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Silent Hill: Origins

Silent Hill

This is a quick and dirty port – don’t be led to believe otherwise. Konami took a good, not great, PSP iteration of their famous Silent Hill canon, and decided that PS2 gamers should get a chance to experience it as well. Sadly – and ironically – while very little is changed, the spirited but flawed handheld experience which is Silent Hill Origins actually loses a little something on its way to the bigger screen.

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The first thing you’ll likely notice about the PS2 Origins is how substandard the visuals are: Silent Hill 2 of many years ago looked better than this. Character models and backdrops alike are lacking in detail, and everything is grainier than it should be. A perfunctory attempt seems to have been made at tightening up the graphics a tiny bit, as if for fear of the game looking like a PSP game blown up on a projector. Well, the tiny bit of tweaking that was done wasn’t nearly enough, because that’s exactly what the game looks like.

I could accept this – I knew the port would be direct and would sport little in the way of improvements. But the lack of a gamma correction feature is very annoying. The game looks extremely cloudy – even indoors, scenes are inexplicably overcast. It’s a showcase of lackluster visuals as seen from behind the veneer of a dirty milk glass.

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Thankfully, the sounds are consistently excellent, and translate well from hearing them in your headphones to hearing them over your home theatre speakers. Driving, percussive, discordant tunes punctuate scares; melancholy piano chords underline a sense of haunting. This is the one area where the franchise never makes a misstep.

The Origins storyline is suitably revealing, as it attempts to explain how the town of Silent Hill came to be a place of cultists, a place of wraiths and evil and suffering. The usual Silent Hill gameplay is intact: you’ll take your protagonist – this time Travis Grady, the truck driver – from the shadowy, fog-drenched world of sadness, loss and regret to the evil otherworld of bloodstained fencing and skinless monsters.

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The difference in Origins is that you’ll have a choice of when you descend into the madness. Where before you would be dragged by the storyline from world to world, Origins allows Travis to control his travels by way of a magic mirror. This sets up some nice puzzle-solving sequences involving carrying crucial items between worlds, and discoveries concerning differences between the two worlds. Unfortunately, the mirror voyaging also sets the stage for some serious tedium, especially in the sanitarium level, which is uncomfortably drawn out, and heavy on the back-and-forth.

From the magic mirror we go to another Silent Hill first – Travis can actually beat up monsters with his bare hands. Unlike the mirror, this addition doesn’t work at all: it looks more than a little bizarre to see a guy in a trucker hat punching away at some unspeakable monstrosity – it does much to make things less scary than they should be. You end up thinking, “shouldn’t this guy at least need a chainsaw to take on something that looks like that?

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The dubious firsts keep coming: the next is the addition of melee weaponry ranging from drip stands to television sets. Some can only be bashed into a monster once; others can be used numerous times, until they break. The melee weapon angle doesn’t necessarily fail – it just fails to make any real impact.

The reality is, the novelty of these weapons will wear off in quick order, because Origins gives you guns, and a lot of them. When you’re running low on ammo for the gun you’ve got equipped, you’ll suddenly come across the next step up in firearms, and ammo for that. The smoothness of the gun evolution will see to it that while you’re happily blasting away, you’re also stocking up on melee weaponry until you somehow, ridiculously, have 20 or so televisions on your person, among other things. (And we know how heavy those cathode ray jobs get.)

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But for all its troubles, what makes Origins good, what makes it worth playing, are its memorable scenes and sequences. The level in the theatre, where you actually, literally set the stage for the boss battle; the motel level which offers all manner of massive monsters roaming the parking lot under cover of fog; the butcher character, who before meeting you, leaves his calling card of carnage behind for you to anticipate your rendezvous with him all the more – all of this culminates in the final confrontation, which is a short, pulse-quickening trip through Hell, where you must end everything, and where, ironically, it all begins. These moments are what make Origins a worthy gaming experience.

One can suffer through the bad graphics, useless melee weapons, and drawn out portal-traveling sections to taste some of the richest moments in confronting pain, evil and suffering that you’ll encounter in a game. There’s no doubt that the PSP version is better; the game was made for that system. So if you’ve got the PSP version, leave this puppy alone; it’s redundant and inferior. However, while it’s unattractive and a bit awkward on the PS2, if you don’t own a PSP and you’re a survival horror fan, Silent Hill Origins still comes recommended.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2003.

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