This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee visits Silent Hill.
Reviewers take every opportunity to fling their poo like angry chimpanzees, but don't think that ballistic shit is all I'm about. There are things that I love, and one of them is the Silent Hill series. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it loves me back, but like an abused spouse I keep returning no matter how many times I get slapped about by his friends Mr. Frustrating Combat and Professor Dodgy Camera Positioning. What I love about Silent Hill is its absolutely peerless storytelling, which, when compared to the general standards of writing in the games industry, makes it look like Charles Dickens joining a forum for Invader Zim fan-fiction. I still hold up Silent Hill 2 as the benchmark for video game storytelling and atmosphere. Yea, the combat sucks on a rusty fire hydrant, but it's supposed to. You're supposed to be an ordinary dude - or dudette - trapped alone and scared in a hostile, oppressive environment, not Tommy Testosterone Tits.
The series dribbled away with Silent Hill 4, leaving me and many others with big old Silent Hill blue balls, but sooner or later it was inevitable that some prick would try to take my blue balls in hand and wring out some money to pay off his hookers. Hence, Silent Hill: Origins, a new game exclusive to the PSP of all things, outsourced to Climax Studios, a Western developer who couldn't have missed the point worse if they'd fired in the wrong direction and the point was in a different country altogether.
Climax Studios apparently looked upon Silent Hill 's oppressive combat and decided it would be best improved with the addition of - God help us - quick-time events. Also, you have one second to name any game in which weapon degradation has been a good idea. Time's up . That's what I thought. There's something very wrong about a katana that shatters after five or six hits, one that ostensibly isn't made out of glass or chocolate.
This is balanced somewhat by the fact that you pick up a new melee weapon with every alternate step, but whenever a weapon breaks mid-fight you switch immediately to the fists, leaving you to either to slap the given monstrosity to death or let it chew on your arse while you dig another weapon out. It also raises the problem of where the main character found a body warmer that can store eighteen portable television sets.
But since I have such a huge stiffy for Silent Hill 's story, I won't berate Origins too much for bad gameplay decisions, as blisteringly idiotic as they were. But in terms of gameplay that affects the story, there's a mechanic that allows you to shift at will between Silent Hill's trademark evil dark world and still evil but slightly less dark world. Which in practical terms just means twice as many rooms you have to explore and is additionally rather detrimental to the atmosphere. Giving control of the reality shifts to the player removes the feeling given in the previous games that the main enemy was the town itself, a weird, faceless malevolence toying with the clueless berk you're controlling out of some twisted grudge. But the Silent Hill in Origins doesn't seem to give two shits, and frankly I sympathise.
Clueless berk du jour is Travis, truck run professional retcon who gets embroiled in the dealings of Silent Hill's friendly neighbourhood death cult circa seven years before Silent Hill 1, when the town was still getting into the swing of things. He's also got a dark secret and a troubled past, the Silent Hill equivalent of a season ticket. But it's impossible to care about him because A) he's a breathtaking nonentity with all the emotion of a polystyrene block, and B) there's no reason for him to be in the town at all. There's no missing wife or daughter keeping him motivated; the only conceivable reason for not turning on his heel and fleeing with nary a backward glance or stop at the gift shop is sheer determined retardation.
The end credits of the game makes a special point of thanking the fans, which makes sense because that's what it feels like: a fan game. Its thinking seems to be that it can repeat the mastery of Silent Hill 2 's storyline by tacking an arbitrary tragedy onto the main character's backstory and throwing in a transparent Pyramid Head wannabe, disregarding all the important things like pacing, atmosphere, and a genuinely tragic and sympathetic protagonist with more charisma than a mouldy lemon.
Silent Hill 4: The Room got a lot of well-deserved stick for some truly award-winningly bad game design, but I rate the story as one of the best in the series, despite - and, indeed, partly because - it never actually goes to Silent Hill. And this is the thing: the first three sequels to Silent Hill all experimented with the concept, taking it to new and interesting places. Okay, maybe not so much Silent Hill 3, but shut up, I'm trying to make a point here. The point being that Origins is a pretender, nothing more. It does nothing but reiterate themes the series has already covered more competently, call me a sniffy, games-are-art fagmosexual. To me, the Silent Hill series is over, and if Silent Hill 5 convinces me otherwise, then I will remove three of my own vertebrae, curl my spine back, and eat my own arse!
I R Mr gay: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Better press the pause button now if you want to read this closing message, matey OH SHIT TOO LATE
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