Silent Hill Origins - PS2 - Review
It seems like only yesterday that news came out of E3 about Konami’s entry in the then-burgeoning survival horror genre, one that featured disturbing imagery and eerily realistic facial animations during cinematics. It was, in fact, 1998, and that game was Silent Hill for the PlayStation. Since then, the series has seen three sequels and amassed a huge fan base. In November 2007, Konami released Silent Hill Origins for the PSP, developed by Climax Studios; the game was a prequel and recounted the beginnings of the horror in the eponymous town. Now, five months later, PS2 owners get to see for themselves how it all began, as Konami has brought Silent Hill Origins to the PS2.
Origins stars Travis Grady, a trucker trying to make his way home. As he nears the town of Silent Hill, Travis sees a house on the edge of town on fire; upon closer inspection, he hears screams from inside. Braving the flames, Travis finds a severely burned little girl on the second floor, and brings her outside to safety before blacking out himself. When he awakens, the town is filled with fog and monsters, and every road leading out of town is blocked or destroyed; Travis has no choice but to make his way through Silent Hill if he ever hopes to figure out what’s going on and escape the town. While series fans might see the game’s plot twists coming — can you be a Silent Hill hero without a disturbing secret in your past? — generally the story is well written, and does a good job of illuminating some of the mysteries of the series.
Expect to run into many familiar faces — here, Travis talks with nurse Lisa Garland,
doomed to a horrific fate, as anyone who played the original Silent Hill can tell you.
I say “generally” because I have serious issues with one story element that influences gameplay. Aside from some changes to the game’s battle system (I’ll go into those in a minute), Origins plays much like previous entries in the series. You’ll explore dilapidated buildings, find demented puzzles based on macabre poetry, and occasionally shift into the blood-and-rust covered Otherworld, one of the trademarks of the series. However, unlike in previous Silent Hill games (where traveling to and from the Otherworld occurs at set points in the storyline), here you can shift back and forth at will, through the use of mirrors. In the previous games, shifting to the Otherworld gave you the impression that the dark forces behind the horror were messing with you, sending you repeatedly to a disturbing alternate version of each area, which led to a palpable sense of relief when the world was returned to (relatively) normal. Here, all tension associated with shifting to the Otherworld (and likewise, the relief of returning to the standard world) is removed, since you yourself are in control of when you shift over. It probably won’t seem like a big deal to series newcomers, and it might sound like a minor change, but that minor change removed much of the tension I’ve come to love in the series.
One side of the mirror is the normal, fog-filled Silent Hill, and the other is the horrific Otherworld.
The other major changes in this installment all involve the combat system. First of all, melee weapons now degrade through use, and eventually break. This is balanced out by the fact that new melee weapons are everywhere (seriously - it’s not uncommon to find two or three in the same room). You’ve also got heavy items, like large glass bottles and portable TVs, that can be thrown to do major damage but break after one use. This system is an interesting idea, and adds a bit of realism to the game (I know that if I was ever stuck in a monster-infested town, I’d be hitting them with anything I could get my hands on), but it’s also flawed in two fundamental ways. First, most melee weapons break far too easily. I can understand an old wooden plank breaking after smacking a monster four or five times, but wouldn’t you expect a cast-iron wrench to last a little bit longer? Secondly, every time your equipped weapon breaks, you go back to using your default melee attack (your fists, which do next to no damage), and you have to go into your inventory to equip something else. This is more of a frustration than anything, but would it have been so hard to have Travis automatically pull out some other weapon when his current one breaks, or at least allow the player to equip a new weapon without having to navigate through your inventory every time? The other major change to the game’s battle system is the introduction of grappling sequences. Essentially, when enemies attack, sometimes Travis can escape the attack (and maybe even turn the tables on the creature) if the player successfully completes a quick-time event. This makes combat a little more dynamic, but overall it’s not really a groundbreaking addition.
Throwing heavy objects, like portable TVs, can drop most monsters where they stand.
Origins’ graphics on the PSP were some of the best that system had ever seen, so it comes as no surprise that the game doesn’t look bad here, either. Sure, it’s a PSP port, but Konami made improvements in the transition, like higher detail on character models, and while there are definitely some graphical issues here (shadows are remarkably jaggy, and the game is pretty dark overall), the visuals certainly get the job done. Origins’ audio (always a focus in this series) shines; the score, by series composer Akira Yamaoka, is one of his best yet, and the sound effects are as spooky and ambient as ever.
Origins is far from the best Silent Hill title — it has some problems in both concept and execution. Still, while it may not quite measure up to the series’ legacy, it’s still an incredibly immersive horror game that’s scarier than most other games out there. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it over the other Silent Hill games, anyone who find pleasure in being utterly creeped out would do well to give Origins a try, and series fans who didn’t get to play the PSP version owe it to themselves to finally see how all the horror began.
|Review Scoring Details for Silent Hill Origins|
Combat has gotten a little deeper, but a little more frustrating. Being able to switch between the “normal” and “dark” worlds at will makes for a little more backtracking in a series known for backtracking. Exploring the disturbing environments is as fun as ever, though, and the puzzles are as clever and twisted as you’d hope.
While you can tell the game originated on the PSP, it was a great looking title then, and they’ve improved it since. Sometimes it’s too dark to see what’s going on, and there are a few technical issues, but the art design is superb as always, and overall the game looks remarkably good for a port.
Akira Yamaoka has always delivered incredible music for the series, and this is no exception. Voice acting is reasonably good, and the game’s sound effects definitely pull their weight in the scares department.
Combat is not overtly difficult, especially with a wealth of high-damage items at your disposal, but some of the puzzles can still get pretty tricky.
Revisiting the beginnings of the horror in Silent Hill is a good idea, don’t get me wrong. But the developers have taken some liberties with the Silent Hill formula, and they don’t necessarily pay off. Giving the player control of the Otherworld shift removes some of the tension the series is based on.
Silent Hill Origins might be the weakest installment in the series, but it’s a testament to the quality of the franchise when the weakest entry is still this good. Origins is definitely worthy of a play-through by series fans and anyone who enjoys being scared.