Silent Hill 0rigins (Video Game)
Reviewed by Plagiarize
Developed by Climax
Published by Konami
As much as I love Resident Evil 4 (it remains my favorite game) even I was a little taken aback at the news that instead of the movie-ised remake of the original Silent Hill, the PSP's first Silent Hill title was to instead be a prequel to the first game done in a Resident Evil 4 over-the-shoulder kind of perspective. Adding fuel to the skepticism was the news that for the first time, Konami we’re outsourcing the game, handing it to Climax.
Where as the Resident Evil games had long been trending towards action before Resident Evil 4 released, the Silent Hill games hadn’t. Hopes of a true new Silent Hill title seemingly dashed, and original screenshots looking awful, the news that Climax’s American team had been fired, and that Climax UK were instead working on something much closer to the spirit of the first two Silent Hill games brought new hope.
Even at my most optimistic, I didn’t expect to get something nearly as good as Silent Hill 0rigins (SH0) has turned out to be.
While it certainly does make a few changes to the Silent Hill formula, for the most part the gameplay is going to be very familiar for anyone who played earlier games in the series. I guess some might take that as a negative, certainly if anyone was really hoping for a game to come along and revitalize the franchise. For me though, since the last couple of games had strayed from what I liked so much about the first, returning to the foggy streets of Silent Hill was absolutely welcomed.
This time players get to enter the fractured mind of Travis Grady. A trucker, taking a shortcut past Silent Hill late one night. Something darts across the road and much like in the first game, you soon find yourself walking through fog into the town of Silent Hill.
Only it isn’t fog. It’s smoke coming from a fire. Selflessly Travis rushes in the house on hearing someone trapped inside and long time players of the series (or heck, even people who have just seen the movie) won’t be surprised to see who he finds inside.
From there, the game takes on the usual formula of trying to find your way out of the fog-draped town, scribbling in red pen on the map as you find barriers and chasms impeding your progress until you’re forced inside. Along the way, you’ll see the events of the original Silent Hill set into motion and find out exactly what skeletons are lurking in Travis’ own closet. You didn’t think you’d visit Silent Hill without some deep dark secret wrapped up inside your head did you?
The first thing that will strike you about the game is how beautiful it is. While it doesn’t look as good as Silent Hill 2 or 3 did on the PlayStation 2, it’s scarily close and for almost as many ways as its lacking (you won’t see scarily detailed faces in the cutscenes as you may be akin to) there are areas where SH0 beats its predecessors (most notably the fog and the flashlight).
Not only is the game the most impressive looking game I’ve seen on the PSP, it runs flawlessly. Thinking back to those awful screenshots from the first version and comparing it to the finished product show just how much difference a year’s delay (and a new team) can make to a game.
Once you step inside, you’ll be turning on your flashlight which casts shadows as you explore a familiar locale and some new ones. It’s a brilliant effect, not just for the wow factor of seeing such a nice lighting effect on a handheld. but it really adds to the atmosphere. The enemies react to your light, so timid players have the option of turning it off, plunging you into inky blackness as you try and sneak past unnoticed.
Should you be spotted however, you’ll run into one of the first big changes to the gameplay.
The combat in Silent Hill games has never been "fun". It’s never been something you’d want to engage in. There’s no thrill in fighting the monsters here. No satisfying exploding heads. You basically have two choices if you’re going to fight; keep your distance using guns, or the new throwable (and breakable) items, or get down and dirty with melee combat.
Letting an enemy get close gives it a chance to grab you, starting one of those "hit this button now!" moments. These aren’t overchallenging and even hitting the right buttons rarely lets you escape unscathed. They just seem to be there to teach you not to get too close to the bizarre range of enemies and they don’t do anything to damage the monsters either. You’ll rarely kill a monster without losing a chunk of health, and now that weapons break after so many blows, you have to be even more careful.
This might all sound like criticism, but this is exactly how combat should be in a Silent Hill game. The monsters should be threatening (they weren’t in 2 and 4 aside from a few exceptions) and melee combat should be a desperate last resort rather than the best approach.
While you’ll want to save ammo for your best weapons for the inevitable boss fights, if you’ve got ammo you’ll be fighting enemies from afar using the games simple lock on system.
As ever, approaching enemies increase the sound of static through the speakers, enhanced here by also increasing the graininess of the filter used over the gameplay.
The other big change is the way in which the game handles dark Silent Hill. Previously in the series, shifts into dark Silent Hill happened without warning, dragging you into the twisted, metallic, industrialized alternate version of Silent Hill. From there, you’d usually find yourself running for your life, trying to survive until the game shifted back.
Here however, you manually swap in and out of the darkness wherever there is a mirror. It’s a mechanic that not everyone seems to like, as for some people it reduces the impact of the dark world, but personally I’ve very much enjoyed it. Now you have to consent to being there. Instead of being pulled down into the murky depths, you have to dive down yourself until you can find what you need and resurface.
As previous games, the exploration is very linear and the mirrors don’t change that so it doesn’t make the game more confusing. The puzzles are just as odd too, not overly obtuse or overly challenging.
One small thing I really like is that the design of the dark world more closely evokes the original Silent Hill (and the movie) in style. The deep reds are back, replacing the browns and instead of a feeling of organic decay they bring back a feeling of industrial decay.
Whether it’s a new area or a familiar one (though the balance is definitely mostly towards new) the clutter and detail in the environments is as good as any other game in the series. The empty streets and dark corridors haven’t lost any of their atmosphere in their transition to the small screen of the PSP. In fact, sitting in the dark with a pair of headphones on, the game feels somehow more intimate, which definitely helps make it one of the scariest of the series. Who knew a handheld horror game could actually increase the frights?
I often only mention sound design in a game as an afterthought. It’s the kind of thing that you only really notice if its bad, but SH0 deserves special focus on its aural landscape. Series composer Akira Yamaoka is in full form here, adding yet another haunting theme and layers upon layers of distinctive industrialized clanking seeded with hard to place yet disturbingly familiar sound effects to really ratchet up the tension. There isn’t a weak link in the voice acting, either, and maybe it’s just because I’ve been playing it with headphones, but the sound work in this game is definitely my favorite in the series by far.
So there it is. At only around six or so hours to play through it Silent Hill 0rigins is a tightly wound experience. It is definitely the scariest in the series since the original, thanks to a highly impressive engine, great level design and wonderful sound design. It won’t win over anyone that didn’t like or was tiring of the Silent Hill formula, but given that it harks back to the first two games more than the last two, this slice of nostalgia is refreshing and Silent Hill 0rigins may well reward fans that were disappointed in recent titles.
Don’t let the platform fool you, Silent Hill 0rigins is every bit as good as the better games in the series that won’t disappoint fans, especially if you like your Silent Hill’s scary.
4 1/2 out of 5
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