Experiencing the Horror- Soundless Mountain 2
What would happen if Silent Hill 2 had been made in 1989?
Independent game developer Jasper Byrne has answered that question with his release of Soundless Mountain 2- a de-make of Silent Hill 2 done in the style of the NES games of that era.
It is a neat little game, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do suprisingly well. The game opens the same way as Silent Hill 2, with James in the bathroom of the rest stop overlooking Toluca Lake, wondering if he has gone insane. The game then follows James through the long walk to the entrance to Silent Hill- errm, I mean, “Soundless Mountain”- his meeting Angela- the introduction of the monsters- his obtaining the radio- and then the entrance to the apartments, where the game abruptly ends. It would have been nice to have been able to go further into the story, but in fairness, one tends to wonder if even this miniscule amount of content would have fit in the memory of an NES cart, so at least the game is accurate in portraying the limitations of the era in that regard.
The art style of the game is really neat. The game looks a great deal like an NES game from the late 80’s, though there are some flaws present in the recreation. It seems unlikely, for instance, that the NES could have handled rendering the mulitlayered fog effect that is present through most of the game without it`s processor choking and sputtering, and some of the colors used look a bit different from the color palate the NES was limited to. One should bear in mind all of this is dependent on the perceptions of a layman though, and for all I know, the NES was entirely capable of producing these visual effects and they were simply never used in the era. Nevertheless, it seems like more than the NES could have handled, and that factor was a bit damaging to the illusion- it made it a tad difficult to suspend disbelief that I was not, in fact, playing this on my NES. The character model for James is a bit cartoony, his head a tad too large for his body, which makes the game seem a little immature, but this may have been a stylistic decision to convey a sprite model in the style that might have been used in the NES era.
Gameplay here is really nice- the difficulty level actually seems higher than Silent Hill 2. I bumped into a problem when I encountered the game`s first monster in that I was unaware a ‘kick’ button existed, which was necessary to use to kill the monster, so I was able to knock him down but not finish him off- meaning the monster just got right back up each time to chase me again. As a result, I spent most of my time in the game running away from the monsters rather than fighting them, which had the effect of ramping up the horror element but causing the game to end much faster since I was skipping the entire combat portion of the game. I finished the game very quickly because of this; it may last a bit longer for a player who chooses to fight each monster he or she encounters.
Overall the effect of the game is incredible. As a survival horror fan, it was fascinating to see one of my very favorite games from an entirely new perspective, to look on Silent Hill through fresh eyes. As a retrogamer, it was interesting to get an opportunity to play a game that might have existed on the NES had Team Silent, the creators of Silent Hill, been put together years before they actually were. From a philosophical standpoint, the game has relevance due to the fact that it begs a question not just about videogames but about the nature of deconstructivist modern art, which is something that bears exploration here.
Deconstructivism is intriguing insomuch as it is a futurist response to tradition- it is, as such, inherently reactionary- it is not spontaneously creative, does not exist within it`s own intellectual sphere, as it is dependant on a stimulous to place itself in opposition to. This has always been my first criticism of deconstructivism, as it is not individualist- it does not exist in intellectual vacum. As a reactionary movement it does not represent a flowering of individual thought.
Soundless Mountian 2, however, is interesting in that it speaks with the language of a dead art form- 8-bit video games- and is therefore representative of traditionalism. But the existance of Soundless Mountain 2 is a reaction to a more recent video game- Silent Hill 2, to be precise- it is both a love letter to and an attack upon Silent Hill 2 simultaneously. A love letter in the sense that, while playing Soundless Mountain 2, the creator`s respect for Silent Hill 2 is immediately apparent in the painstaking and loving recreation of many of the environmental aspects of Silent Hill 2 while simultaneously regressing them to a simpler form, and it is truly amazing how many of these environmental aspects the creator was able to retain. But the simpler form used could be interpreted as an attack not only on Silent Hill 2 but on all of modern gaming.
If nostalgia is indeed representative of a longing for the past, it contains an inferred criticism, since that which is desired is generally perceived as superior to that which is possessed. What else could be suggested by the creation of a primitivist remake of a piece of modernist art? In the case of Soundless Mountain 2 the traditional has taken up the very arms of the modern- deconstructivism -against the modern. This is striking from a historical perspective.
The questions this analysis leads to are not easily answered but I believe that they merit thinking about. The existence of a retrogaming movement in itself has begged these questions since it`s inception, and it is my belief that as the retrogaming movement continues to gain momentum, we will see more of these unique works of art spring from that movement that serve not only as a monument the love that retrogamers have for the games of their youth but also stand as a challenge to the wider gaming industry in it`s current direction.
Soundless Mountain 2 is free, and if you are interested in playing it yourself, you can download it here.