I’m a big fan of survival horror games. Ever since Resident Evil I found myself looking forward to any game that promised a good scare. One of the first games that would probably come to your mind when you think of survival horror games is Silent Hill. This game truly has made a reputation for itself with its dark atmosphere and disturbing visuals. Silent Hill has really earned its spot as one of gaming’s finest horror titles. It was a natural feeling to be somewhat skeptical about Konami’s new release with Silent Hill: Origins on the PSP. Could it live up to its predecessors; titles that we’ve grown familiar with on major consoles? Well, rest assured that this title not only delivered but is actually a great addition to the series.
As the name implies, this story takes place before the original Silent Hill. You assume the role of Travis Grady, a lone truck driver who decides to take a short cut through the fictional town of Silent Hill while on a routine delivery. Not a quarter mile before the “Welcome to Silent Hill” sign does he start to witness the abnormal activities that curse it. Right at the start of the game you find yourself rescuing a severely burned girl (Alessa Gillespie) from a burning house. You then collapse as soon as you reach safe ground only to wake up the following day on the streets of Silent Hill (what a surprise). Your mission is to find the mystery girl by navigating through Silent Hill’s trademark thick, foggy streets, jumping between two realms - “the real world” and “the otherworld”.
The first hour of the game consists of you running around mainly just to get to a certain destination. In that short time, it doesn’t take you long to find out how annoying the camera angle can get. It’s really easy to lose your sense of direction. I found myself throughout the game wondering which direction I came from as the camera tries its best to keep the angle at the most awkward position possible. However, with a simple tap of the L button you can center the camera, positioning it behind Travis. It becomes really handy, but at the same time it's annoying because you’re constantly using it and it doesn’t always want to cooperate with you, like when you first enter a door to a narrow hallway or any small space in general. There's also one other annoyance that you can’t seem to miss when walking around the streets of Silent Hill, which is that when the screen loads from one to the other you do a 180 turn to the previous screen! So you literally have to stop, adjust the nub to the new direction, and then proceed.
Don’t give up hope so fast though, as the map system makes up for all of that. It constantly updates as you roam about, so it's very necessary to make sure you find the maps to new areas you reach. They're usually in obvious areas, like on the walls of rooms you inevitably have to cross through. To avoid a lot of confusion the game maps cross out inaccessible doors, unlockable doors, blocked off areas, puzzles etc. The map is handy in keeping you motivated to continue on with the game by making your sub-missions as clear as possible.
Although the battle system isn’t great, it’s pretty simple. Just get in your swing stance, close in on the enemy (or just wait for it to get close enough), and swing away. There are no dodge mechanisms, so you just have to pray you lay the first hit or don't miss because the enemies will make you pay with a counter attack or a series of them. Things get a lot better though when you get your hands on a firearm, as it's easier to control and useful for keeping foes at bay. A new feature that you're probably not going to be familiar with (at least from previous Silent Hill titles) is the mini combat sequence that occurs randomly when an enemy is close enough. It involves the mashing of a certain button or the tapping of multiple ones while the enemy gets a hold on you and tries to deliver a lethal blow. Not pressing the buttons in a specific order or not hitting them fast enough will result in severe damage being taken or death. I guess it was added to get rid of the dull repetitive feeling you get from the basic combat system.
As you get used to the nature of certain enemy patterns, you'll start to wisely switch between guns and melee weapons depending on the situation you’re in, conserving both ammo and melee weapons for more appropriate times (as they tend to break as if they were made of Styrofoam), like boss battles. But then again, if you take the time to sweep areas, you’ll find that weapons are abundant.
Despite Silent Hill’s nature of being dark and ominous, the graphics are sharp. It still has its trademark fog that doesn’t let you see too far ahead, but when you take a second to look around the streets you notice a lot of detail has been put into the exteriors of various buildings, including houses, garages, shops etc. The interior of any mission level takes on two shapes: “the real world” and “the otherworld”. In the real world, you have the sharp, crisp texture of the surroundings and you’ll be able to recognise objects you would usually find in your ordinary hallway, office, or bathroom because of the detailed graphics. The otherworld on the other hand is disturbing, in a good way. The walls, bathroom stalls, and beds are all stained with blood and decorated with body parts. You can almost taste the rust just by looking at whatever remains from any structural support holding the floors up, all this really helps in building up the suspense that we've come to expect from Silent Hill. The same cannot be said about the actual characters and enemies. Travis for example has a vague expression on his face, is pretty stiff looking when he moves (probably something to do with his tight jeans), and is just plain in general. Enemies are twitchy, at least that’s what the game intended the enemies to look like to add to the creepiness, but they really just look like they’re glitching, especially during cut scenes
Besides the creepy sound effects that you constantly hear throughout the game, like screeches, pounding of metal, and the whispers of “…Travis”, there is also the music which adds to the suspense. Right when you think the coast is clear and that unsettling feeling in your stomach can be put to rest, an eerie song plays that makes you want to pause the game and use the bathroom. They did a fine job matching certain scenarios of the game with a suitable soundtrack. It is an excellent soundtrack, and makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
Silent Hill: Origins isn’t the hardest game, but overall the experience is rich and enjoyable. You can get lost on your missions for hours and refuse to call it quits until you finally solve an intriguing puzzle. The puzzles aren't extremely tough, but they are really well thought out. They give you a sense of satisfaction when you finally do solve one, as some of them require the light bulb in your head to go off. As for scares, this game is guaranteed to give you the same amount of startles that you got from any previous Silent Hill game, if not more seeing that you have the PSP right in your face. If the suspense is too much for you though and you have a weak heart, by all means adjust the screen to bright and play with the lights on. Or better yet, play it during the day! You may not get the full experience, but you'll still have fun gathering clues and proceeding further into the story, even if you are a spineless chicken.
The game has a large selection of unlockables, like costumes and weapons. They require you to simply complete a task or just finish the game under certain circumstances. They give the game a fairly high replay value. But if you're all about seeing endings and not too concerned with changing your clothes, you have three different endings to find, one of which you’re probably going to be familiar with if you’re a fan of the series. Don’t be overwhelmed by playing through the game for a second time because you will simply breeze through enemies and mindlessly complete the already familiar puzzles, so that should shave a few hours off the average 10 hours it takes to complete it the first time.
Silent Hill is a great game that brings back classic elements that we have already seen, like solid puzzle solving and searching rooms for weapons, ammo, and clues, but with a few added twists, like the brilliant idea of being able to teleport between the two worlds. I can go on and on with reasons why you should play this game, but that would only spoil the fun and ruin the plot. I already know I don’t have to recommend this game to the fans of the series out there, but I certainly recommend it to any thrill seekers that are looking to add to their collection of horror games as well.