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Whether it be movies, manga, or comics, odds are you’ve come across Resident Evil or Silent Hill at least once in your life. While both pioneers of Survival-Horror come from Japanese-based studios, their basic approaches to horror and aesthetics couldn’t be further apart.
You might be new to one or both of the series or a devoted fan looking for ways to explain how they compare and contrast. Regardless, this is the guide for you.
To fully explore the differences and commonalities of both series is not only to become a more educated gamer but also to walk away with a deeper appreciation for what both series bring to the table and for the survival-horror genre as a whole.
Main Differences Between Silent Hill vs Resident Evil
The main differences between Silent Hill vs Resident Evil are:
- Resident Evil generally casts players into the role of an officer or special agent who knows how to fight, whereas Silent Hill does not.
- Silent Hill emphasizes exploring the titular town, whereas most Resident Evil games mainly focus on an indoor central hub
- Silent Hill has always been full 3D and has played with lighting and shadows, whereas Resident Evil didn’t make that jump until the fourth mainline entry “Code Veronica”
- Silent Hill mostly takes an anthology approach to its storytelling and rarely does direct sequels, whereas Resident Evil does not.
- Silent Hill relies more on symbolic and abstract elements of fear, whereas Resident Evil is very “what you see is what you get”
- Silent Hill has more of an emphasis on melee combat, whereas Resident Evil does not,
- Resident Evil often climaxes with huge boss battles, whereas Silent Hill does not.
- Resident Evil has a more Hollywood sense of flourish, whereas Silent Hill does not.
Narrative and Storytelling
From its initial inception in 1996 to its most recent entry in 2020, Resident Evil has stayed consistent in its approach to narrative and storytelling. Most of the time, you’re someone with combat experience thrust into a biohazardous situation that’s turned the world upside down.
Your villain is the Umbrella Corporation which makes viruses that turn people into zombies and other gruesome foes. A lot of the horror of Resident Evil comes in knowing that wherever you are was at one point a normal and functional place.
While the first entry used mystery to its advantage as the characters had no prior knowledge of the environment they were in, or why it was covered with monsters and zombies, most other mainline entries have a base understanding of that.
As such, Resident Evil games tend to follow a simple template of “good vs. evil” and often rely on averting a catastrophe that could ruin the entire world. The series has always had a sense of camp and b-movie flair to it.
Even more recent entries will have lines of cheesy dialogue or cutscenes with odd emphasis on certain words (We’re looking at longtime series villain Albert Wesker saying “COMPLETE. GLOBAL. SATURATION.” in Resident Evil 5.) However, that plays to its strengths.
Resident Evil games are scary, but they can make players feel emotions other than fear which is one of the reasons why the series is so popular and respected.
While more recent entries like 7 and Village worked harder to blend mystery and plot twists, they’re a pretty simple plot that ends with “the good guys save the world” and leaves just enough questions unanswered to make room for a sequel.
The Silent Hill games, on the other hand, chart a very different path. While the first and third entries revolve around a plot that consists of something like “An evil cult wants to give birth to a god that can ruin the world,” they never have the same Hollywood-style gravitas that Resident Evil games do.
They always find ways to make the narrative more personal to the protagonist. Ultimately, the series is much more of an anthology that explores the darker sides of the human mind and answers the question, “What if there was a place that could be a physical manifestation of a person’s ills?”
Each entry is personally tailored to its main character and, as such, gives the narrative much more weight and room for interpretation. The original is a tale of a father desperate to find his daughter and forces him to come to terms with who his adopted daughter really is.
The second is a disturbing and thought-provoking tale of denial, punishment, and coming to terms with one’s own guilt.
The third entry completes the narrative in the first one and has deep themes of body autonomy and consent while exploring the world of Silent Hill through the lens of a teenage girl forced to come to adulthood. As such, we have to give this one to Silent Hill.
While Resident Evil tells more accessible stories that can entertain broader swaths of an audience, Silent Hill takes a more art-house approach designed to make players really think about their lives and the lives of the characters they’ve been interacting with throughout the game’s duration.
While both are entertaining, we have to give the win to Silent Hill.
Winner: Silent Hill
Interesting Read: Best Games like Silent Hill to Try Next.
Presentation and World Building
At its best, Resident Evil is a masterclass in presentation. Until the release of Code Veronica for the Sega Dreamcast, the series used pre-rendered backgrounds to its advantage.
The use of pre-rendered backgrounds meant that every backdrop had a lifelike cinematic feel especially combined with the fixed camera angles that often felt like the player was watching the game through the lens of a camera.
