This week I’m starting a new feature here at Ryanike.com, which is horrendously called “Scoreclash” until I think of a better name for it, unless I give up and decide to go eat a bunch of chocolate pretzels and take a nap, which is likely. I’ll be comparing the soundtracks of two similar games and rating them based on different criteria (depending on genre, instrumentation, implementation, stuff like that) and then calling a winner. My goal is to eventually have enough regular readers on the site that the sheer deluge of people disagreeing with me and posting terrible photoshops of me in compromising scenarios will force me to take it down. But I can do it without you, Internet: you’re the real heroes!
So anyway, this week it’s:
A Little Background
Resident Evil (REmake):
Published in 2002 for Gamecube (for this article, I’m specifically referring to the more recent remake), this game was about a team of special forces members investigating a secluded mansion that turns out to be a front for a biological weapons development company called Umbrella. Scary if you’re afraid of zombies, snakes, and bad voice acting
Silent Hill 2
Released in 2001 for Playstation 2, it featured James Sunderland, a man who receives a letter from his dead wife Mary at the beginning of the game, telling him she wants to meet him in “our special place,” the secluded town of Silent Hill, where the couple used to vacation. When he arrives, he find the town filled with monsters and psychotics, and has to scramble for his life as he attempts to discover whether or not his wife really is still alive. Scary if you’re afraid of hospitals, fog, or YOURSELF.
Both of these games had excellent soundtracks, and each was pretty terrifying in its own way. So rather than just pick a winner outright, I’m going to rate both games by the following criteria: Use of Silence, Uniqueness, and Scare-factor.
Use of Silence
A good composer knows that music doesn’t suit every scenario; especially in horror games, it’s often a lot better to leave some aural space to allow the player to freak out at every shuffling footstep or menacing growl.
RE: Resident Evil composer Makoto Tomozawa knows this rule well. Often when you’re exploring the labyrinthine halls of the mansion, looking for the rooster key or the goat crank or the reticulated flying squirrel coin or whatever to open that ominous locked door, the only sound is the creaking of the floorboards and the howl of the wind outside. Sometimes the silence is a signal that an undead dog is about to bust through a window start grindin” all up on your jugular, but other times you pass through an entire section of the massive house, frantically swiveling your gun barrel this way and that waiting for the other zombified shoe to drop, and it never does, which is arguably way worse than getting your virtual throat ripped out by a doberman.
SH2: Silent HIl 2 composer Akira Yamaoka is also no stranger to silence in his soundtracks, and uses it even more than Resident Evil does. You spend a ton of time wandering through the fog-filled streets of the town, losing your mind at every little sound in the distance. The fact that you can’t see more than thirty feet in front of you is exacerbated by the fact that the soundtrack often completely refuses to accompany you, making it even easier to forget you’re playing a game at times. I remember being so desperate for some kind of audio reassurance that what I was experiencing wasn’t real that when I heard a chain link fence creak as I walked by I leapt on it like a beast viciously beat the crazy out of it with a wooden board. Then I got my brains eaten by a bunch of creepy mannequin looking things when I turned around. Good times.
VICTOR: It’s a tie.
Again, each of these soundtracks is great. But which one is more identifiable?
RE: Resident Evil’s soundtrack branches out a bit more than many horror soundtracks I’ve heard. Sure you get a lot of the slow strings and low register sounds that you hear in other stuff, but at other times there distant bells and ethereal choirs that help set this score apart from others in the genre. Check out “Guardhouse I” below to get a taste of what I mean.
SH2: Silent Hill 2 also brings a lot of diversity in its music, from atmospheric pads to eerie piano solos, and even a few tracks with steady drum loops (which is something of a rarity in horror game music). However, one of the staples of this series is the fact that, depending on what is happening in the story, Silent Hill will transform from what looks like a relatively normal–albeit creepy and deserted–small town to a dark, rust-covered hellscape. Then, at the blink of an eye, it shifts back to its old self again, and you’re left wondering if it really happened, or if it was simply your characters increasingly-fevered imagination. These transformations are usually accompanied with a lot of grinding, gritty industrial sounds that have become inextricably linked with the music of the series. Check out “Black Fairy” below and try not to whip around and punch your girlfriend in the mouth when she comes up from behind you to ask if you want to go to home depot and look at curtain rods today.
I’m having a bit of trouble getting audio for this one, so you’re going to have to settle for a link.
Victor: Silent Hill 2. While Resident Evil’s soundtrack is definitely haunting and features a lot of different elements, it sounds like something you’d hear in a lot of other horror media. Silent Hill 2’s music, on the other hand, immediately draws up images of the game’s featured monster, Pyramid Head, for anyone who’s played it before.
I realize this one is mostly a matter of opinion, and has a lot to do with how the music plays off of the context of what’s happening in the game. So below I’m just going to post what I consider to be the freakiest track from each game and go by that.
RE: This track is called “Unclean Kitchen,” and there’s not much more to say about it other than that I’m currently typing this post with one hand while scrubbing the bajeezus out of my coffee pot with the other.
Again, sorry about not posting it directly, but the audio is being finicky today. Check it out here.
SH2: This track is titled “Red Pyramids,” and I pretty much defy you to listen to it in a dark room alone. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Take your laptop into the closet or something. Can’t do it? I don’t blame you. I tried it a few minutes before posting this and now one of our carry-on suitcases is crumpled and deformed from the heavy blows I rained down upon it with my wife’s yoga mat.
Victor: Silent HIll 2. Again, this is all matter of opinion stuff, but the grinding, metallic nature of the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack just causes me to lose it. If there was a teenager who had broken into your house, moved secretly into your basement, and spent all night eating fish heads and grinding two knives together while mumbling about coming upstairs and “making you beautiful forever,” his debut pop hit would sound like Red Pyramids.
Which means the winner is…
SILENT HILL 2!
If anybody (even non gamers out there) has access to a Playstation 2 and a copy of this, I urge you to give it a try, even for a few minutes or so, just so that you can learn to appreciate the fact that in real life we have things like candy and sunshine and Zooey Deschanel. And of course, whether you do or don’t agree, I’d love to hear it in the comments. See you next week!