Silent Hill: The Terror Engine Review: An Academic View of Survival Horror

Silent Hill: The Terror Engine is an academic text about the Silent Hill franchise that touches many aspects of that series as well as those of other frightening game franchises. It also goes into horror films and their influence on the survival horror genre of gaming. The author, Bernard Perron, also refers to many texts and articles, drawing from a huge reservoir of data on the horror genre across all media. But it’s more than just a dry academic text – it’s obvious that he is a fan of not just the series but also gaming in general. His voice is a critical one that comes from a place of dedication, passion, and affection. But is this enough to make the book one that is palatable to the non-academic reader?

Author: Bernard Perron
Publisher: Digital Culture Books (University of Michigan Press)
Release Date: January 3, 2012

Bringing together plot points, character development, interpretations, and inspirations of all the games in the Silent Hill franchise, Silent Hill: The Terror Engine weaves a rich tapestry. Perron draws parallels, not just to other video games, but to shows like “Twin Peaks,” in which the town itself plays a major role in the fear. But much of the first chapter simply takes the reader through a history of the horror genre – from Haunted House to Halloween, to Shadowgate and Castlevania. He continues into the more modern games in the genre, like Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, Parasite Eve, and Resident Evil.

One of Perron’s main arguments is that “Silent Hill, and to an even greater extent Silent Hill 2, remains the perfect game of a perfect genre.” The fear in Silent Hill is a psychological fear; it gets down to the root of your anxieties and burrows there, leaving a deep impact on you and coloring the way you view other games. It pushes you to expect more from video games and the horror genre in general. Perron dissects how and why Silent Hill does this, and what it has that other games do not.

Perron also discusses the main characters across all of the Silent Hill games, delving into their psyches and explaining what the mythos of the town means to each one. He goes into great detail about the characters and the town, pointing out all of their fears and weaknesses as well as the unreliability of many of them in any narrative sense. The town itself preys on them, bringing out their delusions one by one and forcing them to face their own fears.

The second half of the book focuses on the way the developers utilize the cinematics to maximize the emotional response, as well as the experience of the gamer as they make their way through Silent Hill. Perron’s academic study of these two aspects of the games is thorough and revealing – he paints the games from the points of view of both the creator and the consumer. Bringing all of this together in one place enlightens the reader to a new perspective on this frightening series.

Silent Hill: The Terror Engine is a text that all Silent Hill fans – and many who are simply fans of the horror genre – will want to have on their bookshelves. Those of you who are academically inclined will find it far easier to read than those who are averse to that sort of thing – but trust me, reading this book will bring a whole new level to your experience with Silent Hill. It’s worth a careful read and will undoubtedly make you want to re-visit that fog-filled town all over again.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Silent Hill: The Terror Engine was provided by Digital Culture Books (University of Michigan Press) for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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