Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Silent Hill Origins: The Review

A mid western American town, just outside Brahms and south ashfeild, always shrouded in a veil of fog. we've all been there before, fought the horrors that lurk in that town. Silent hill. The "special place" for many horror gaming fans, myself included.
Its been 8 years since we first ventured into the forsaken town of silent hill as harry mason in the original game on the PlayStation one. yet all these years on some questions remained unanswered, most prominently, how did baby Cheryl get in the Field to be found by harry and his wife?. this is just one question that becomes answered when Travis Grady, a trucker driving though the area, almost runs over a girl in the road he enters the mythos of the town and a world of his worst nightmares.
I, like many hill fans was sceptical about this, as the same team which had been making the games for 8 years had not only turned over silent hill 5's development to a UK team, but origins was developed by the US team Climax , though also moved over to a UK team as its "original sin" format in early development was a resident evil 4 clone which wasn't in keeping with the experience we gamers had grown to love. Fortunately its turned out to be pretty faithful to the other games and almost feels like a team silent product.
The graphics are fantastic overall and for the PSP they are phenomenal, easily on par with silent hill 2, and it is done in a way that the screen and the fact it is handheld does not affect play in any way. only 2 out of in game engine cutscenes are used ,the opening and the beginning, all the others are done in game and look absolutely fantastic.
The enemies, well, unfortunately they start well but as you progress they suffer from final fantasy 12 syndrome, early bosses and enemies reoccur later, only in different sizes and with different textures on them rather than each area having unique character designs. Early creatures are quite tame, like a hairless sheep that's front half is dead and is being dragged by its back half, supposedly representing all the roadkill Travis feels guilty about from the past.Later ones are more interesting, ranging from two torsos intertwined in a copulating position, only one minus it's arms and legs to a screen filling juggernaut bent over backwards. these were pretty original and inventive and the recycled character models is only a minor gripe.
The bosses were the biggest let down of this game, there are 6 in total and to beat them all you just need to shoot, move, repeat till they die, even the ps one original had some that flew, others that burrowed and generally had variety, there is none of that here and it stands alone of this games crowning disappointment.
the combat situations are a little niggly for me, ranging from being backed into a corner by the creatures projectile attack and your half a second recoil animation means you can be repeatedly hammered by an enemy without being able to fight back, and then find that more have shambled up in the process. The weapons like in its predecessor, chronologically, not canonically, the room are destructible, whilst this adds realism, it just seems a bit futile since any enemy can just be pummeled by your fists and there own animation means you can return the favour and keep hammering at them without giving them chance to fight back.
The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic , but to long time fans its no surprise that akira yamoakas hit another home run with this. in fact the soundtrack may be better implemented in this one than others, in previous games you would need to enter an area or trigger a cutscene to change the music but in origins it can happen whenever, but its also the little things, ticking clocks, creaking open doors and splashing water all make for a much more in depth and believable experience than its predecessors in some respects. In fact the combination of graphics and sounds make this one of the more cinematicly vibed games in the series.
In size and scope however this game is slightly disappointing, you only explore a small portion of silent hill, of which some buildings are in different locations, a while the 7 year gap between then and the first game in the series may explain some of this, a large 4 story hospital is not likely to change its location easily, especially since it was still under construction and that's only if there is another normal world besides the foggy and dark otherworlds we encounter in the series. This was touched upon in the movies and it lends itself to that to add other aspects to the towns narrative.
Its a shame that with the small and simple game world, that takes you 4 hrs to complete, nothing more about the history of the cult or even the town is touched upon, only the main story of dahlia and her cult burning alessa, this i felt was sorely lacking. we find a series of deaths took place that seems to suggest a tie to an unseen, Walter Sullivan styled sub plot, possibly linking the PSP title to the up and coming silent hill 5. but other than that the whole game is the very definition of rinse and repeat. its just head to next circle on map, explore, backtrack for keys, solve a puzzle shoot a boss ,black out. repeat 4 times to finish game. and no variety from starting boss to finish, just shoot, move a little, then shoot again repeat till dead.
There are no difficulty levels to choose from and the one that is was painfully easy, and I'm a gamer that always plays on easy, but even so i NEVER died in this game, and only used 4 or 5 healing items during the course of the game. ammunition was generous and i only ever had to use it to finish the bosses, each of which using later weapons take less than one minute to complete. So needless to say this is not only a simpler silent hill, but also a much more friendly game for newcomers to the genre or even the series.
Whilst i personally can rant about this as a long time horror gamer. for people new to this its a gentle introduction that the most casual of gamer can appreciate, and isn't handheld gaming meant to be more casual? i think a little of the disappointment can be done away with when you take that into account. this was also the first silent hill game in the series, and whilst short i was never bored and found myself enjoying this more than the game it is preceding. so whilst i might wish for a longer ,slightly more difficult, game. i would gladly welcome another game in the series from climax as this game, especially for a handheld is engaging, with fantastic sound and visuals, and most of all. its great fun from start to finish.
ill recommend this for hill fans, though don't expect another silent hill 2, for PSP owners who like horror or are looking for something new. but if your a hill fan wondering if you should buy a PSP just for this installment in the series?...maybe not, like i said its great, but has some fairly predominant flaws to balance it out as slightly above average.
and as such I'm going to give it an average score of 7 and a half out of ten.

my personal view?, whilst it was a short trip it was nice to get back to the town that started my love for horror games way back in '99 and its a welcome addition to my collection. as i said its fairly cinematic and meant to touch on the 2006 movie and overall the shortness may be a factor as it plays like an interactive movie, rather than just short for the sake of being easy to produce as its obvious a lot of time went into this game. the pros and cons are all based on climax's own take on the franchise which, whilst not the best, is also not the worst so i commend them for taking on the project and having such an enthralling end result.


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