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This is pretty much everything I look for in a game, and then some. It's bright and colorful. It's got a giant pile of incredibly wacky guns, like an acid sprinkler and bowling ball launcher. It's unique, with its own voice. Its core mechanics are polished to a shine. It's bombastic and surprising. It's funny. Like, really really funny.
Unfortunately it's the kind of comedy that occasionally veers into being completely annoying, but generally you only have to tolerate these detours for a moment before the genuine guffaws start again. Parts of it are very much "of a time," but that doesn't bother me. I've done a bit of comedy writing, enough to recognize that this sheer volume of jokes only happens with lots of work and iteration. Video games are the hardest medium to be funny in; every element both technical and artistic has to be tuned just right. My hat is off to the whole team, here; the animations, sound design and snappy load times all bolster the writing in what I found to be a truly jaw-dropping display of artistic prowess.
The biggest flaw is one that a lot of games fall prey to: absurdly aggressive hinting. There was one quest where I had to get into a factory. "The front door is blocked; see if you can find another way in." Literally 3 seconds later: "Try looking around the yard for something that you could use to get in the factory!" Literally 2 seconds later: "Use the crane to smash the wall of the factory!" Literally 4 seconds later: "What's taking so long? Use the crane to smash the wall!" Like at this point I'm still getting my bearings trying to figure out what building they're talking about. It's an incredibly common problem and for a game of its era it's not surprising to see, but it is one that I've always been baffled by.
The repetitive voice lines during missions only got super bad during a couple moments. The final boss fight in particular I had to disable dialog for because it was purposely written to be grating, and the fight was challenging enough that I had to retry it a few times and hear those same grating lines over and over. Again, forgivable, but annoying nonetheless.
The voice acting is top notch; I played with the female protagonist and voice actor Stephanie Lemelin brought an incredible energy and bravado to the character. She simultaneously sounded like she was born of this weird world while also being the most relatable part of it, a tricky needle to thread that had me cheering for even her most eye-rolling quips and one-liners. Her voice felt like mine.
The traversal is fantastic. I think this is the only open world game I've ever played where I basically never used fast travel because just getting from point A to B is so much goddamn fun. Bouncing, wall-running and grinding my way across this city never got old. The stunt scoring system that enhances your damage output ties it all together in a multiplicative way.
In a lot of games it feels like they give you the fun parts to get through the challenging parts. In Sunset Overdrive, they give you fun parts to have more fun with the other fun parts. There's still plenty of challenge, especially in the boss fights and base defense segments, but even when I'm dying it's usually because I'm so overwhelmed with weird guns to shoot, barrels to explode, and cars to bounce off of. If Assassins Creed is like a gumball machine, giving you one piece of candy at a time at a steady consistent pace, and Dark Souls is like crawling through a bombed-out munitions factory looking for the last grimy jawbreaker, Sunset Overdrive is like diving head-first, mouth open into the candy vault, Scrooge McDuck style.
I thought it was a hoot! I mean, let me be a skateboarding dog and everything else is pretty much window dressing right?
Honestly though I love the colors, the diversity and the way it maps familiar gameplay mechanics to social situations. It was a bold choice to structure it the way they did; they drop you right into the middle of this person’s life and you get to know her and her family and friends as they all fight about what happened in the past. There were moments when the negativity got a little overwhelming. But your sweet dad is always there at the end of the day, and I think they managed to pull off all the various reconciliations without becoming too saccharine or contrived.
Some individual elements felt a little undercooked, but it didn’t really bother me given the small scope and big ambitions. I’ll take a slightly unpolished passion project over something super safe any day. All in all I really dug it and I’m really looking forward to what’s next from this team.
…and you get to be a skateboarding dog.
I loved this; I think it's my favorite PS1 game so far. It's the first time I've finished a game and thought "Yes! THAT was worth buying a PS3 for!"
I found it surprisingly scary. The sound design in particular was incredible; I was recently impressed by the soundscapes in Doom 3 and I feel like that pulled a lot from this. Just a huge range of atmospheres from unsettling to outright panic-inducing. It blended so well with the cold rusty aesthetic of the graphics which, again, wow.
What really stood out to me throughout Silent Hill was how well they made the system's limitations work for them. Low resolution, polygon count and draw distance would be a fetter to a lesser team, but this game leans into them as strong artistic choices that end up being the pillars of the game's aesthetic.
The whole game is a testament to the Jaws thing: the scariest things are unknown. The graphics, sound and plot all use ambiguity and limited information in the best ways possible. Even with the stilted acting and muddy graphics I was glued to the screen every cutscene trying to soak in any scrap of information to understand what was happening to Harry. Understanding would give me power, but this is the kind of game that withholds more power than it gives and it constantly kept me wanting more.
My favorite TV show of all time is Lost. I love how the plot is doled out in tantalizing chunks, each a degree weirder than the last. I felt that same drip-feed of "Wait what?!" moments playing Silent Hill.
In addition to loving the creative choices, I was also really impressed with the technical presentation. The camera in particular seems ahead of its time. Third person cameras even today struggle in small interior spaces and I was kinda blown away by how they were able to split the difference between a curated experience and full player control. I felt like I could always see what I needed to see, and I was hardly ever fighting the camera.
It's actually kind of funny to see how much of Sony's first party formula is all right here. Cinematic presentation, over-the-shoulder camera, wide linear world design with open segments, ranged/melee action, in-engine cutscenes, sad dad... hell this game might as well be Last of Us Part 0.
I think the game's biggest weakness is its boss fights. I had to retry each one of these a bunch of times which really drained a lot of the momentum and tension. It would be different if it weren't so clunky to control, or the fights were designed around that clunkiness. But it felt like they required a level of dexterity that was hard to achieve, then wouldn't be needed again until the next fight.
I'm not really holding that against it, though, because they always gave you a nice checkpoint and they were good pace breaks. Considering you spend 90% of the game running around and like 5% of it in boss fights, it's probably a good thing that the running around is the best part. Being scared of what's behind you, dreading what's ahead of you, piecing together clues while a horrible sound plays at an uncomfortable volume is where the game is at its peak.
Silent Hill is in such an intriguing position historically; it feels like it sits on a little sliver of the Venn diagram between 20th and 21st century design. You've got these forward-thinking, gorgeous lo-fi 3D environments that are filled with old-school touches like giving each little cabinet and desk its own text description. It really feels unique and special and I'm really glad for my time with it.