Silent Hill has become a household name that evokes feelings of dread and tension, over the years there have been four games over the PSOne and PS2, a feature length movie and an interactive graphic novel on the PSP. We now finally have a new and original title on the Sony PSP and it is a true to form new chapter in the Silent Hill universe with all the chills, twists and horrific details we expect and love to experience, albeit slowly and with some dread. Despite some small missteps, Silent Hill Origins is a great game that manages to fully exploit what we expect to see in a Silent Hill game on the PSP’s small screen.
Silent Hill Origins centers around a truck driver named Travis who is taking a shortcut by the town of Silent Hill. He narrowly misses hitting a little girl and walks into town to see if he can find her. Travis then stumbles upon a burning building and rushes in to rescue the child he almost hit. After a daring rescue he passes out and wakes up in a hospital, from this point on he is embroiled in all the mysteries that surround the creation of the deadly and changing town.
As Travis explores the town, trying to determine why he is there, we see him delve into his own checkered past in subtle ways; like others in Silent Hill, Travis is not all he appears to be. Travis also differs from other protagonists in the series due to the fact that he actually can handle himself in a fight. His first and last line of defense is a simple yet effective series of punches, but as he explores he can pick up multiple use weapons such as boards, knives and meat hooks (which break after repeated use) as well as large one-shot items like televisions and typewriters. You may wonder how a man with no bags can hold four knives, three sticks, three meat hooks a television and a coat rack, well so did I, but I was grateful to have them as the creatures started appearing. Silent Hill Origins doesn’t take it easy on you, there are lots of enemies, they reappear and they can all take you down if they get too close.
While Travis is more capable then others who have stumbled upon the town, the combat is my only major complaint against the game. There is no way to easily dodge the creatures – so if you are being attacked by a group you are generally in a lot of trouble, also the ranged attackers are really tough to evade and generally get hits in no matter what you do. To change up game play, there are periodic quick action encounters that occur when a creature has latched on to you. In order to release yourself you will need to tap a button or follow a button combination on screen, while these quick action events are appreciated, completing them does not actually hurt the enemy and sometimes leaves you vulnerable once they are shaken off. Despite the addition of hand held weapons and of course firearms, that this hero actually knows how to use, combat is unwieldy and is a holdover from the other games in the series. Konami and Climax should take a hint from the amazing Resident Evil 4 and revamp the combat as they did for that title.
Game play is this title is very authentic to the series, you primarily explore the town with collapsed roadways or construction corralling you into specific parts of the town, generally you have a stretch of town and a couple of buildings to explore at any given time. The mysteries of the town are unveiled piece by piece as you explore the foggy streets and seemingly abandoned buildings. The industrialized and brutal Otherworld is featured in this game, but it’s integration is very different then other Silent Hill titles, this time you activate the transition by touching mirrors scattered around the world. These mirrors figure heavily into the puzzle solving aspects of the game as you can reach areas not normally accessible via the Otherworld and vice versa.
Puzzles are the major task you tackle as you traverse building to building, by and large the puzzles are challenging and keep you interested in exploring and tackling each section. Tasks ranged from re-building a surgical dummy (the parts in the Real World were plastic, the parts in the Otherworld were of course real) to retrieving a key from a hydrotherapy bath by following it through the drainage system. Most puzzles require you to switch back and forth from the Otherworld and though difficult they rarely have you lost with no clue where to go.
Graphically Silent Hill Origins is a stunner on the Sony handheld, while the character models are a tad chunky in shape and animation, the environments, particularly the Otherworld, are incredibly detailed and believable. As you explore both versions of the town both the mundane and horrific environments are represented in a way that has you studying everything you pass to get a feel for the setting. Creatures you encounter are pulled from the other games with some new additions, they are all represented in a wonderful way with subtle effects such as slick surfaces adding to their grotesque looks.
The biggest impact graphically is the developers’ handling of the standard flashlight that all main characters in the series seem to have. When it is in use, the shadows are dynamic and startlingly real, creature’s shadows sway and lurch, elongating as they get closer to the source of light. As you start the game there is a note recommending you play this in the dark with headphones and as I explored further and further I found myself doing just that. The differences between the light and dark areas are just as pronounced as the change between the Real World and the Otherworld and I found myself creeping cautiously through the hallways not knowing what to expect around each corner.
The audio in this game is equally as impressive, while Climax developed this game as opposed to Konami, famed Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka once again composed the score and created the sound effects. The effort is well appreciated and as you play through the game the haunting music, assorted whispers and various eerie noises further pull you into the demented world you are exploring. As suggested I played this game with headphones (as most PSP games are enjoyed) and I was stunned at times by the amazing sound I was hearing. This is further proof that audio has as much impact on game play at times as graphics and story, when it is done right of course.
The game is not a terribly long one, with an average length of five to seven hours to complete, as a result the developer has tried to encourage multiple playthroughs of the game by adding some extras to use once you have beaten the adventure. You are rated on multiple criteria upon completion and various items are unlocked such as outfits and flashlight skins. The thought of playing through the game with a smiley face or jack-o-lantern flashlight beam is a fun idea. There are also multiple endings, for the truly daring play through again and kill 200 enemies, the ‘bad’ ending will not disappoint you.
Final Word: Silent Hill Origins is a great game and a worthy entry to the series, the prequel story fleshes out some of the unknown elements of the town and its residents in a satisfying way. The awkward combat is one of the few sore points in this great looking and sounding game. Any fan of the survival horror genre should definitely add this to their library.
Silent Hill Origins is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Language, Suggestive Themes and Violence.