Is This Origin Story Worthy of the Silent Hill Name?
If you've clicked on this review, there's a good chance you've played a Silent Hill title before. By now, you're probably familiar with the series' intriguing storylines, creepy sound effects, and relatable characters. If you've played the entire series, you've stepped in the shoes of an adoptive parent, an individual with an overwhelming sense of guilt, a teenage girl who holds a secret, and a pretty boy who can't even unlock his apartment door. One of the more recent titles: Silent Hill Origins puts you in the shoes of a character who's even more down-to-earth -- a small-town trucker.
Travis Grady may wear skinny jeans and look like he's going fishing with 'pa, but he's a relatable character with a tragic past that you slowly uncover over the course of his journey. As with previous Silent Hill titles, parts of the protagonist's past remain a mystery, and it is up to the player to piece together subtle clues you're given throughout the experience. Also, unlike prior Silent Hill heroes, Travis has a capable voice actor who's able to appropriately convey emotions, which makes him an even more relatable character.
Most of the intriguing aspects of Silent Hill Origins come from Travis' story, but the main purpose of this game (as the title suggests) is to explain the events that transpired before Harry Mason journeyed into Silent Hill. Overall, Origins does an excellent job providing a background for the horrors that would occur in Silent Hill, but for players who experienced the first Silent Hill, these events are fairly predictable.
Silent Hill Origins begins with Travis drivin' his 18-wheeler into the town of Silent Hill. As Travis nears the village, he notices a girl in the road who resembles Alessa from prior Silent Hill adventures. Travis slams on his brakes hoping he won't hit her, and succeeds; but when he attempts to start up his vehicle again, he notices a problem: His truck won't start.
As Travis leaps out of his vehicle only to emerge in a dense mist, the mysterious girl approaches him. Her creepy nature frightens Travis, but she soon disappears, and he's left to explore the city. While searching the streets for any potential do-gooders, he encounters a burning home. Thinking he heard a scream, Travis decides to enter, but first, he witnesses a creepy-looking woman fleeing the scene.
After entering the smoldering household, Travis immediately sets out to rescue any potential survivors. He explores a house full of mysterious paintings that is being consumed by flames, but doesn't encounter anything horrific -- until he stumbles upon a lone girl. Despite having charred flesh, this young girl appeared to be alive. Why she was placed in circle that looked to be a part of a ritual remained a mystery to Travis, but he set out with the girl hoping to save her and find some answers.
Once he escaped the burning wreckage, Alessa reappeared only to alter the state of Travis' mind and cause him to collapse. When Travis awoke, the girl was gone, so he decided to set out for the hospital.
While there, he encountered a doctor who denied receiving any new patients, but seemed to be hiding something. As any good sleuth would do, Travis decided to investigate further by exploring the hospital.
Even though the early portions of Origins are clearly setting the scene for what would occur in Silent Hill, much of this journey has to do with Travis, his family history, and a secret he may be harboring. While Travis explores a variety of areas ranging from a theater to a sanitarium, he finds various notes lying around that are not only hints for the game's puzzles, but also provide clues as to who he is.
Besides these notes, Travis' story is told through flashbacks that occasionally appear on-screen in a black-and-white cut-scene format. These scenes don't explicitly state who and what Travis is, but by the end of the journey, you should have a good grasp of the character and certain acts he may have committed. As is usually the case with the Silent Hill series, Origins has a few endings that further explain who Travis might be.
However, Origins' endings are obtained in a different manner than in previous Silent Hill titles; instead of completing certain events to obtain the 'Good Ending', players merely have to complete the game. This is a pleasant change, as the 'Good Ending' nicely ties in to the events of the first Silent Hill. The 'Bad Ending' on the other hand can only be completed during a second or third playthrough, and has more to do with Travis than creating a cohesive franchise. Of course there's also the traditional, albeit unusual UFO ending, but the method for obtaining that secret is best discovered by the player.
Origin's multiple endings may follow series tradition, but other aspects of the title aren't so conservative. Its gameplay was entirely overhauled -- in part, to be more suitable for a portable, but also to appeal to the tastes of gamers weaned on Western-developed action games. This change in development style is likely the direct result of Origins being produced by a Western developer instead of Konami itself.
