It’s funny that so many things are forcibly explained. Characters and places are constantly being given foundations that enhance, or detract, from their personalities. The Joker was given a back story in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and while he stayed true to the character’s nature, knowing that he wasn’t always crazy brought stability to his psychosis. This creates a small glimmer of hope in the Joker’s character that he may be able to return to his former self.
In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight he circumvented Joker’s backstory to create, what he called, an “absolute.” Without a background he is an insatiable force that always was, and always will be crazy. I wasn’t surprised to see (especially after the release of the movie) an origin story of one of my favorite places, Silent Hill. Silent Hill Origins isn’t the series first adventure on the handheld (Japan has seen a Game Boy Advance Text Adventure and a couple of mobile games), but it’s the series first, and hopefully last, origin story.
Silent Hill Origins focuses on traditional Silent Hill gameplay with exploration requiring a map consult every thirty seconds, and combat consisting of makeshift weapons and bad aim. It follows the story of a trucker aptly named Travis Grady with a troubled past (who would have thought!) that finds himself stuck in the town after attempting to save a little girl. He quickly realizes (about halfway through the game) that he has been here before, and his ties to the town are what is keeping him there, plus a deranged spirit of a girl that is using him to stop the cult in their attempts to summon a god.
Silent Hill’s everyman combat makes a welcome return here with Travis showing a natural ineptitude at fighting. He can pick up hammers, jagged pieces of wood, drip stands, pistols, rifles, and a multifarious array of other items (that include throwable portable TVs and typewriters). However, the melee items have a limited use and will break after being thrown, or striking an enemy too many times. No worries though, Travis can also throw punches. Although I don’t like the Idea of a person brawling with supernatural beings, its a legitimate reaction for someone in a fight or flight situation.
The combat is clunkier than ever with the implementation of the new grapple system. Enemies can grab Travis and force the player to push buttons (either mash or press) to keep from taking damage. It keeps the pressure in small corridors, but there were certain scenarios where the enemy would be four to five steps away, and grapple with Travis as if they were right next to him. This gets really frustrating when multiple enemies are assaulting him and all you can do is constantly stave off their grapple encounters. After finally getting them to the ground Travis can perform a finishing blow, but it rarely works.
Instead of pushing the enemy down once and finishing him off you have to knock them down over and over until their health completely runs out. This can take up almost an entire minute, sometimes more, depending upon the creature and weapon you are using. To conserve ammo I would always engage enemies with my fists and would have to knock them down seven or eight times (six to eight punches) before they stayed down.
To make the combat even more frustrating the camera likes to spin around Travis like a top. The PSP’s small screen makes it difficult to get full shots of each room so the camera is constantly adjusting while you are positioning yourself against the abominations. Silent Hill’s combat has always been charmingly clunky because it was intentional. The zany camera and broken mechanics make Origin’s combat an unintentional ball and chain.
Although the combat is irritating and faulty, exploring Silent Hill is just as invigorating as it was during the first game. UK Climax did a phenomenal job at recreating the town on a smaller scale, and making sure the nuances of litter and dead ends each have their rightful place. The daylight portions have all of the fog and alienation, that the series is popular, and I was impressed with the level of immersion delivered during these segments.
Their recreation, however, of the alternate reality left something to be desired. It’s a mash up of everything we have seen in recent Silent Hill titles and doesn’t have anything that makes it stick out from the rest of the pack. Travis also has the ability to shift between each world whenever he finds a mirror, so the player can leave the hell hole whenever they wish. Its mainly used for solving puzzles, but it destroys the anxiety of being in the other world. The only saving grace for “Silent Hell” is that Akira Yamaoka developed the soundtrack.
Akira has been a part of the Silent Hill series from the beginning, and his mixture of grinding metals and haunting chords have captivated players for almost a decade. His work on this title is just as good, if not better, than anything he has done before. Traveling through the alternate world isn’t a battle against the monsters and demons around the corners…its a battle to survive his pulse pounding tunes. I noticed little repetition in his tracks and I was constantly amazed at his skill to combine background noises with instrument work. If you play Origins make sure you use headphones!
Possibly the most disappointing thing about Origins is it’s plot. Travis is tethered to Silent Hill through tragedy, but nothing from the town reflects that. I don’t want it to copy the other games, but the town needs to be the force working against the protagonist. It reflects their inner sins and uses them as tools of mental deconstruction, forcing the player to question the intentions of the hero and the villain, thus creating investment in the characters and the plot. Silent Hill was unlike anything ever encountered before, and by developing an origin story for the town, Konami has given a human element to something that was justly inhuman. The town is no longer an “absolute” like the Joker, but a force with a beginning and an end.
Silent Hill Origins is a perfect example of an average game. It showcases excellent atmosphere for a handheld title with nerve wreaking tunes and a few well crafted enviroments. However, the borrowed gameplay is weighed down with poor combat, a low difficulty curve, and crazy camera angles, so it’s more of a war against mechanics than monsters. The empty plot isn’t worthy of the Silent Hill title and is extremely short (about 5 hours). There are accolades to collect that unlock weapons, outfits, and multiple endings, but while these extra goodies are nice, there isn’t any true incentive to explore the town a second or third time. If you are a fan of the series, or the genre, you may enjoy the throwback gameplay, but other gamers should steer clear.
UK Climax and Akira Yamaoka did a great job at creating an atmosphere from the small console, but everything else is mediocre. Make sure you use headphones!
|How does our scoring system work?|
The gamplay is already antiquated, and half of time didn't even work. Combat was more frustrating than frightening.
Akira Yamaoka is the master of out of kilter music. His sound effects blend with the instrumentals so well it will make your heart race. Its too bad that the PSP's speakers weren't stronger.
There are a few accolades to collect, but subjecting yourself to the combat and empty plot isn't worth it.
Silent Hill Origins is an average game that is a below average addition to the series.