, and completion in less than an hour (taking the shortcut joke ending). That 6.66 Km walking distance did not go unnoticed. Flashlight time under 5 minutes(!). Focused on killing with my fists (albeit with the help of the powerful Moon Gauntlets - although you have to be careful to only knock the enemy down and not kill it with the gauntlets so that you can stomp it and get a "fist" kill, since the gauntlets count as a melee weapon).

My overall conclusion for this game in comparison to previous Silent Hills is that it's fairly short (although I remember the original Silent Hill being relatively short as well), and, as much of a sting this is, not quite as scary as the other games. Still scary, just not as. Now let's talk about some of the cooler Extras:

Each accolade earns you an alternate costume, and some of them get you an additional special item. I'd say the majority of the costumes are kind of boring, but there are some cool ones.

Acquiring the "good" ending gets you the Savior Accolade, which comes with a nifty leather outfit, and the previously mentioned Moon Gauntlets, which are quite powerful - I was surprised when the final boss of the game took three whole punches to defeat!

The "bad" ending nets you The Butcher costume, which is pretty cool (bloody clothing), and The Butcher's Great Cleaver.

The UFO Ending (a joke, and a Silent Hill tradition), gets you the Tesla Rifle, which is a gun that shoots lightning. It's not super-powerful, but as it's supposedly powered by moonbeams, it never runs out of energy, and is quite cool to use. The "spacesuit" costume is unremarkable.

The Sprinter Accolade, achieved by beating the game in under two hours, gets you a costume which looks unappealing (sweats), but allows you to run nonstop without running out of breath - thus quite useful for running down those long streets of Silent Hill.

The Stalker Accolade, for playing in the dark with the flashlight off, is perhaps one of the coolest. The costume is a "black ops" uniform, and the accolade also includes a pair of night vision goggles, which are quite useful indoors. Get used to the characteristic green vision, and you'll be able to hunt demons in pitch black, knocking them out before they know what hit them. Particularly good for sneaking past demons without getting attacked, in order to save time and ammo.

The Fireman Accolade is also pretty cool. At the beginning of the game, there's a sequence where you come upon a burning house, and have to save the girl (none other than Alessa) inside. If you do it really quickly, you'll earn the accolade, which gets you a neat fireman costume and a powerful Fire Axe.

Take your choice, do you want to play through Silent Hill as a Fireman, a black ops agent, or a bloodied serial killer? The dog costume (Daredevil Accolade) and the Mexican wrestling outfit (Brawler Accolade) are amusing, but ridiculous. The latter is earned by defeating most enemies with your fists. As alluded to, there are also accolades for defeating most enemies with melee weapons, and with firearms. And there are a couple others.

And now let's talk psychology. If you don't want to read major plot spoilers, then don't read any further. One of the coolest things about Silent Hill is the concept of the town personalizing your inner demons, and manifesting them into a[n apparently] physical form, to h[a]unt you down, until you uncover whatever deep revelation the town intends for you, or come to terms with a certain traumatic event in your past. For example, it is said that Alessa is afraid of dogs, thus explaining the dog monsters in the first (and third) game. Also, the schoolhouse boss in the first game was a monster from a scary story found in the school's library (The Monster Lurks). In Silent Hill 2, James is pursued by the assassin Pyramid Head, which can be said to be a literal embodiment of his [repressed] guilt about putting his wife out of her misery. Similarly, in Silent Hill Origins, it is revealed that Travis Grady may have a split personality - unknown to the side of him that we control in the game - as a result of the trauma of his parent's deaths in childhood, that manifests in the form of a brutal serial killer (The Butcher). Travis' unexpected layover in Silent Hill, in addition to his interactions with Alessa, serve to dredge up the childhood trauma he's repressed, and force him to confront his alter-ego. In a very real sense, it is a healing journey - although success (and survival) is far from guaranteed. This is what I love about Silent Hill.

Two recurring species of nightmare in the Silent Hill games are the demonic nurses, and the "straitjackets". The former represent a not uncommon fear for many people of doctors (and it's no coincidence that much time in Silent Hill is spent in a number of different hospitals). The straitjackets - lumbering figures with limited capabilities for aggression (though that doesn't hamper their intent) - can be said to represent personal feelings of self-imprisonment, and feelings of weakness and inability to cope with one's problems (not unlike the symbolism of the VIII of Swords). The enemies that show up in Silent Hill Origins take forms that represent Travis' fears and insecurities, and in some cases Alessa's also. The "carrion" demon - an oversized, disfigured, stumbling half-roadkill beast - represents Travis' guilt over animals killed during his career as a truck driver. The "twoback" beast that stalks the motel mocks Travis' sexual insecurities, which are suggested in dialogue elsewhere. And of course, the malformed figures of Travis' parents, whose deaths traumatized him as a child, constitute two of the bosses/obstacles on Travis' journey of healing.

You have to admire a game that inspires psychoanalysis on this order. But what tickles my inspiration bone, is the idea of personalized nightmares. What if you - yes, you - were to visit Silent Hill? Is there a monster lurking in your subconscious, waiting to be recognized? What kind of nightmares haunt you, and what form would they take as you cautiously, nervously wander the foggy streets of Silent Hill? I ask this question, and I think the answer would be most intriguing, however it's not only an incredibly personal question (and revealing your fears and insecurities always comes with the risk that others could take advantage of that information - then again, all the better for you to confront them), but it's also asking you to shed light on something that may well be hiding in the darker corridors of your mind; perhaps a place you'd rather not go. But Silent Hill has a way of calling you, of pulling you into a trap which forces you to do just that, if you would survive.

I think it's something worth thinking about.

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