Once upon a midnight dreary, came two games most dark and eerie.
-Edgar Allen Poe
Survival horror games center around our most basic of instincts: survival. While the Resident Evil series evokes the science-fiction and horror tropes of yesteryear's cinema, The Silent Hill series takes a more psychological approach in its efforts to terrify the player; the monsters aren't there just to kill you, they're also looking to create a few therapy bills. Both franchises have been delightfully horrifying gamers for years, which leads to the question: which survival horror series is the best?
Best Entry: Resident Evil 4
It's hard to dispute RE4 as the best in the series; while there are many other great Resident Evil games, each with their own twists and takes on the series, it's damn hard to top the masterful blend of action and horror to be found on this 2005 title. Resident Evil 4 is considered one of the best games of all time for a reason -- ingenious enemies and level designs, spectacular gunplay and action sequences, and much of the game centers around an escort mission that -- gasp! -- actually works!
Greatest Foe: Nemesis
There's a lot to fear about Resident Evil 3's true antagonist, but for most gamers, their biggest dose of terror will come early on. Most Resident Evil games feature a nigh-infinite number of disgusting creatures trying to kill you, and while there are many ways of taking them out, you can't fight them all. While fleeing, most players focus in on a simple mantra: "I have to get to the door." Once you reach the door, you're safe; the game loads the next room and the previous monsters are forgotten. Well, Nemesis has a new mantra for players: "To hell with doors." You can run all you want, but this bastard's going to smash down the doors and drag you kicking and screaming into the abyss. It may sound simple, but breaking one of the fundamental rules of the Resident Evil series, one designed to alleviate the player's fear, helped elevate Nemesis into the legendary terror he is today.
Fan Favorite Character: Jill Valentine
Character development isn't really something you see in most video game characters. Given that they're around to act as a stand-in for the player, they're often more akin to blank slates, with zero personality and little change from one title to the next. Jill Valentine, however, is one of gaming's more dynamic personalities. In the original Resident Evil she's a tough, but inexperienced member of S.T.A.R.S, caught in an overwhelming situation involving zombies, mutants, and evil dogs. RE3 sees a more solitary Jill, solidified into an unbelievable badass thanks to the events of the previous game. Later entries see her mind-controlled by series antagonist Albert Wesker, turned into a badguy in a standard Saturday morning cartoon-level plot twist, only to eventually return to the girl we know and love. Resident Evil: Revalations' Jill is cool, calm, and collected, and willing to work with others while still keeping her uniquely awesome demeanor.
Biggest Embarrassment: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Awkward controls, a non-existent story, and frustrating enemies and events waste the awesome potential of this multiplayer game. You may have a large selection of characters to choose from when making your team, but their abilities and weapons are so imbalanced that you'll often have to rely on a single crucial team member as opposed to, you know, actually working as a team. Given that you play as a team of Umbrella operatives, you're ostensibly playing as the bad guys, which is a bold story choice. Unfortunately, Capcom squanders this boldness with a plotline that is hackneyed and dull, one that only die-hard Resident Evil fans will be able to muster even the smallest bit of enthusiasm for.
Snarkiest Line: (When asking for an item from another player)
"Can I have it, pretty please?" - Kevin, Resident Evil Outbreak
Best Entry: Silent Hill 2
Each of the original three Silent Hills have something amazing to offer, but if you ask most long-time fans of the series which one is the best, they'll probably lean towards Silent Hill 2. This entry deftly balances more traditional horror elements, like grotesque monsters and disturbing locales, with a psychologically involved story. SH2 isn't afraid to go dark -- really dark. Monsters borne of your deepest fears and desires lurk around every corner, and most endings aren't exactly upbeat ... except, perhaps, for the secret bonus ending which reveals that all of the horrors of Silent Hill are because of a dog randomly throwing switches and flipping levers.
Greatest Foe: Pyramid Head
Like a warped medieval executioner, Pyramid Head roams the halls of Silent Hill as a muscular, faceless man with a massive blade and a grudge to settle. The first time you see the beast is in Silent Hill 2, where you find him raping one of the nurse creatures. He's been described as a cross between a butcher and the physical embodiment of sexual judgment -- which is the same kind of blend of physical and psychological horror that the Silent Hill series is known for.
Fan Favorite Character: Heather
Adopted daughter of Harry Mason, protagonist of the first Silent Hill, Heather's got plenty of the same strengths as her father as well as some of her own. She's smart, she's quick on her feet, and she has more common sense than a hundred generic horror heroines combined. She's funny too, and a bit better at combat than her predecessors. Strong heroines, let alone video game heroines, are few and far between, and Heather was a breath of fresh air in a room filled with farts.
Biggest Embarrassment: Silent Hill: Downpour
Silent Hill: Downpour isn't terrible, which might be what hurts the most about it. There's plenty of mediocrity to be found: sluggish combat, uninspired puzzles, and so-so visuals. But occasionally the game will exhibit glimpses of the demented brilliance the series is known for, which is why it hurts to see such greatness suppressed and wrapped up in a powerfully underwhelming game.
Snarkiest Line: (When the player prompts her to reach into a muck-filled toilet)
"Forget it. This is way too gross." - Heather, Silent Hill 3
Winner: Resident Evil
While it was another close battle between two gaming greats, Resident Evil managed to lurch its way into the lead. There have been more Resident Evil games, and, more importantly, more good Resident Evil games than there have been good Silent Hill games. And while both series' have games that are beloved by fans of their genres, only Resident Evil has an entry that was met with near universal acclaim -- Resident Evil 4.