Silent Hill: Origins
Developer: Climax Studios | Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment | Release Date: 2007 | Genre: Survival Horror | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
A routine delivery turns into a nightmare for Travis Grady when he decides to take a shortcut to Brahms. A trucker by trade, Travis narrowly misses an accident when swerving for a young girl darting across the road on the lonely stretch past the town of Silent Hill. Travis is drawn towards the town when he spots a burning house. Rushing inside he manages to save a severely burned girl before passing out. When he wakes up he finds himself in Silent Hill and heads towards the hospital to check on the girl he saved. What he finds however is his own worse nightmares come true. Literally…
With four games and a very successful movie under it’s belt, the Silent Hill franchise has gone from strength to strength. For it’s first foray unto the handheld market Konami has handed the reigns to a UK company, Climax, and I have to say these guys handled the license with respect. Lets face it, as good as Silent Hill 4 was it didn’t’ really feel like a “true” Silent Hill chapter and in fact wasn’t even going to be one until late into development when it was decided to incorporate it into the franchise. Origins suffers no such problems. As a prequel to the first game it sets the stage for the events to come and tells a captivating standalone tale while it’s at it. The lead character is one very disturbed individual with a tragic past he’s trying his best to forget. In other words exactly the type of person Silent Hill calls for. For those unfamiliar with the series fear not (or should that be, fear even more?) as Origins is as I’ve mentioned a prequel so no prior knowledge is required. Long time fans will get the most out of it obviously but for the uninitiated this is the perfect place to start with one of the most psychologically disturbing game series ever made.
At the beginning of the game you are advised to play this title with earphones on and lights off and this is sound advice. I was skeptical about how scary a handheld game could be but Origins proved me wrong. Under the right conditions this game can be extremely creepy and while I never experienced the level of terror that some of the previous games could induce this game was still a memorable experience. If you are what news readers love to call a “sensitive viewer” then you would be well advised to give this game a miss. It contains enough blood, gore, violence, darkness, monsters and hellish situations to give you a life-time of nightmares. If however you wish to explore the dark recesses of the human mind then you’ve come to the right place.
You see the town of Silent Hill exist on two different dimensions. There is the mist shrouded “Normal” dimension
& then a twisted “hellish” dimension filled with darkness and monsters. I’m not going to go into explaining why it came to be like this but you should know that the town warps a persons fears and suppressed thoughts into “real” incarnations of it. Travis has plenty of mental issues so what he sees and experiences within the bowels of Silent Hill is not a pretty sight.
For a PSP the graphics in Origins are amazing. There is a “noise filter” over everything that gives the game a dark, grainy look which I’m not too fond of but it still looks good. Even better is the fact that you can disable the noise filter in the “extra options” gained when completing the game but more on that later. Travis’ search for answers will lead him to creepy locations like the hospital (a Silent Hill staple), mental institute, theatre and motel. All of these have a “normal” and evil version so you have a lot of exploring to do. Switching between realities is done via mirrors which is a first for the series but ties in nicely with the plot. Previous protagonists had no control over the dimensions changing which contributed greatly to the suspense, but being able to do so at will make for some interesting puzzles and slightly less linear gameplay.
The dimension switching isn’t the only new trick Travis has up his sleeve. It seems our trucker friend has quite a violent side and can use virtually any item lying around as a makeshift weapon. TV’s, crates, typewriters, toasters in fact nearly anything that isn’t nailed down can be used by Travis to spill his foes blood. Speaking of enemies this is as disturbing a bunch of freaks as you’ll ever encounter this side of hell. Since Travis is a trucker his worse fears given form include giant “roadkill” creatures fused together out of run over animals, creatures trapped inside their own skin and many more hair raising apparitions. They also have some new tricks up their sleeves and Origins is the first Silent Hill title to feature hand-to-hand combat and grappling. The latter is somewhat annoying since the game has an erratic camera which can result in monsters jumping on you before you can even see them. This is made worse by Travis being the weakest Silent Hill character to date and Climax has seen fit to stuff this game with monsters. In later stages of the game especially they have a nasty habit of ganging up on you and the outside scenes suffer somewhat because of this. Running down a foggy street with a horde of monsters in hot pursuit is not as scary as it sound especially if your character runs out of breath every few seconds. See children smoking really can cause your death!
The town of Silent Hill still suffers from the old “locked/broken door” syndrome found in previous games so there are long stretches where you just wander around aimlessly trying every door in sight. At least Travis has a habit of turning his head to look at objects of interest which cuts down on needless searching. Small details like Travis leaving bloody footprints when he walks through blood helps to bring the game to life. I was also impressed with the lighting effects in this game. Also featured are some high quality FMV sequences. Since this is a portable title the ability to pause the game at any time (even during cut-scenes) is very helpful as is the fact that you can skip all the cut-scenes. Less helpful is the scarcity of save spots, which can cause some unwanted repetition if you don’t keep an eye on your psp’s battery level. I can understand why though as the game is quite short even for a Silent Hill title however the multiple endings and unlockables provide a lot of replay value and upon completing the game I didn’t feel like there should have been more of it.
Longtime fans will be pleased to hear that Akira Yamaoko is back as composer and Origins features an excellent soundtrack. There are some real standout songs in this game and the sound effects are as good as always. This is one game that has to be played with earphones.
Origins features some outstanding puzzles and while there is nothing like the migraine inducing challenges of Silent Hill 3 there are still some head scratching moments. I wont spoil anything, but most of the puzzles are as creative as they are disturbing. Combat fares slightly worse and despite the new features and extra weapons still feel a bit clunky. I can understand why more emphasis was placed on action, this is a portable title after all but the ability to select puzzles and combat difficulty levels separately like in Silent Hill 2 and 3 would have been nice. Instead you are stuck with no skill level setting which can make for quite a challenging game at times. Healing items are few and far between and weapons are incredibly fragile (even a crowbar shatters if you bash enough squishy monster heads in with it) so conserving ammo for the few ranged weapons found are essential. If you are not careful you could be stuck facing a huge boss creature armed with nothing more than a toaster and a kitchen knife!
All things considered Origins is an excellent game and a must-have for fans of the series. Climax has really pushed the PSP with this one and story wise it leads up perfectly to the events of the first game. Along the way you’ll also uncover some startling revelations about Travis. If you like your games filled with symbolism and deeper meanings then look no further than Silent Hill. It’s esoteric nature isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste but once hooked you might find this game just as hard to leave as it is for it’s protagonist
*Review originally published 2007.