Resident Evil vs. Silent Hill: Which Franchise is Scarier?

They're two of gaming's greatest horror franchises, but which is scarier: Silent Hill or Resident Evil?

Silent Hill and Resident Evil
Photo: Capcom/Konami

The release of Resident Evil Village and the always persistent rumors of a Silent Hill revival seem to have these two famous franchises on the minds of more horror fans than ever. Then again, these two franchises tend to live rent free in the minds of most gamers most of the time due to the simple fact that they feature some of the greatest scares in video game history.

“Scare” is the key word here. Maybe you have an opinion on which games are better, more memorable, or more fun, but at the end of the day, which franchise do you think is scarier: Resident Evil or Silent Hill?

Instead of trying to answer that question today, we’ll instead present an argument for each franchise’s status as the scariest and leave the honor of settling this debate up to you.

Resident Evil Dog Window Scene

Resident Evil vs. Silent Hill: Why Resident Evil is Scarier

The thing that impresses me most about the Resident Evil series after all this time isn’t just how scary it has consistently been but how the series has evolved to scare us in different ways over the last 25 years.

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The original Resident Evil game used a combination of limited resources, cumbersome controls, and limited defensive options to make the player feel helpless. While some say that those early RE titles were only as scary as they were because they were more “difficult,” that’s kind of an odd sentiment considering that Resident Evil was trying to prove that horror games could be as scary as films while trying to also make the most of a particularly rough era for 3D game design. That fact that Resident Evil was even that playable has to be considered a minor technological miracle.

Besides, can you honestly say you can play through Resident Evil or its remake and not still feel a little scared? There’s something about the first game’s blend of intimate, almost claustrophobic design and expertly timed scares that has aged shockingly well. We may now know that a dog is going to jump through that hallway window, but it’s almost impossible to not feel your body tense up in the moments leading up to even the game’s most iconic frights.

As their respective remakes showed, Resident Evil 2 and 3 were such well designed pieces of horror that their basic ideas and best moments still managed to terrify players even when you remove their more restrictive design elements. Granted, it didn’t hurt that both games successfully utilized the classic “a giant monster is chasing you, run away as fast as you can right now” concept, but as those still clamoring for a Resident Evil – Code: Veronica remake will probably tell you, these classic Resident Evil games balanced quick “jump” scares and lingering dread in such innovative and unique ways that it’s almost hard to expect modern developers to replicate their magic.

Some will argue that the Resident Evil series sacrificed scares for action with Resident Evil 4-6, but that too feels like a bit of an extreme take on the matter. While I’d also argue that those three games suffer from some diminishing returns in terms of their scares (especially compared to the original RE games), they represent a time when Capcom clearly experimented with how they could make the scariest action games possible. While some titles gave them a run for their money (Alan Wake and The Suffering come to mind), those Resident Evil sequels remained some of the scariest on the market at another time in gaming history when people were questioning whether or not gaming horror was even viable.

Besides, Resident Evil 7 once again showed that when the RE team just wants to scare the hell out of you, they’re arguably still the best at doing it. After titles like Amnesia and Outlast set a new bar for scary video games, Resident Evil came out swinging at the very idea that anyone would dare come after their crown. It may have borrowed from some of the other games of that era, but Resident Evil 7 managed to tie so many ideas from so many different styles of horror together so cleanly that it’s only after you stopped screaming that you probably appreciated it the scope of the soft revival’s accomplishments. Of course, those who played the game in VR are probably still screaming.

With Resident Evil Village, Capcom continues to find ways to keep the Resident Evil franchise scary even at a time when others in the industry cling to the narrative that the public doesn’t want games like scary, short, narrative-driven titles like Resident Evil Village. We’ve seen so many horror franchises lose their bite after only a couple installments, but Resident Evil has been scaring and entertaining us in shockingly equal measures for over 25 years now. At its best, it’s the source of some of gaming’s greatest scares ever.

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Silent Hill Body Discovery

Resident Evil vs. Silent Hill: Why Silent Hill is Scarier

When I think of Silent Hill, I think of fog. That’s not exactly a mind-blowing reveal given that fog is arguably this series’ trademark visual element, but Silent Hill‘s fog also perfectly represents the almost oppressive feeling of terror that these games surround you with.

Thanks largely to the contributions of the brilliant Silent Hill 2, this franchise is best known as one of gaming’s greatest sources of psychological horror. It’s a reputation that’s more than earned. While it’s always a little tricky to outright condemn the idea of the “jump scare” and stick by that argument, many horror fans will at least begrudgingly agree that shocking someone is often easier than scaring them in a way that truly scars them.

Yet, Silent Hill games have this way of getting under your skin and still terrifying you hours after you’ve walked away from actually playing them. Again, Silent Hill 2‘s personal Hell narrative and incredible character moments are arguably the best examples of that quality, but Silent Hill Homecoming‘s way of performing subtle psychotically tests on the player and then projecting their true fears onto the screen may just be one of the most impressive feats in horror game design history. As for Silent Hill 4: The Room…well, after 2020, most of us can probably attest to the terror of being locked away in a room because you’re terrified of what’s outside.

What Silent Hill sometimes doesn’t get credit for, though, are the more visceral elements of its horror. The Silent Hill series boasts some of the greatest monster designs in horror game history, and the games have this way of throwing them at you when you’re at your most emotionally vulnerable. Silent Hill may not be best known for its jump scares, but when the games want to go that route, they do it better than anyone.

Of course, how do you talk about Silent Hill without talking about P.T. It may have just been a demo for a Silent Hill game that never got made, but in just a couple of hours of gameplay, P.T. managed to establish itself as one of the scariest experiences ever. You could argue whether or not Silent Hills would have been able to maintain P.T.‘s adrenaline shot of terror across an entire game, but at the very least, P.T. showed that when Silent Hill games are firing on all cylinders, there is nothing quite like them.

On that note, it feels necessary to mention that the Silent Hill series has had some pretty low moments. Titles like Homecoming and Origins largely seemed to feel that this franchise’s trademark elements are enough to make any Silent Hill game scary, but those two titles proved that this is not an easy style of horror and that there are no expressways that run through Silent Hill. The series has also historically never been a best-seller despite including some of the most critically acclaimed games of all-time.

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When you’re talking about what separates Silent Hill games from other horror titles in terms of scares, though, I think the word that you’re looking for is intimidation. Maybe that intimidation factor is part of the reason why these games have never really sold as well as others, but you almost have to respect how they often seem unconcerned with whether or not you’re enjoying them.

So, which franchise is scarier? Let us know what you think in the comments below.