When playing Origins for the first time, Silent Hill fans will immediately notice major differences in the game's camera and control scheme. Previous Silent Hill titles were mostly viewed from static camera angles, but Origins changes this fixed perspective by allowing the player to constantly view the action from behind Travis' back. This new perspective makes identifying enemies less of a chore (and is probably more suitable for a portable), but it also provides for fewer scary moments.
Also new to Origins is an unlimited inventory system that allows the player to change weapons and items without having to enter a menu. Being able to change items on-the-fly with the d-pad is a welcome inclusion, and cuts down on tedious trips to the menu, but it's also nice that those who prefer to take their time can still access a menu while the action is paused.
It's a good thing that Origins features a revamped inventory system, because Travis probably couldn't fit the game's entire arsenal in his 18-wheeler. In addition to key items and Silent Hill staples such as the shotgun, you'll find a ridiculous amount of disposable melee weapons. Origin's environments are littered with lamp stands, typewriters, and even TVs you can use as throwing weapons. Most melee weapons break after one to five uses, but that's not really an issue since you'll never run out of items.
On the other hand, Origins could have benefited from a more generous stock of healing items and ammo. With only one difficulty level, some players may have trouble with a limited number of healing items, so it would have been nice if there was at least an option to make items more plentiful.
Other aspects of Origins' gameplay are a mixed bag. You still have to hold a button to run, but Travis can turn quickly, so evading enemies generally isn't too difficult. However, when you decide to engage in combat, you'll run into some problems. Taking out a single enemy is usually an easy affair with ranged and melee weapons, but when you're surrounded by more than one foe, you'll feel like a freshman trapped in a locker.
What's bad about multi-person combat isn't the lock-on system itself, but rather what occurs after you've beaten your opponents to the floor. Once your opponents are knocked down, you have to stomp on them once as you did in Silent Hill 4, but this time, enemies get up quickly, and the sluggish stomp control and wonky targeting can prevent you from successfully curb-stomping your opponent. I ran into a number of situations where I'd attempt to take out a downed foe, only to lock-on to another opponent, and watch the other enemy get up helplessly. As a result, I made an effort to avoid multiple opponents.
Another smaller issue with Silent Hill Origins is its map system. The game's maps are vital to your success, but it's annoying that you have to view them from a zoomed-in perspective. I'm sure this was difficult to avoid on a portable, but it's still fairly annoying moving to different portions of ridiculously large maps.
Clearly, Origins has some minor flaws, but it still does a fine job scaring your inner-child. In Origins, you'll travel between two horrific worlds via mirrors that are frequently located in ladies' restrooms. While traveling in each of these two worlds, you'll encounter a variety of fearsome enemies and terrifying sounds -- you know, standard Silent Hill fare. The 'Other World' is by far the more frightening of the two, and can certainly scare the player if he's playing in a dark room. There's nothing there that's as stomach-churning as the gruesome 'Other World' of Silent Hill 3, but it's still a world a sane person wouldn't want to visit.
Even in Origin's standard world, there are a number of frightening enemies you wouldn't want to tangle with such as the Butcher and its creepy ceiling-suspended, doll-like cohorts that often try to mount you. None of these freaks frighten as much as Origin's inhuman sounds and haunting tunes, however.
Any Silent Hill fan knows that chilling music and sound effects are integral to any good survival horror experience, and that's once again true with Origins. I wouldn't say that Origins is Silent Hill composer (and sound effect producer) Akira Yamaoka's best work, but it's outstanding considering it's for a portable game. If played in the right environment, Origins' sound effects will certainly scare you.
Silent Hill Origins is not without its flaws, but it's still an excellent survival horror title that is worth playing on a portable or even the PS2. If you play Origins while in a park or airplane, you probably won't fully experience the horror of this title, but you'll at least likely appreciate its story that is worthy of being analyzed after the experience. Unfortunately, you'll encounter a frustrating control issue now and then, but they're worth overcoming to experience the ultimate portable survival horror adventure.
· Travis the trucker is a relatable character thanks to solid voice acting and dialog
· Features an intriguing storyline that ties into the original Silent Hill and delves into Travis' past
· Includes an improved camera and excellent visuals (for the PSP)
· Wonderful compositions and sound effects
· Fighting multiple enemies is suicide thanks to clumsy targeting
· What can a person do with 20 typewriters and TVs?
· For some, Origins' story might be too similar to Silent Hill 2's. Only one difficulty setting