Silent Hill Origins

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After the release of Silent Hill 4 and the dissolution of Team Silent it seems that Konami had a bit of trouble deciding what to do with the franchise. Rumours started swirling that a remake of the first game was on the way, with the protagonist re-designed to tie into the soon to be released first Silent Hill movie. I don’t know whether that last part was ever actually under consideration, but it turns out Konami had actually been thinking of doing a remake of the first game (and they would eventually greenlight one later, as we’ll see) but decided instead to go with a prequel. The game first came to the attention of the public via a leaked title, the in my opinion much cooler sounding Silent Hill: Original Sin. For quite a while no one knew anything more than that the game would be released on the PSP and take place before Silent Hill 1, and expectations were high despite the rather startling revelation that the game was to be handled by a Western developer called Climax instead of being developed in-house at Konami (the break-up of Team Silent wasn’t widely known at this time, although I don’t think it was exactly kept a secret).

Then some gameplay footage of what was to become Silent Hill Origins was unleashed onto the internet, showing a radically un-Silent-Hill-like corridor shooter that blatantly ripped off Resident Evil 4, with enemies that looked like this:

Sh0origNeedless to say the fans were not amused.

Turns out neither was Konami. Origins vanished for a while, prompting rumours that it had been cancelled, before re-emerging in a form much more faithful to the series’ history, now under development at Climax UK. Konami hadn’t liked the direction the first version was going and took their toys back. Very little was actually shown of the prototype Origins, but the footage that was released didn’t appear to be of particularly high quality, and given what Konami would later publish under the Silent Hill name it must have been pretty dire for them to pull the plug.

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Story

Our hero this time around is Travis Grady, a truck driver troubled by some unresolved issues stemming from childhood traumas he doesn’t remember clearly. While driving toward the totally ordinary town of Silent Hill Travis sees a burning house and rushes inside, where he finds the charred body of a little girl who is inexplicably still alive. Yes that’s right, it’s Alessa, and our man Travis just blundered right into the occult ritual that got the ball rolling on the whole franchise. Travis gets her out of the house, but before he can call 911 he blacks out, waking up in the middle of a curiously empty and fog-shrouded Silent Hill.

From there things go more or less as you’d expect. Travis roams around town trying to piece together clues about what was going on with Alessa, mostly by inteacting with younger versions of some of side characters from the first game, while also uncovering the James Sunderland-esque dark secrets of his own past.

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Gameplay

Out with the new and in with the old. Origins ditches most of the gameplay changes introduced in Silent Hill 4 in favour of returning to the series’ roots, with two notable additions. Travis can now move between the normal and Otherworld version of a location at any time by using mirrors, which works a lot like the light world/dark world mechanic that shows up in some Nintendo games, with puzzles often revolving around changing something in one world to affect the other. Melee weapons are now breakable, so you carry around a supply of them instead of having a set arsenal that’s acquired throughout the game, and some of them can be thrown at enemies for massive damage (there’s no limit on how many weapons you can carry, which leads to intriguing questions about how travis can carry around fifty old-fashioned TV sets).

The ability to traverse the fog and Otherworld locations at will is a fairly big gameplay change, but other than that Origins plays more or less identical to its predecessors.

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The horror

When I first started writing these and came up with the idea of putting the games on a continuum from occult to psychological horror I had it in my head that there would be a significant number in the latter category; this may have been due to the prominence of Silent Hill 2 and the existence of a later title, as I’m finding that the games hew a lot closer to the occult angle than I remember. So I’m going to put Origins and the next game into the category of “occult character study”, games that feature the Order, magic, rituals and all that jazz but which are also concerned with diving into the mind and background of the main character, in contrast with the first and third games which weren’t as focused on deep characterization.

