The horror survival genre is a diverse and expansive collection of some of the most horrifying playable experiences in existence, and we owe a lot of that to the success of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series. Since 1996, we have been dragged screaming and crying into Raccoon City and in 1999, we took our first trip to Toluca Lake. How far have we come since then?
A Comparative Look At The Evolution Of Survival Horror In Resident Evil And Silent Hill
Some of us played both, some only one and some of us have only watched "Let's Plays." Relax, I'm not here to decide who is the bravest among us—our journeys are unique. Some of us would rather be eaten alive than deal with our mommy issues, and that's just okay.
Either way, there is no doubt that these games have delivered scares in abundance. But which of the two has been more influential? Is there a champion between the two of them or are they winners in their own right? There are a few things to consider first. Let's start with the basics!
From the very beginning Resident Evil has been about zombies—or the conventional undead. In a story that includes everything from bioterrorism and corporate conspiracy to floating islands and family drama, I think we can all agree we've never been in need of variety in a #ResidentEvil story. Some might go so far as to say that the story doesn't even make sense. Haters.
In terms of monsters, the early days of Resi brought us your run-of-the-mill zombie with a few tank mutations thrown into the mix. Now it's more common to run into feral, rotting but still sort of alive versions of the locals (wherever local might be).
For example, in Resident Evil 5 we end up dealing with Uroboros-infested townspeople in Africa but in Resident Evil Revelations we're stuck with the f**ked up staff of a cruise ship. Each are scary for their own reasons, but later Resi games certainly leave you feeling empowered by providing you with big guns, boulder punches and a sh*t ton of ammo.
Silent Hill has focused on the terror of our inner demons. Wracked with guilt or searching for their lost love ones, people have wandered into #SilentHill never to be seen again—at least not outside of the Otherworld. Sure, some endings would have you believe otherwise, but experience has shown that very few actually escape that suffering no matter what the "good" endings tell you!
The enemies in Silent Hill are usually deeply symbolic. From Silent Hill to Silent Hill 2, they have represented everything from sexual deviance to the greatest fears of our protagonists. In Silent Hill 3 and Silent Hill 4 things became a bit more... identifiable. Enemies were either replications of bad memories, doppelgängers or straight up floating cadavers.
In general, you tend to be pretty defenseless. Until Silent Hill: Homecoming came along, you weren't really expected to get too down and dirty with the common enemies. In Silent Hill 4 you only had a pipe and like, six bullets. Those floating corpses could only be killed with a special sword. Talk about nerve-wracking.
Though we'd all like to think that it's all about quality, the frequency of delivery on that quality is also quite important. Long waits between releases can make-or-break a series by wearing out the fanbase or drumming up enough enthusiasm to make the wait worthwhile. We've seen both things happen with Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
This may surprise you, but when it comes to consistency the two are actually pretty close. Their mainline series have seen updates at fairly regular intervals. Though the Silent Hill series doesn't have as many chapters, the releases of the segments tend to be no more than two years apart.
Resident Evil actually boasts the longest gap between mainline releases—Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil 7 are a whopping five years apart, with Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5 carrying a four year gap as well.
One could argue that the fluff titles released to close the gaps—looking at you Umbrella Chronicles and Shattered Memories—were things that we could have lived without. I would actually go so far as to say that I would have preferred an eight year gap between mainline games to the release of Resident Evil 6. I doubt I'm alone there.
Doomed Moments Of Innovation
Capcom gave us Resident Evil: Outbreak. I know that it's not the first game that you thought of when I said "innovation." I know. But think about it this way: Resident Evil: Outbreak proposed a mode/quality of online gameplay that we didn't see again until Left 4 Dead was released in 2008. The idea of a team working together to get sh*t done with the looming possibility of turning (into a monster and therefore against the team) was a riveting mechanic presented ahead of time and on the worst possible console for it—R.I.P. PS2.
I'm still sad there isn't a proper legacy server for that one. The game brought us a fairly lovable ensemble in series full of well-known legendaries.
Konami gave us P.T. I've said it once and I'll say it again—I'm probably never going to let this one go. I don't formally recognize Silent Hill: Downpour as being part of the Silent Hill series. Why? Because I'm still reeling from the purchase and the time spent playing that game. I want that time back and I don't think I'll ever get it back.
In my world, there was a gap between the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming and the playable teaser for Silent Hills. You can't change my mind! P.T. revitalized a dying brand and was a beacon of hope for the series—but it was also relatively groundbreaking.
The playable teaser was splendid. It took a traditionally third-person game with incredibly iconic scenery and imagery and completely turned it on its head. It gave us an immersive puzzle in an uncannily unsettling atmosphere with just enough information to keep us going and it all ended with the long-awaited announcement of a new Silent Hill game.
Just kidding. It ended with that Silent Hill game being cancelled and I'm pretty sure we'll never see another Silent Hill game again.
The question of quality has no easy answer. Unlike Silent Hill, the Resident Evil franchise has a monetarily successful but critically panned film series behind it. It's behaved as a foil to the series, highlighting the things that we've loved and continue to love about it. What we're left with is a hefty pair of rose-colored glasses.
I could actually say the same of Silent Hill. While I don't think we'll be seeing any Silent Hill releases for a very long time, if we see one at all, going out on a note as high as P.T. is enough to generate some Arrested Development-level fanboying for decades to come.
My point is that there is no clear answer here. In terms of realism—in character development and grounding in general—I think that Silent Hill takes the cake. I've never really found myself wanting more from a Silent Hill story. The lore is thorough and there's always plenty to pick apart and I'm really into that!
But on the basis of gameplay, Silent Hill doesn't really do it for me. While both games started out with tank controls, the Silent Hill games were the only ones that kept them. Again, we really only see this change in Silent Hill: Homecoming and that was arguable when the flame began to go out.
This one would have to go to Resident Evil. Say what you want about the transition to action but at least you could walk where you wanted to and hit whatever you intended to hit!
Regarding Silent Hill: This is going to be the third time I've said it in this article but Silent Hill probably isn't coming back. I think that the future of Silent Hill lies in all of the wonderful P.T.-inspired horror games we've seen pop up in the last two years and that's just fine.
Regarding Resident Evil: Well, the most recent Resi effort, #ResidentEvil7, has determined where we will be for the foreseeable future. Let's just say that the future is looking bright. Can you use bright when talking about Resident Evil?
The Verdict: A mother loves each of her children equally—you know that.
Do you have a favorite or are you an equal opportunity screamer?