No other game in the series used this so effectively as the Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil. The REmake harnessed the power of the GameCube to combine detailed 3D characters and enemy models with stunning backdrops that featured elegant lighting that instilled every corner with a sense of dread.
2015’s remaster of the REmake is available on all modern platforms and still looks fantastic seven years later.
A lot of the horror comes from the player exploring environments that, not too long ago, were completely normal and functioning.
When players play the original second and third entries, or their recent remakes, they can tell that the Raccoon City Police Department and streets of Racoon City were once bustling.
The series creates a convincing sense of world-building through environmental storytelling. Every entry in the franchise features assorted files and memo’s left behind by characters who are most likely no longer living. It gives the environment a sense of tangibility and creates a sense of urgency for the player.
Most Resident Evil games climax in a laboratory setting where players can see firsthand where the enemies they fought are created. Later entries in the series, like the remakes mentioned above of 2 and 3, really have fun with this.
The labs become terrifying, and the contrast of their sterile white halls with crimson blood dripping all over them is just flat-out spooky. If you like your horror games to show you fear from a variety of environments, then Resident Evil very well could be the one for you.
If Resident Evil creates fear out of the absence of normalcy, then Silent Hill turns the entire notion on its head. The Silent Hill series always used full 3D environments, which were incredibly taxing on the original Playstations hardware.
To counter that, Team Silent decided to envelop the town in a thick fog. While developers had used that trick for many games made during the Playstation and N64 generations, this time, it was different.
Instead of a means to counter hardware limitations, they made it a part of the world itself. As such, a Silent Hill game just isn’t one without players exploring an abandoned town blanketed in a dense mist.
Not only does this technique exude ambiance, but it also sets the tone for the world perfectly. From the moment players booted up the original Playstation entry, they knew something was wrong.
Why is the town empty? Why is it so hard to see anything? What could be hiding just a few feet away?
The Silent Hill series goes a step further, though. While the Resident Evil series sells you on the notion that the levels you’re exploring were once real places, Silent Hill digs deeper into your head.
Each game has a dual world dynamic, with players being forced to explore an alternate world that’s even scarier than the foggy world.
The other world often uses industrial design elements like chain link walls, spinning fans, and a dark color palette featuring crimson and rust. It lets you know that you’re no longer exploring the natural world and are thrust headfirst into a dark fantasy.
Because the Silent Hill series aims for a less “realistic” world than Resident Evil, it’s given more creative freedoms to scare the player. The series has always leaned into the paranormal and supernatural side of things, and the developers use that to their advantage.
On top of that, the games always feature a limited and small cast, further messing with the player’s head. They know that within the game’s reality, there is indeed a town called Silent Hill, but there’s no chance they’re exploring the real and proper version of it that people live and work in.
You might prefer your horror more grounded in reality, or you might like it to take you to places you couldn’t even imagine. It’s a close one, but we’re going to give this one to Silent Hill.
Winner: Silent Hill
Audio and Music
As the franchise has gone on, the audio has improved, making the music choices more strategic. The original trilogy featured a minimal but memorable use of sounds. Anyone who’s played the original Resident Evil 2 will tell you that the police station theme is iconic.
Conversely, everybody remembers the famous moans the zombies would make when they enter a new room and can hear one off camera. Unsure of when it will draw closer. Considering the small storage space of the PSOne disks, Capcom did a lot with creating high-quality audio.
The same cannot be said for the voice acting. As mentioned earlier, Resident Evil has a particular campy element to it, whether intentional or not. Even people who have never played a Resident Evil game have heard the legends of Jill sandwiches past.
As the series matured, so did the audio prowess. Resident Evil 4 features top-notch audio effects. Everything from breaking a pane of glass or a barrel to the satisfying crack of a shotgun just sounds right.
Strategically enough, more recent games have employed a strategic and minimal use of sound. This works to their advantage by making the player focus more on ambient sound, which helps build the world and create immersion.
Most gamers may be unable to name a song from the recently released Resident Evil Village. Still, they will definitely remember the first time they heard an enemy growl in the foreground or the mighty snap of a rifle bullet going headfirst into an enemy.
While the Resident Evil games don’t have soundtracks you might want to listen to on Spotify, they have top-notch audio design that helps them come to life.
The Sounds of Silent Hill
There’s no way around it, the Silent Hill series has some of the best soundtracks in any videogame. Akira Yamaoka has composed the vast majority of entries in the franchise, and the man has a Midas touch. Just one listen to Silent Hill 2‘s “Theme of Laura” is all you need to know the music is serious business.
