Silent Hill: Origins (PSP)
One of the most coveted survival horror game series has finally made its way to the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Silent Hill: Origins serves as a prequel to the eight-year-old franchise, with a storyline set before the events of the original Silent Hill for PlayStation.
While not a flawless adventure, fans of the series won't be disappointed. And if you ever doubted that a portable game can give you the willies, be sure to keep a nightlight on when playing this game.
In traditional Silent Hill style, the opening scene sets the pace for the atmospheric adventure on which you're about to embark. You're a truck driver named Travis Grady, who accidentally (or was it?) stumbles upon the seemingly deserted town of Silent Hill. A hauntingly beautiful soundtrack from series composer Akira Yamaoka accompanies your slow walk through the fog, as you pass the sign welcoming you to this fateful town. You see a burning house and do the noble thing by running inside to save a small girl burned from head to toe.
The nightmare really begins, however, when you visit the nearby hospital to check on the girl's status and find yourself locked in and forced to fight off nightmarish creatures, struggle with creepy hallucinations from Travis' past (no, I'm not giving too much away here), solve many good puzzles, and find a way out. It is here we see Travis first visit (by touching mirrors) a parallel Silent Hill world, which toggles between a relatively normal-looking and clean world and a grotesque, bloody one that features different enemies, puzzles, items and accessible rooms.
The overall goal of the game is to unravel the strange mystery surrounding this town, figure out your connection to it, and get out of the Silent Hill city limits alive.
Gameplay will be familiar to seasoned Silent Hill players. From a third-person perspective, you'll walk around many indoor and outdoor environments, check where you are on the map, pick up weapons to use during combat sequences, and solve puzzles by placing found items in a specific spot (such as plastic body parts in a fake cadaver at a medical facility) or entering correct numbers to unlock areas based on clues you've collected. You'll be forced to check every room's nooks and crannies for hints (written on paper or the walls), weapons, consumable health drinks, and other items for your inventory.
Controlling Travis is done via the PSP's analog stick while the four-way directional gamepad is used to quickly equip him with found weapons, be it a scalpel, small TV, handgun, baseball bat, pool cue, sledgehammer, meat cleaver or bottle of alcohol to smash on an enemy's head. While holding down the right shoulder button, Travis goes into combat mode, and you must then tap the X button to fight back with fists or weapons. At times players will be asked to press a specific button rapidly to ward off an attack, such as a nurse wielding a syringe. The left shoulder button is to block an attack, but it's not very useful.
Most of the enemies we've seen in past Silent Hill games are back in Origins, but amazingly, they look as good -- and as scary -- on the PSP. Of course this includes the twisted bodies and faceless beasts that look like they're wrapped in bloody cellophane and spew some sort of poisonous white gunk in your direction. The game's clever use of lighting and shadows is also quite impressive on the PSP, including the flashlight (or 'torch') that hangs off Travis' shirt, which adds nicely to the game's spooky atmosphere.
Along with the attractive full motion videos and high-resolution graphics is outstanding audio, which is key for this type of game (well, audio is important for any game, but especially one that is meant to be an interactive horror movie). Specifically, the sound effects -- including the sound of creaking doors, footsteps, weapons, and radios that buzz as enemies approach -- and abovementioned music soundtrack are all very high quality and can be appreciated when playing the game with a good set of earphones (highly recommended).
Silent Hill: Origins stays true to the formula that made the series so popular, so with that comes some annoying shortcomings carried over from the console games, too. For one, the shifting camera angles when you walk can be disorienting, especially when you're walking in a specific direction (say, along a deserted road or down the hallway of a sanitarium) and when the camera shifts for cinematic effect, you need to change Travis' direction using the analog stick to keep walking the same way. This takes some getting used to. Personally, I'd like to see how a Silent Hill game would play out with a fixed behind-the-shoulder camera, which might be creepy since you wouldn't always be able to see the enemy approaching (not unlike Resident Evil 4).
Another issue arises when trying to fight two enemies at once. Veteran Silent Hill players know that creatures tend to latch onto you, so attempting to keep two at bay while you equip a new weapon or try to get away long enough to take one on individually is tough to pull off. As a result, you might find yourself dead and forced to load the game from the last save point (represented by large red triangles).
One other small beef also common to Silent Hill games is odd dialogue (translated from Japanese to English) that ends up coming off as cheesy, which could break the all-important immersion factor.
OK, here's the dillio with Silent Hill: Origins: It's a 'more of the same' experience that doesn't veer far from its console and PC predecessors, which is good news for those who don't want the new-to-the-series developer (UK's Climax Games) to mess with Konami's formula. The game looks and sounds amazing on the PSP and offers an acceptable, intense, 12- to 15-hour single-player adventure.
For those frustrated with past Silent Hill games -- either because you don't like the camera or the sometimes difficult-to-control combat -- you won't like this prequel. Everyone else, however, should find themselves immersed in this creepy survival horror game that proves when done right, a game can freak you out -- even on a portable system.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.