Monday, April 20, 2015

VGR Silent Hill Origins

Before we turn our attention to the modern non-Team Silent Silent Hill episodes, let's have a look at the very under-appreciated prequel not everyone heard of.

VGR: Silent Hill: Origins known as Silent Hill Zer0 in Japan or just simply SH0
From Climax Studios/Konami Digital Entertainment
Played on PSP
Also available on PS2 and PSN

Type Survival horror/Psychological horror game
Year 2007

Designed and written by Sam Barlow (a designer that used to work on Serious Sam!), Silent Hill: Origins aka Silent Hill Zero in Japanese, marked the first Silent Hill game not developed by the original Team Silent. With Akira Yamaoka still on board as producer and composer for the series.

Konami wanted to give the games a new "feeling". The game began its live in the US, it was the occasion to the give the series a more "American-oriented" approach. But there were a lot of issues regarding the product, the different game engine was taking it a bit too far off the usual Silent Hill experience. It started as a dark comedy (said to have been partially inspired by the comedy TV show Scrubs!!!). Finally all that was scrapped and redone from scratch, they revamped the script, the monsters designs and the gameplay bringing it closer to the first SH games.

The game was originally revealed at E3 2006. Featuring an "over-the-shoulder" camera closer to Resident Evil 4, with a similar focus on combat and even the ability to barricade areas.

Barlow wanted to bring in some Shakespeare into both the SH titles he would work on (both Origins and Shattered Memories), as well as adding some influence from Hitchcock.

Silent Hill: Origins would be finally developed by the UK branch of Climax. The transfer to the UK team allowed the project to be turned into a proper SH experience, they redid the game basing it on the original Silent Hill 1, with the same type of more aggressive monsters like in the first game.

While the fifth overall installment in the SH series, Origins is - as the name implies - actually a prequel to the first 1999 game.

The story takes place about seven years prior to the events of the first game.

It revolves around this trucker guy, Travis Grady. One night on the road, Travis decided to take a shortcut through Silent Hill... when suddenly he saw a mysterious girl on the road and cause him to stop his vehicle. Exploring further ahead he found an house on fire and rescued this girl from it. But he quickly lost side of her.

At the beginning of the game Travis goes looking for her at the nearby Alchemilla Hospital. He starts fighting these monsters and his own inner demons in this fog taking over the entire town. Travis can't seemingly escape the town without having to revisit some past repressed childhood memories.

Along the way he meets a couple familiar faces like the young Alessa Gilespie, the nurse Lisa Garland, or even Dr. Michael Kaufmann. There are also some hints at this local town cult. And he gets a few glimpses of this mysterious figure he catch a couple of times here and there, slaughtering other creatures, "the Butcher".

The adventure will take Travis to other familiar locations like the resort town's Riverside Motel or the creepy Cedar Grove Sanitarium.

On his journe Travis will discover the true reason he lost his parents...

The gameplay is played through a similar third person and cinematic perspective, unlike later installments in the franchise. While Origins does not particularly emphasis action, it offers a usual blend of combat, exploration and puzzle-solving like the previous episodes.

And just like past games, the game basically features no HUD on screen way. You have to take notice of the way Travis carries himself (or check out the pause menu) to notice the current health status. They put some details into little things like having Travis turn his head and look at nearby important items you can pick up, which is really helpful.

The usual features like the radio static are back along the trusty flashlight (both absent in SH4).

The big new feature is Travis' ability to crawl through mirrors to alternate between reality (or the Fog World) and its darker counterpart the Other World to solve puzzles. It's a great unique way to implement the Other World directly onto the gameplay. The Other World is usually a far more dangerous place as well, not just a more creepy reality.

There's a few boss fights here and there. Although those aren't that difficult. And as you progress through the story there will be more and more dangerous creatures roaming the streets of SH.

This episode sees a couple more new additions to the series that would find a way into later console episodes as well.

Origins marks the first time a SH protagonist is able to use his fists to fight creatures. Also it's a lot more easier to find all kinds of short range weapons through the town. From metal pipes to hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, scalpels, batons, pokers, meat hooks, drip stands, etc. Although just like the golf clubs in the fourth game those are breakable and won't last long the more you use them. A couple of rarer objects such as portable TVs, filing cabinets, crates or toolboxes will break instantly in a fatal blow to the monsters.