Alternatively, like in the Resident Evil series, the voice acting isn’t always up to snuff. It’s generally serviceable and does a decent job, but nobody will win an award for their portrayals. This becomes jarring in that Silent Hill isn’t a particularly campy franchise.
It takes itself seriously and often goes to dark places few videogames will venture to. As players explore Silent Hill’s twisted otherworld, the music just doesn’t let up. Jagged industrial noise meets oddly, but intentionally timed melody creates an aural portrait that can’t be rivaled.
Conversely, the weapon sounds and enemy effects can’t rival Resident Evil. There just isn’t a visceral enough smack when hitting an enemy with a melee weapon, and handguns and shotguns often lack a certain oomph compared to the Resident Evil series.
While the overall sound design is still excellent, the enemies are limited to only a growl or two, which gets repetitive quickly. Even the Playstation trilogy for RE had multiple howls for zombies that helped create more variety and tension.
Ultimately, we’re going to have to give it a tie. Silent Hill’s music is world-class, but the sound effects and overall audio design in Resident Evil takes the win in that field.
The Pioneer of Survival Horror: Resident Evil
At the end of the day, Resident Evil is what effectively created the genre. The true Survival-Horror gameplay loop was perfected the moment players booted up their Playstation Ones in 1996 when the original entry was released.
While the franchise dived into more action-based waters in the mid-2000s, the last two Silent Hill games (Homecoming and Downpour) did as well, so the criticism on that end is a tie.
In essence: Most Resident Evil games have a similar loop. You find yourself in a central hub, gradually expand it, and discover shortcuts through collecting items, solving puzzles, and overcoming boss battles. In time the map becomes streamlined as the player progresses.
This creates a rewarding sense of progression matched by the players growing arsenal of weaponry that helps make scary moments from the beginning become conquerable.
While you’re never invincible, and any enemy can be a threat, you grow with your protagonist and become more capable as time passes. One of my favorite moments in Resident Evil was during the remake of the second entry that was released in 2018.
There’s a part in the game that wants you to explore the sewers further, but you unlock a shortcut that can take you back to the police station. By doing so, you can not only hunt down any items you may have missed but also solve an optional puzzle to unlock a weapon upgrade.
This moment was peak survival horror. The hubs are opened, shortcuts are found, optional exploration and rewards are encouraged, and you still have to be careful and expertly manage your resources.
Survival horror games are like puzzle games. You have to get from A to B, but you only have so many bullets, and there are more enemies than ammo.
I like the Resident Evil loop because puzzles are easier to solve and mostly rely on “this key goes here” or “collect three emblems to unlock a path.” That design allows for easy focus and helps keep the pacing tight.
The More Adventurous Kid on the Block: Silent Hill
If Resident Evil at its best is more of a puzzle game, then Silent Hill at its peak is more of an adventure game. In a typical Silent Hill game, you often find yourself exploring the town of Silent Hill as the central hub.
The fog-covered streets hide items and enemies, but it can also be challenging to know exactly where to go or where it is.
Since everything is covered in fog, it can be trickier to learn which streets are which and which location is nearby, while in a typical RE game, exploring hubs like the mansion or police station is a lot easier to keep track of.
Silent Hill games also feature useful melee weapons, which cut into the puzzle aspect. While you have to manage your healing items, you just don’t have to worry about your ammo as much when your lead pipe or 2X4 will get the job done.
On the flip side: The puzzles in Silent Hill are much more complex than the ones in RE. For some, this is a considerable strength. For others, it’s a con. Even when setting the puzzle difficulty to its lowest option, I often needed to consult the internet for answers.
Interesting Read: Hardest Silent Hill Puzzles.
While many SH games focus more on taking you from location to location, the RE series tends to make a less-is-more approach.
Let’s compare Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil 2, respectively. RE2 mainly has you in the police station, the sewers, and an underground laboratory with a few deviations into city streets or other areas. SH2 has you in the town, an apartment complex, a museum, a hotel, a prison, and so forth.
Silent Hill tends to do a lot more location shopping, and some may prefer the more dense maps of the Resident Evil series. I’d also wager that enemies are overall more threatening in Resident Evil.
The designs are terrifying in SH, don’t get me wrong, but for most of them, all you need to do is keep your distance which is doable.
In a Resident Evil game, you may find yourself face to face with lightning-fast zombie dogs, monsters that can crawl on walls and cut your head off in a single swipe, or a room of zombies that would be happy to eat you up.
The enemies in Silent Hill tend to move a lot more slowly, which makes it easier to pump them full of lead, even in a cramped environment.
From personal experience, I have an easier time knowing where to go and what to do in a Resident Evil game than in a Silent Hill one, and as such will have to give the win to RE.
