Silent Hill Origins
Return to Silent Hill... again. But this time in the palm of your hand! Ahh... seriously though, this one turned out pretty good.
Horror games have come a long way since the days of Alone in the Dark. They've stumbled here and there, but on consoles they've thrived into a widely successful sub-genre spawning tons of copycats and innovaters. On handhelds, horror games have never been able to take off. I've pretty much placed the blame squarely on the technological limitations of the portable format up until now. The Resident Evil Gaiden game for the GBC, for example, could barely even be considered a horror game... unless horror here is defined by your terror at the awful gameplay. Nonetheless, I've always had a theory that handhelds might in fact be one of the best mediums for horror games. That it was untapped made this theory sort of hard to prove. Thankfully that has ended.
What Silent Hill Origins does best is most accurately described with the sort of vague verbosity that people hate to read in game reviews. That is to say, it involves certain feelings that you may be familiar with but is sorta hard to elaborate on since it is a deeply unique experience to every gamer. On the handheld format, playing a good horror game like this is intensely evocative of the times when you were a child buried under your blanket with only your flashlight and your favorite scary novel. If there was a thunderstorm outside, all the better! There is no doubt much of the reason Silent Hill Origins is so compelling is directly because of the dark, oppressive atmosphere that is seemingly enhanced by its entry into your close personal space. That the portable is a beast like PSP, which can provide comparable-to-PS2 visual experiences when the developer actually tries, only helps to dip the game even further into your psyche, creating the 'jumpy' feeling sorely missing in horror titles lately that I haven't felt since the first Silent Hill on PSOne. In other words, it keeps you on edge.
Silent Hill Origins wastes no time returning you to the town that gives the game its namesake. The fog-ridden vistas are here no less spooky then they have been in the series best, and Climax UK does a phenomenal job capturing this ghost world in all its dense, dilapidated glory. As the story goes, you're Travis Grady, an truck driver whose work takes him a little too close to Silent Hill for his own good. As he passes through, he sees a person dash across the road causing him to stop and begin his journey through this wicked place. From there, you get the typical Silent Hill storyline only this time with a bonus for fans of the franchise: it helps to explain how it all started. As you're steadily introduced to the frightening inhabitants of the small town, you'll also learn of their plights some of which can be pretty tragic in their own right. All of this keeps you compelled to move forward, since mystery is another element that fits the horror genre extremely well.
Throughout your journey, you'll encounter many different puzzles which range from inspired to remembering numbers on walls. None of them are exactly rocket science, but they definitely are a notch above any of the Resident Evil titles and are on par with other good Silent Hill games. The difficulty in the game doesn't really come from these puzzles, though, and they feel more like thankful rests from the grotesque surroundings you'll often find yourself in. It is the stumbling creatures of the darkness that will keep you on your toes, and also reveals the games biggest shortfall.
Melee Weapons are scattered every where, and they range from televisions to hammers. The problem is, all of these break in relatively short order. There is a fantastic argument to be made for and against the merits of this system, but it's really hard to know exactly where to stand. On the one hand, it can get frustrating mid battle to have your weapon break, and that it happens so frequently can leave you perilously shorthanded and feel cheap as enemies are constantly respawning and your wepaons don't. On the other, there's no denying exactly how much this ratchets up the tension in the tight situations. Still, you'll get some ranged weapons which make things a bit easier and your fists work pretty well most of the time, all things considered. The addition of QTE (Quick Time Events) on enemies mixes things up as well, but ultimately it's a rather pointless addition that just forces you to waste time watching canned animations.
While the game is short, it never feels like you've wasted your money... the world is packed with little details to find, and there are also multiple endings which encourage replays. The graphics are among the very best on the PSP, hands down, and deserves commendation for taking the hardware as seriously as it should be. Not only that, the music and ambience is generally extremely well done, perfectly capturing the mood of any given moment and giving you the jitters where appropriate. One can only hope that this (and the DS' Dementium) is the start of a rush of quality handheld horror games that will take great advantage of the format to deliver new thrills. Silent Hill Origins certainly proves it's worth it.
What's Hot: Intense atmosphere; gorgeous visuals
What's Not: Melee Weapons break too frequently, combat is still stiff