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Review – Silent Hill Origins

posted on September 3rd, 2008 by christian

Over the years Silent Hill has gone from being a cult classic that all the cool kids preferred, to a media darling that the cool kids still preferred, to a struggling franchise that no one seems happy with. This is because no one can agree on what Silent Hill is all about. The basic idea has been that it offers a deeper, “psychological” style of horror that the proles playing Resident Evil may not understand.

As the series has gotten older, the people making it seem to believe the games are defined by increasing amounts of gooey penis and vagina monsters. Diehard fans often pin the spirit of the series to the original Team Silent. If you ask me, the meaning of Silent Hill is apparent. The problem is that no one really wants to use it. To be clear, Silent Hill is about a creepy little town that manifests its horrors based on the minds of troubled protagonsists. It is an interesting idea that is limited by the insistence of certain choices.

For one, the town never changes. It is usually a dual setup between the foggy and quiet town, and the rusty and bloody Otherworld. On the other hand, moving away from the town produced two of the least favorite entries in the series, that being 3 and 4. The solution would be to make the town much more dynamic, and to not be afraid to use different genres when needed. Of course, when someone tries to do this, such as Silent Hill 5’s focus on combat, the fans still get upset. And so the cycle continues.

Amidst all this debate, little old Silent Hill Origins on the PSP comes along as a prequel to the very first game. This is a safe and somewhat familiar road, which of course can be good and bad. I appreciate the strong ties to the first game, and graphically this is a technical marvel on the PSP, but much of your enjoyment will come down to how much you like coming back to the hell hole that is Silent Hill.

Origins tells the tale of Travis Grady, a trucker who finds himself waking in Silent Hill after saving a severely charred girl from a burning building. This may sound familiar to anyone who played the first Silent Hill, and indeed Origins’ story serves as a somewhat useless ordeal that sets up the events of SH1. To an extent, it is interesting to see these events unfold, but there is not enough conflict or insight into the old characters to keep it consistently interesting.

Origins tries to counter this by taking some influence from Silent Hill 2, by making the protagonist a seeming everyman who actually has a disturbing past. The imitation is incredibly blatant, right down to a Pyramid Head like monster that occasionally pops up. This story was more direct than James’ in SH2. Notes and pictures spell out the situation quite clearly, and there are only two endings (not counting the joke UFO ending). This may be better or worse depending on how much analysis you want in Silent Hill (I would imagine the answer from most fans would be “lots”). I personally enjoy how straight forward and simple Travis’ story is, but like the main plot, it feels stretched out. You can figure out his past by the midpoint if you’re clever (I’m not, apparently), and if not, you will be smacked with clues at tail end of the game. In between these parts, there isn’t much.

You might guess what I’m getting at. Whereas some reviewers have claimed Origins to be too short, I find it was a much too long for my liking. Perhaps this is due to the change in how Travis switches to the Otherworld. In past games this was automatic, but here you can travel between the worlds at will, provided you find a mirror. This leads to the typical light/dark world dynamic, where changing things in one world affects the other. You have probably done this before, and it isn’t any better this time around. Perhaps it is worse, as you now have to check every door to see if the lock is broken twice. It leads to more backtracking and tedium; if you miss an important item, or forget the location of a puzzle, you have that many more hallways to explore.

Depending on how good you are, Origins can drag on, or at least feel like it is for most of its length. Areas like the Theater and the Motel are as long to explore as an entire Sanitarium, which is especially silly considering this is a portable game. The only quick, sharp area is the Hospital, and if the rest were designed like that, the experience as a whole would be much improved..

Or maybe there is a deeper problem. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but the formula behind Silent Hill isn’t very good. Here is a game that makes you wander long corridors and roads where doors are randomly set to open, while the rest are not. Combat is slow and awkward, which may be realistic, but forgets that realism isn’t always fun. The enemies have gone from being creepy and original, to following a template of oozing, sexually suggestive nasties. Fans argue that the series’ magic comes from the little details, but they can be easily missed considering how much of the game takes place in the dark.

Silent Hill games always have some great ideas in their narratives, and always leave you guessing even when you are through discussing it with friends. But to get there, you have to go through a very shitty game. It is consistent trial and error in a setting that stops being original in a series verging on six games. Either the series needs to wrap up, or something drastic needs to be done. I wouldn’t at all protest to the latter.

Origins makes no major changes, save for a new melee combat system that becomes useless once the enemies become strong enough to mandate the use of firearms. It almost becomes painful to play after a while, yet a few nuggets of story try to pull you forward like a carrot on a stick. No more after this. Resident Evil showed it can evolve without decimating its sales and popularity, and even something as obscure as Fatal Frame has been given to Grasshopper Manufacture to shake things up.

Like God of War: Chains of Olympus, Origins is an amazing accomplishment for a PSP game, but as another legitimate entry in its respective series, it feels like excess baggage.

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1 Comments

  1. TrueTallus said on September 11, 2008:

    It’s sad how old Silent Hill games feel at this point. You hit the nail on the head when you said the formula has gotten painful to play. I was sort of able to say that added to the atmosphere for the first couple of outings but by this point I really want something more. More combat or slimyer dangly bits monsters aren’t going to fix things, though I’m not sure Konami knows enough about what to do with the series to realize that. I can’t say I have the answer either, but I do think it’s possible there’s a way to make a fresh and worth playing Silent Hill game that still somehow feels like it belongs in the series.

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