Ranking The Entire Silent Hill Series

by Tim Turi on Apr 28, 2015 at 12:30 PM

Fans of Konami's iconic horror series have experienced their share of disappointments, especially recently. P.T., a playable demo for a new installment called Silent Hills, released for free last year to rave reviews. The first-person horror experience oozes with atmosphere, manipulates players' expectations, and packs in some of the biggest scares the genre has ever seen. That sensational teaser, along with the promising collaboration between Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) and director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), had fans riding high for the potential of Silent Hills. That high was cut short this week when Konami announced the project's cancellation in the wake of Kojima's disbandment from the company.

This recent whirlwind is only one episode in a long-running series of letdowns that horror fans have endured since the franchise first emerged from the fog in 1999. While those early titles were eye-opening revolutions in the world of horror games, the series gradually degraded over time, making the cancellation of the promising Silent Hills even more devastating. In the interest of putting Silent Hills' recent cancellation in perspective, we're reflecting on the entire series and ranking them from the plentiful worst to irrefutable best.

Note: This list focuses on Silent Hill titles that we consider part of the main series and details the consoles they were originally launched on. We'll be excluding smaller mobile titles and interactive graphic novels.

9. Silent Hill: Book of Memories - PlayStation Vita (2012)
Few of Silent Hill's missteps are as anomalous and loathed as Book of Memories. WayForward's Vita title turns the series' conventions on their side, trading out slow and tense exploration for fast-paced dungeon crawling. Players creep through layers of a nightmarish dungeon, wielding axes, shotguns, and even Pyramid Head's humongous knife as they fight their way through legions of shambling nurses and exploding fatsos. The clunky combat is made worse by unfair, invisible traps, co-op partners that only get in the way, and a grind that gets repetitive far too early. Book of Memories is the worst the series has to offer by a mile.

8. Silent Hill: Downpour - PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (2012)
Vatra Games was a relatively unproven studio when it was handed the reins to the Silent Hill series. The initial showings of the water-drenched return to the misty town looked promising, with the ex-convict protagonist fleeing in a panic from a reality-warping void as his surroundings suddenly shift to slow him down. The game contains other cool highlights, like water that triggers a series' iconic shift into darkness and a puzzle that involves piecing together a macabre stage production of Hansel and Gretel. Unfortunately, it's held back by plodding town exploration, horrible aiming mechanics, and miserably little enemy variation. Instead of feeling unnerved while exploring the side streets of Silent Hill, Downpour instills boredom.

7. Silent Hill: Origins - PSP (2007)
This portable Silent Hill by Climax Studios isn't as pretty as its console big brothers of the era, but the grainier polygonal look make it reminiscent of its origins on Sony's first console. The lack of checkpoints and spaced-out save points provide old school tension, but like the old days, the camera can wig out in claustrophobic encounters. The story of Travis the trucker's trek through an early incarnation of the famous town is mostly forgettable, but the more aggressive monsters make moment-to-moment survival interesting. Players are allowed to experiment with combat styles, too, able to wield everything from pool cues to televisions to weight-lifting sets. The persistent, stalking Butcher antagonist even adds a little Pyramid Head-style suspense. Acquiring the Butcher's tremendous cleaver and taking out foes with it is an empowering experience in a game that's otherwise fairly punishing. Origins isn't amazing, but it's worth a look for fans of the series' early days.

6. Silent Hill: Homecoming - PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (2008)
Before Double Helix wowed the world with the new Killer Instinct and a solid new Strider, it aimed to reinvent the Silent Hill series and stumbled. This ambitious title marks the first time an out-of-house developer handled the Konami property, but the new blood didn't meet previously established standards. Homecoming effectively updates Silent Hill's dingy, foreboding environments to the PS3-era, but the increased focus on combat doesn't quite survive the jump. Alex is a veteran with combat experience, so he's more precise with firearms and more comfortable wielding a melee weapon. Unfortunately, the revamped design makes for awkward encounters and frustrating deaths that are rarely due to your survivalist skills.

5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - Wii (2009)
Where Climax's Silent Hill: Origins clings closely to the series' core formula, the developer's second offering shakes things up in exciting and dramatic ways. Shattered Memories is a retelling of the first game's tale about Harry Mason searching for his daughter in a town steeped in mystery and deadly beasts. Players evade the stalking creatures by running for their lives, knocking down shelves to slow their pursuers, and even the age-old strategy of hiding in a closet. The non-combat approach places the impetus on survival, but the initial Wii launch was mired in the system's inconsistent motion controls. Shattered Memories' moment-to-moment gameplay isn't very satisfying, but the unique take on the series and expertly executed twist ending make this a worthwhile venture for dedicated fans.