Winner: Resident Evil
Best Silent Hill Games
- Silent Hill (1999)
- Silent Hill 2
- Silent Hill 3
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Honorable Mention)
Best Resident Evil Games
- Resident Evil Remake (2002/2015)
- Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
- Resident Evil 2 Remake
- Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Overall Winner: Anybody who’s played or is playing all these great games.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for additional titles to scratch that survival horror itch we’ve put together an expansive, but not a definite list of other games and franchises to explore. There’s a lot of great content under the horror and survival horror umbrellas so be sure to tell us your favorites!
Games to Play if You Like Both Series
- Alien Isolation
- Tormented Souls
- Dying Light
- Daymare: 1998
- The Evil Within 2
- Alan Wake
- Eternal Darkness: Sanities Requiem
- Fatal Frame
- Dead Space
Question: Is Silent Hill a Clone of Resident Evil?
Answer: No. Even comparing the original releases for both games, Silent Hill manages to do a lot of differentiating. While both series occupy the lanes of survival horror, they each do it in radically different ways, proving there’s room for both at the table.
Resident Evil always relies on a biohazard, while Silent Hill relies much more on a person’s guilt and the occult. The former has you fighting enemies that were once human or alive, and the latter has you fighting flat-out monsters that could never exist in the real world.
The Silent Hill series has a much more fanciful design using the bloody and rusty textured “other world” to its advantage, while Resident Evil firmly lets you know you’re exploring the real world. The fact that Silent Hill was also fully 3D from its inception is another sharp difference.
The way the camera bends differently or the use of lighting effects and darkness can’t match the surprisingly bright worlds of the original Resident Evil 1, 2, and 3.
Question: Which Series is Scarier?
Answer: Ultimately, that’s up to you to determine. I would argue that comparing the first three releases for both franchises, we’d have Silent Hill easily take the win, but ever since the release of 2017s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, RE has become downright chilling.
All four recent RE games (7, the remakes of 2 and 3, and Village) have used different avenues of fear and tension to create something unique.
Seven doubled down on mystery and environmental storytelling, the remakes of 2 and 3 used stalker enemies, sound design, and body horror to their advantage, and Village does a fantastic job of creating tension and even some psychological horror with its world.
Question: When will We Get New Resident Evil and Silent Hill Games?
Answer: Soon! Not only is there a single-player DLC for Resident Evil Village coming out in October of this year, but a remake of Resident Evil 4 will be arriving in March of 2023. Meanwhile, the waters are murkier for Silent Hill.
The franchise has been quiet since Konami canceled the promising Silent Hills in 2015. At the time of writing, we haven’t seen a new game release in the series since 2012.
However, the rumor mill is getting louder and louder, and some leaked screenshots have detailed at least two different projects. During summer 2022, leaked screenshots of a first-person horror game from Konami found their way online and were described as part of a new Silent Hill entry.
The screenshots were then taken down in a copyright claim by Konami which lends credence to them being from a potential Silent Hill project.
Also, Konami and Bloober Team announced a couple of years back that they were entering a “strategic partnership,” and fairly recently, some low res screenshots of a proof of concept pitch for a remake of Silent Hill 2 were leaked online as well. All eyes will be on Konami’s presentation at the upcoming Tokyo Games Show.
Who’s the Winner: Resident Evil or Silent Hill?
In a battle between two behemoths, there can only be one winner. However, I don’t play by typical rules and have to give it a tie. Both franchises outclass the other in their own unique ways. Resident Evil is certainly more accessible and has an easier gameplay loop, while classic Silent Hill is in a league of its own.
The fact of the matter is, while both franchises took a bit of a nosedive in the mid-2000s/early 2010s, the Resident Evil series has quickly re-asserted itself as the top dog in horror, and the first three Silent Hill games are incredible works of art that should still be experienced by gamers new and old.
Because only one series is in confirmed development at the moment, it would also feel unfair to pick one or the other. Some gamers might be turned off by the tank controls of the first three Silent Hill games or lack the means to play them.
Alternatively, some would feel that it’s overwhelming to approach because the Resident Evil series has so many different games and spin-offs. It would get an unfair win just because it has more content and more accessible means to play its greatest hits.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a more psychological approach to horror with unique narratives and incredible music, you must go with Silent Hill. However, if you’re looking for something more accessible with stunning sound design and an easier gameplay loop, you must go with Resident Evil.
While there’s much more to the survival horror umbrella than these two, they remain the top dogs in the pack and are both worthy of your time. Honestly, it would be best if you played both.