You can also charge your attacks.

At least you can accumulate a ton of those through the game.

Also if monsters get too close to you they're now able to grapple you. Be careful as you will have to perform a QTE to escape.

Climax Studios were able to bring a survival horror experience to an handheld system. The game simply looks great, it can even almost stand up to the original earlier games unlike later SH episodes in my eyes. Although it's a little short but decent experience.

The game can be a really tense experience at times, due to the engrossing nature of a portable game, it really feels claustrophobic. And it's not that far an experience from Silent Hill 1 and 2's formula.

This episode was the first Silent Hill installment not developed by the original Team Silent, and people really feared how the game would turn out. Following the dissolution  of the team, Konam wanted to outsource the series to an external non-Japanese studio. Thankfully Climax did a great job (and would be responsible for another later game, Shattered Memories). The game was originally developed for the PSP before being ported to the PS2 the following year.

Origins is pretty reminiscent of the original Silent Hill 1 (and 2 and 3 to a lesser extend), but it feels slightly more linear compared to the previous game. It's a much simple and shorter game as well, being developed for a portable experience in mind.

It's a solid Silent Hill game, sort of a "best of" the series. The progression is very similar to the original games. Most of the game's elements are taken directly from SH1 and 2, specifically the design of the monsters (there's even a few nods SH4 like spying through holes in walls and being able to charge a melee attack). There's even a Pyramid Head analog (although with a much weaker payoff). And the storyline itself is very reminiscent of SH1 and 3 involving the cult, while the monsters are manifestations of Travis' own problems just like in 2.

All in all, it feels like a pretty familiar experience anybody who's ever played a SH game before will be used to. With the main difference being the way you can access the Other World, Travis being the only protagonist in the series thus far to have the ability to switch back and forth at will. It changes the role of this darker dimension as it is this way part of the game's puzzle element.

Silent Hill: Origins has great graphics and art style. It's an enjoyable amalgam of previous SH episodes in a way. And it's even made more surprising considering it was developed by a third party, by the crew at Climax who where able to reproduce Konami's formula.

The game contains various unlockables for the series, mostly alternate outfits and a few extra options. There aren't as many endings as you would expect from the Silent Hill series. There's only three endings to discover, including the obligatory usual joke ending "UFO Ending". The Bad Ending alludes to a different nature for this "Butcher". The alien ending requires you to complete the game at least once, and it's done in a cartoony style this time around.

If the musical score feels a bit retreated compared to past games, due to the nature of a PSP portable game, Akira Yamaoka once more composed a solid masterful soundtrack. With Mary Elizabeth McGlynn back for the vocals. I really recommend using headphones for this one. Since it's a prequel Akira wanted to bring the atmosphere closer to the first game.

It's a decent if forgettable entry in the franchise. Thanks to all the last minutes changes that brought the game closer to the original SH games, unlike what we almost got. Origins would be finally better received than what it could have been at first. While it feels pretty close to past game it doesn't bring anything new to the series really. At the very least it's Silent Hill done right, on the go.

Overall, Silent Hill: Origins is a pretty good and probably very underrated Silent Hill game. Probably the closest the series ever came to recapture Team Silent's original SH titles.

A very good, if somewhat classic, survival horror game. The fact it perfectly recaptures the original experience on handheld (originally) makes it that much better. I mean, who doesn't like the idea of a Silent Hill game you can take outside with you?

Really Recommended for any fans of the series or more traditional exploration-oriented survival horror games. Not too heavy on puzzles, not too heavy on action either. A throwback to the genre as it used to be.

The PlayStation 2 port released in 2008 is what it is, a "port". The game didn't get much of a graphic overhaul for the home system, in fact it has several visual issues. Not a lot was "lost in translation". The aliasing is slightly worse, as expected from such a port. But the game loses a bit of quality once you're able to compare it easier to, say, Silent Hill 2 or 3 for example. So prefer the original PSP version over it as originally intended from the developers.

I give it:
2 / 3 Necronomicons!

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