Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Ryan Peters, @Thrashmarshall
Creating decent scares in a video game is a difficult thing to do. With literally hundreds of titles out there all trying to raise a few screams from players, developers must push the limits of the technology available to them, as well as their own creativity.
So when Konami released Silent Hill: Origins, developed by Climax Studios back in 2006 for Sony’s struggling PlayStation Portable (PSP), series fans and gamers in general expected little in the way of shocks and the psychological horror that made Silent Hill famous. No one expects to be terrified when gaming for ten minutes on a bus after all. Despite its pint sized delivery however Silent Hill: Origins is a solid little romp that in a lot of ways is the closest thing to a ‘traditional’ Silent Hill outside of the first three games.
Silent Hill: Origins acts as a prequel to the 1999 original, putting players in the shoes of trucker Travis Grady as he attempts to track down a young girl he saves from a burning house close to the titular town. What begins as a simple trip to the hospital soon turns into a fight for survival against the many horrors that lurk in the lakeside resort .In fine Silent Hill tradition Travis will have to explore abandoned buildings and nightmarish worlds, battling monsters and solving puzzles in order to reveal the mystery of the town and find the charred child.
As a prequel the set up for the games story ties in well with the rest of the series, the burned girl and mysterious cult made famous in the earlier games are present and accounted for in Origins and it delivers a decent amount of back story during its eight hour tale. Of course it wouldn’t be a Silent Hill game without a lead character with a troubled past and Climax Studios did their best to deliver that in Travis, while they aren’t entirely successful he’s well written enough to at least keep most player interested as the story unfolds.
The reveal of Travis’ back-story isn’t going to blow any minds like those of James Sunderland or Henry Townshend but its decent enough to at least make the conclusion of Origins satisfying.
While the story in Silent Hill: Origins is solid stuff, actually playing the game is an inconsistent experience plagued by bad design choices and the limitations of the hardware it’s on. While the PSP has proven to me a great system for action games like the excellent Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, Climax seemed to have difficulty getting to grips with the pocket sized platform.
The most obvious problem Origins has are its controls, the limitation of only having one analogue stick on the PSP isn’t as much as a problem as you might expect in a game that mainly uses fixed camera angles , however the whole game feels slightly lumbering and unresponsive particularly during combat. Menu navigation, general exploration and even moving the map around all feel a few seconds too slow and are made worse by the games poor loading times.
By sticking to the traditional control and feel of a Silent Hill game Climax may have pleased a lot of hard core Silent Hill fans hoping for a game similar to those made famous by Team Silent. Unfortunately packing all that into the PSP control scheme has just created an experience that sometimes looks like previous Silent Hill games, but never quite feels like one.
The game looks good for the most part, especially when played in a dark room somewhere with a good pair of headphones on. In that kind of environment it’s easy to forget your playing a portable game at all. With that said the dank corridors and blood splattered rooms of Silent Hill don’t lend themselves well to being played during the day and particularly on the move as they just become impossible to navigate properly.
It may be on a portable system but Silent Hill: Origins is a game that needs to be sat down and enjoyed at a slow pace, not played in bursts to kill a few minutes. This would be pretty hard to do anyway as save points are just as far apart as in the console titles and there isn’t any kind of auto save system to help players wanting to visits the hellish town for a few minutes at a time.
One other criticism that can be made of Origins’ visuals is that the environments aren’t really that interesting. Players revisit a number of famous Silent Hill areas from the previous games, in fact the hospital is identical in some areas to that of the PlayStation original, and it’ obvious Climax has done this to please series’ fans. The problem is that there aren’t enough fresh environments to make Silent Hill feel like an interesting or even scary place to explore, instead the whole thing feels like a greatest hits more than an actual game in its own right.
The item system in Origins is also a problem, instead of the familiar arsenal of pipes and wooden planks Travis uses an assortment of furniture to take out the hell beasts of Silent Hill. What this means is that players are forced to hunt around for one time use items such as TV’s and large glass jars to assault creatures with. It’s a functional system for sure however when your character is lugging a bunch of massive furnishings around in his inventory it makes the experience more of a silly one than anything that’s going to scare.
The other presentation elements in Silent Hill: Origins are pretty great as well, with series maestro Akira Yamaoka handling the audio and score for the game. The famous cacophony of industrial grates and screams can be heard throughout Origins and the moody guitar driven music creates a fantastic atmosphere, albeit through a decent pair of headphones.
The PSP’s speakers make a valiant effort however this is a game that needs a bit more than what the plucky portable can muster in the sound department, particularly when Silent Hill is a series that uses sound to create scares better than any other game around.
Those monsters aren’t much to write home about however, the busty nurses make an appearance in the game along with other favourites like the demonic dogs but the PSP just doesn’t have the horsepower to make these enemies look all that great. Origins does feature a number of cool boss designs as well as a particularly great brute called the Butcher, unfortunately actually taking him on is a clumsy and boring affair.
The Final Word: Silent Hill: Origins is a tough game to recommend. I personally really enjoyed my time with the game and think it deserves its place in the Silent Hill series. It’s is however a slow and not particularly fun game to play that feels at times more like fan service than an attempt to do anything interesting with the series. Silent Hill: Origins hasn’t stood the test of time and should be approached now more as a curio than anything else. If your desperate to travel to Silent Hill again then you can do worse than Origins, just don’t expect it to feel the same as when you’ve visited before.
Silent Hill: Origins is available on the PlayStation 2 and PSP (reviewed).