When discussing the later Silent Hill games fans of a more reactionary nature often throw around the ridiculous notion that western developers are somehow incapable of making a scary Silent Hill game, or sometimes even good horror in general. Origins is proof that this isn’t the case, as the game is a pitch-perfect recreation of the look and feel of Team Silent’s glory days. The Otherworld locations could have come straight out of any of the first three games, the atmosphere of the town is spot on and many of the monster designs rival those of Masahiro Ito himself, easily the best of the post-Team Silent phase of the franchise’s history. I’m not going to say Origins is as scary as Silent Hill 2 and 3 were, but it’s easily the most traditionally frightening Silent Hill game to come out in more recent years.

This is both a good and bad thing. I said that Origins is a “recreation” of the older Silent Hill style, but a more honest word might have been “imitation”. Each of the previous games stuck rigidly to certain conventions, but they always had their own signature style at the same time- you can distinguish a Silent Hill 2 environment from a Silent Hill 3 one at a glance. Origins by contrast feels inescapably like a retread of what’s come before for most of its playtime, with the exception of a handful of moments scattered throughout (I particularly like a bit where you step into an Otherworld forest created by setting up props on a stage).

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Inspirations

Uhhhhhhhhh

Some of the monsters are loosely based off of characters in The Tempest, which Alessa saw a production of that scared her. And there’s that image down there where she’s floating through the air anime-style.

That’s…. pretty much it.

Oh wait, there’s The Butcher, a recurring enemy throughout the game who’s a blatant rip-off of Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Yeah.

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The Music

Not much to talk about here this time- sort of like the horror, Origin’s soundtrack is perfectly functional but not terribly memorable. It’s not bad in any way, but it’s definitely one of Yamaoka’s weaker efforts.

I do however like this vocal track, for some reason named after an AC/DC song:

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The Review

When it comes to any prequel I think there’s one question that always needs to be asked- “did this story need to be told”? In the case of Silent Hill Origins the answer to that is, sadly, “no”.

It’s cool to see the well known side-cast of the original game again, and some of the interactions between them that had only been hinted at before are now fleshed out, but ultimately the only point of Origin’s story is to flesh out a minor plot point from the first game’s back story that didn’t really need to be expanded on while actually introducing some new complexities that make the already over convoluted Silent Hill lore more needlessly messy.

I said that Origins was a character study, so technically Travis’ personal journey should balance out the rather threadbare supernatural spooky-times plot, but unfortunately Travis is almost as bland and one-dimensional as Henry from Silent Hill 4. I think the idea was to make him a stoic badass, but he just comes across like he has no personality or is incapable of reacting to anything that happens to him. He’s also the first in a line of James Sunderland rip-offs, but his dark and mysterious backstory turns out to not actually be all that interesting or surprising by the time you get around to pulling back the curtains on it.

In terms of gameplay Origins is perfectly solidly constructed, and some of the puzzles are great, but there’s no escaping the fact that the Silent Hill gameplay systems were already looking old in Silent Hill 4; by this point the cobwebs were clearly visible, breakable weapons be damned. You shouldn’t take this to mean that Origins is bad by any means, just that it’s trying to do exactly the same things as its predecessors, but not as well or with as much originality and creativity.

This has been the shortest of these posts for a reason. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except that spends most of its time re-treading ground that’s already been worn to dust.

Should you buy it?

My opinion on Origins is much the same as Silent Hill 4, with the added caveat that you’re going to get a lot more out of this if you’ve played or are familiar with the first game. Origins is a perfectly fine slice of Silent Hill pie, it’s just that if you’ve already eaten three or four servings of the pie by the time you get to it I’m not sure you’ll want more.

I can at last simply link you to places where you can easily buy these games digitally, as the PSP version is available for ultra cheap on the PSN store. A PS2 version was also released, which can be found online and second hand throughout he land, although keep in mind it’s an upscale of the handheld version and so looks significantly worse than 2-4 did.

Legacy

Of the four non-Team Silent games Origins is generally the least contentious, in that it doesn’t have a fantastic reputation but also doesn’t incite massive flame wars.

No, if you want that you need only look to the next game in our series. Fans may have been relatively accepting of a handheld prequel being placed in the care of a Western developer, but they screamed bloody murder when Konami decided that Silent Hill’s first current-generation outing would follow suit. Were the howls of derision justified?

The answer may surprise you!

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