Silent Hill has been creeping me out since I was a little kid, so seeing it on the App Store got me very excited. The famed horror video game series, which is also found on PSP, PlayStation and XBOX has finally made its way to the iPhone. Even though I didn’t expect a full-featured Silent Hill game, I was a little disappointed to discover that this is essentially a corridor crawler with very limited depth. That said, the game was fairly creepy, and incorporated certain elements of the Silent Hill series pretty well.
Players start in your typical hospital-gone-bad. You must work their way through ten levels, finding a key and then an exit, without touching any bad guys. Along for the ride are a crappy flashlight and a pistol that’s got limited ammo. Basically, you’ve got to wander through the levels, shoot bad guys when you see ‘em, grab the key, and get out. Nothing too difficult.
We all know that controlling certain types of games on the iPhone can be a bit tedious, but The Escape does as good a job as any have done. Looking is done (limited to a certain range) by tilting your phone, and movement by sliding your finger anywhere on the screen. Turning is limited to 90 degree turns. Precision aiming and turning aren’t required in this game, so the constraints actually made it a little easier to focus on where I was going.
Okay, it’s not as scary as the full-fledged Silent Hill games for consoles. There were certain points, though, (mostly during later levels) where I was legitimately tense or startled. This was mostly accomplished through the audio effects - radio static gets increasingly loud as you get near an enemy, whether you can see them or not.
Fan favorites like the awkwardly attractive zombie nurses and Pyramid Head look-alikes make appearances here. Unfortunately, they along with the other enemies in the game are reduced to shambling bumps-in-the-road that don’t much care about your presence in their darkly-lit hallway.
Atmospherically, this game was in the ballpark for the Silent Hill series. The lighting was fairly well done, even though it clearly served the double purpose of hiding very low-res textures. The sound was probably the best part of the game. It wasn’t innovative or particularly high quality, but in the later levels, the repetitive and unrelenting sound of a monster dragging a huge sword around had me wondering which corner it would be that I’d turn only to die a gruesome death.
Although the gameplay was nothing special, it did function pretty well. Other FPS offerings have been pretty cumbersome to control but The Escape, while still a little clunky at times, was for the most part responsive and controllable. A neat option was being able to choose whether to fire by tapping the crosshair on-screen or by tapping the back of your phone.
There was one point toward the end where two Pyramid Head-ish guys were blocking my path and I had to give them the run-around in another part of the level in order to pass. This was refreshing, but unfortunately it was refreshing because it was the only part of the game that resembled a puzzle or challenge of any kind. I place this in the good column because that last level was the creepiest and most challenging, and I enjoyed it plenty.
There’s little story here. The only glimpse we get into what’s going on are brief text passages between each level. These mostly consist of “Where am I? I want to get out of here!” The ending is a joke (literally, think of SH2’s joke ending) and to anyone who didn’t see that particular part of that particular game, it’ll seem totally ridiculous. I think it’d have been better to go with something more understandable by your average iPhone user.
The actions the player takes part in throughout the game amount to walking through labyrinthine dungeons to find a key, then heading for the exit. Occasionally you have to shoot something. Bad guys don’t move toward you with any kind of purpose (with one or two exceptions). They all die in one shot to their weak spot (only two enemies have specific weak spots), and when they get close to you, there’s no attack animation. They just walk into you and you die.
Although there are technically 10 levels in the game, there are only 5 maps. Every other level is an exact copy of the previous one, albeit with different textures on the walls and some barriers thrown in the way. This was disappointing and made things get stale pretty quickly. When things get stale in a one or two hour game, something’s wrong.
Well, rabid fans of the Silent Hill genre, your time is here. Go forth unto the App Store and retrieve your latest bit of fan service from Konami. For casual gamers, or even more serious ones, think about it for a while before you jump on The Escape. The price is much too high at $8, and the scares are few and far between. No plot, no puzzles - no point? That’s up to you. For my part, I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I won’t go out of my way for a second play through.