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Silent Hill: Origins Review

JP_Hurh By:
GENRE Action / Adventure 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Highbrow Horror

He checked the map. His finger followed the thin black line as it had before. And again it met nothing, no town or rest stop for miles. But still standing, obstinate in the glare of his car’s twin halogen beams, was the aging, peeling sign for the place that stubbornly resisted the better judgment and sound censorship of Rand McNally: Silent Hill Origins.

click to enlargeHe refolded the map and glanced out at the side of the road. Did this place really exist? He had heard stories - fables, really. According to whispered lore in the strange dialect native to this place, somewhere between the exits for Silent Hill 4 and Silent Hill 5, there was a ghost village, an unholy place called Silent Hill Origins that contained deep secrets and lost souls.

But Origins seemed nothing more than rumor. It had been years since he heard the place had been abandoned by Japanese developers. But as his car slipped through the oppressive mist and into the ghostly streets of the forgotten, abandoned town, a strange and familiar fear coursed through his blood. The headlights and engine faded with his hopes, and the car powerlessly rolled to a stop. He glimpsed movement in the gathering shadow, heard strangled noises neither human nor animal, felt the evil miasma close in upon that shivering naked thing he called a soul.

Silent Hill Origins was quite real. As real as the hungry smile gleaming in his rearview mirror.

The unlikely story of the development of Silent Hill Origins makes it a wonder that the game even exists, much less succeeds. The U.S. development team, Climax, inherited the project when publisher and franchise owner Konami yanked the initial developers. Letting Americans get anywhere near the disturbing visions of the traditionally Japanese Silent Hill franchise is scary itself. How many Japanese horror movies have been ironed into caricature in their American remakes? One would think the Japanese would begrudge it and keep their ideas on the east side of the dark water.

click to enlargeBut the gamble pays off in a big way. Climax, reputedly rebuilding the game from scratch, performs a Frankenstein resurrection, stitching the mythos of Silent Hill 1 and the introspective psychosis of the Silent Hill 2 together. What shambles out may not be wholly original, but it stands on its own as a full new Silent Hill. And it terrifies.

Fans of the series will need no introduction, as the game looks and plays like all of the others. You control Travis Grady, a truck driver who gets stuck in Silent Hill, as he tries to piece together the mystery of a house fire and a severely burned girl. Travis explores the ghost town and its creepy buildings: a hospital, an insane asylum, a lavish theatre, and a scummy motel. There is much hunting and fetching, a few particularly tough puzzles, and a whole mess of icky monsters littering the place.

And places, as it turns out. There are two versions of every environment in Silent Hill: the real one, which is misty, abandoned, and generally creepy; and the nightmare one, which is covered in rust and blood, filled with torture devices, and pulsating with gross. Travis shuttles between the two through mirrors, generally needing keys and clues in one to make it past obstacles in the other.

What Origins gets right is the atmosphere of Silent Hill. True to its name, the most sinister revelations are usually in what is unsaid, and while the plot is suggestive, there is ambiguity for interpretation. Take, for example, the motel which names its suites after famous suicides - The Cleopatra, The King, The Rose (Marilyn Monroe). Nowhere in the game does Travis or any of the other characters explicitly refer to this allusion. It is just one of many hundreds of eerie details that lend to the unsettling atmosphere.

click to enlargeAs Travis begins his search for the truth about the burned girl, he is sidetracked by his own personal demons. The game really shines in its middle third, where the search for Travis’s past eclipses the mythological mumbo-jumbo that frames the rest of the game. Travis, though he appears a good ol’ boy, has a closet full of skeletons. And some of them are still alive with some flesh on ‘em.

The thorn in the side of the franchise, however, has always been the clunky combat, and Origins isn’t immune. Travis has access to a multitude of usable melee weapons, from rubber batons found in the insane asylum to drip stands found in the hospital. But using them involves waiting for an enemy to shamble into range, swinging away, missing often, and then getting a load of poisonous puke in the face.

The new addition of throwable items, such as portable TVs, barbells, and typewriters, is welcome, but they’re just as ultra-powerful as they are ridiculous. Travis, beset by inhuman monsters of obviously deranged imagination, can cruise around while carrying a file cabinet like a baby. Watch out, demons! Travis got Office Depot up his sleeve.

The monsters, on the other hand, are nightmarish. The evil smiling marionettes might be the creepiest, especially since they aren’t dead when you knock them off their strings. Then there is a bulbous thing with two heads that looks like it might be copulating with itself, and a giant contortionist buffalo with a bad case of mad cow. As in other Silent Hill games, the impressionistic shapes of the monsters are linked to in-game plot elements. The buffalo, for example, is a nightmarish version of Caliban from the latest production of The Tempest at the local theater (named, incidentally, the Theatre Artaud).

click to enlargeThe game is on the short side, averaging about five or six hours depending on how long you work at a seemingly unsolvable puzzle before reading FAQs on the internet. Multiple endings entice replay value, but this game is not one that you can set down and pick up a long time later—if you forget which door needs to be unlocked, you will be lost. Silent Hill fans will be pleased with the experience, but not the conclusion - it’s more cliché than the brainfucks of Silent Hill past.

That all of this has been accomplished on the PSP by a little-known developer with a rejected project is a stupendous surprise. The graphics are among the best the PSP has seen yet, sitting somewhere between the graphical prowess of the PS1 and PS2. The sound is similarly intense and adds some scares of its own. Silent Hill Origins advises you to play it in the dark with headphones, but it forgets to add that you should lock your door. Someone walking in at the wrong moment is liable to get a typewriter in the face.
B+ Revolution report card
  • Not a Silent Hill imitation
  • Detail-driven story
  • Scary, especially in the dark with headphones
  • Clunky combat
  • On the short side
  • Weak conclusion
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