Up next: The very best the series has to offer ends up being some of the earliest entries...

4. Silent Hill 4: The Room - PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC (2004)
P.T. was a shock to the system for Silent Hill fans and horror enthusiasts in general, but The Room planted the series' first-person seeds a decade in advance. Players occupy an apartment throughout the game, which they frequently return to and explore in first-person between each stint of ho-hum third-person exploration (including potentially the most unremarkable subway stage in any video game). These segments are the highlight of the game, starting out benign and toying with the players' familiarity with the small space by throwing in subtle surprises. My favorite moment involves peeping through a voyeuristic hole in the wall to see a stuffed rabbit in the distance, only to return and notice that the lifeless toy is now right in front of the hole and staring back at you. These disturbing little occurrences inject a memorable level of unease into an otherwise tired iteration of the franchise's formula.

3. Silent Hill 3 - PlayStation 2, PC (2003)
The third spot on our list fittingly belongs to the third entry in the series. The daughter of the first game's Harry Mason returns in a leading role, trying to discover what's happened to her father as reality shifts around her. Silent Hill 3 upholds many of the gameplay conventions laid down by Silent Hill 2, and the familiar combat and puzzle structures proved less exciting the third time around. Unlike Silent Hill 2, which examined the unreliable psyche of the protagonist, Silent Hill 3's weaker story focuses more on the confusing history of the town. While the gameplay and plot aren't entirely original or exciting, Silent Hill 3 provides some of the series' most memorably unsettling moments. These moments include a gruesomely unconventional birth and a scare featuring mannequin violence that I'll never forget.

2. Silent Hill - PlayStation (1999)
Konami's first foray into survival horror is still one of the best in the genre. Silent Hill hides the miserably short draw distance of its creepy, sprawling town by leaning into dark locations – a fog effect that both masks the technological shortcomings while establishing an unforgettable atmosphere. By today's standards, the grainy textures and chunky polygonal character models are rough, but the overall vision is as cohesive and freaky as ever. Few horror fans will forget the first time they heard the air raid sirens sound as the already-terrifying elementary school descends into a Jacob's Ladder-style horror, with rusty chain-linked fences, and blood-splattered lockers. The first boss battle brutally conveys that things are always more horrifying than they seem; a giant, plodding lizard boss seems like a reasonably predictably challenge until its maw suddenly splits in half vertically, spreading wide to consume and instantly kill Harry Mason in one bite. Hope you saved recently.

Silent Hill excels at keeping players unnerved from beginning to end, but several design innovations separated the game from the rest of the burgeoning survival horror pack at the time. The static of a seemingly broken radio becomes an invaluable tool for identifying when monstrous skins dogs or ghostly, knife-wielding children are nearby. Harry automatically jots down notes about locked doors and special rooms on an invaluably detailed map as players explore. The puzzles are also challenging without being downright illogical, like a piano puzzle that tasks players with hitting broken keys while using a poem about silent birds as a clue. From the unpredictable environments to twitching monsters, Silent Hill's influence is still seen in the horror genre today. Even better, it paved the way for one of the best horror games ever made...

1. Silent Hill 2 - PlayStation 2, Xbox (2001)
The first Silent Hill rocked fans of survival horror with its full 3D environments, moody town streets, and horrifyingly unstable world. Silent Hill 2 improved on all these elements with the graphical boost enabled by the move to the PS2, but it also delivered a more powerful and relatable story than its predecessor. Silent Hill 2 begins as James Sunderland arrives in town, motivated to visit after receiving a letter from his dead wife. The circumstances of her death and their relationship is unclear at first, but as the nerve-rattling game progresses, the layers of the onion are peeled back and we come to realize that James' relationship with his ailing wife is much more complicated than it initially seems.

This intriguing, deceptively simple premise sets the stage for a chilling trek through Silent Hill. Early in the game, James encounters a tall, menacing figure with a huge triangular hunk of metal over its head wielding a gigantic blade. This recurring creature, named Pyramid Head, pursues James for much of the journey, and every encounter with him is a tense escape or fight for survival. These pulse-pounding moments are offset by uncharacteristically serene segments, like paddling across a placid, foggy lake to the hotel James and his wife visited on their honeymoon.

Silent Hill 2's deceptively basic premise, stiff-yet-capable combat system, and unrelenting sense of unease make it a must-play classic for anyone who wants to know just how terrifying video games can get. There's good reason we gave Silent Hill 2 the number two slot in our list of the Top 25 Greatest Horror Games of All Time.

For more ranked lists of entire series, read our features highlighting the Castlevania and Resident Evil series.