Review by Eric-3
The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Silence
I was hesitant to pick up Silent Hill Origins. I heard a lot of bad stuff about it, most notably the camera issues and the many glitches. But, I eventually decided to get it anyway, and here are my thoughts.
Traditional Silent Hill stuff here: you run around the foggy streets from destination to destination, fighting (or running away from) monsters along the way. Indoor areas are usually dark, so you have to light your way with a flashlight, picking up notes for more information or for clues to help you solve puzzles. You'll find more than a few doors that can't be opened and you'll probably be referring to your useful maps to find your way around. The maps have a great way of showing you what doors you've examined, which ones are locked, which ones you can never open, and where puzzles, mirrors, and save points are.
It's pretty standard Silent Hill here. If you've played previous games, it should be familiar. I don't think the basic controls, particularly in combat, have ever been as smooth as they could be, but at least it's not much worse in this game.
One change is the camera (actually, I think it was kinda like this in Silent Hill 4, as well). You can't look around freely, so examining your surroundings or looking to find an enemy isn't as easy as it should be. You get a button that centers the camera behind your character, but it doesn't always work. Some areas have fixed camera angles where you can't center it at all, while other areas only move the camera around a bit (like, maybe to a 3/4 angle) instead of to behind your character. I'm not sure why it does that. Maybe because your back is too close to a wall or something. It's actually more disorienting that way, since the camera just changes instantly instead of panning it around gradually, then it doesn't even change to where you were expecting it to go. The camera issues make finding enemies a little annoying in some parts of the game.
When you do find an enemy, if you choose to fight it, you have to do a finishing move after it's knocked to the ground to kill it (like the previous games). All you have to do is go outside of combat my by releasing R1 and press X near it. But there were several instances where I had trouble finding the right "spot" around the monster so that the game would recognize what I was trying to do and let me kill the damn thing. It didn't happen TOO often, but it's still an issue worth mentioning. It's even more annoying frantically trying to kill it while you're being attacked by one or two other monsters.
Another problem that the game has is it sometimes seemingly fails to recognize how many times you press the X button to examine stuff and confirm choices. Numerous times, I've picked up an item only to have it confirm itself and be put away before I could see what it was that I picked up. Also, I've picked up several notes only to have the game go straight to the text instead of showing me the image of the note first (ie, in both cases, it's like the game thought I pressed the X button twice when I only pressed it once). On the opposite side, there have been numerous times when I had to press the X button twice to go to the next page of a note or confirm a save (ie, it's like the game didn't notice my first press). Sloppy.
One last minor thing to note is that running doesn't happen instantly. If you move to run, your character will walk a few steps before running. It was a little annoying at first, but I got used to it after a few minutes.
If you missed having the flashlight in Silent Hill 4, it's back here. However...it's a little different from Silent Hill 2 and 3's. The flashlight seems to be aimed lower than the previous games, meaning you're looking a little more towards the ground than looking at eye-level (though it does raise when you're running). Also, the area that the flashlight covers is smaller than the previous games. Add those facts to the facts that you can no longer look around freely (I think it was default L2 in previous games) and the areas are noticeably darker than previous games. The result is awfully-low visibility in many areas, especially the Otherworld versions of areas. It's not quite so flawed that you can't find your way around, but it was flawed to the point where I often couldn't admire the detail and design of an area.
The only good thing I have to say about the flashlight compared to previous games is that it is smoother now. In previous games, it was always kinda blocky around the edges, but it looks real nice here.
Unlike previous games, you control when you switch between the foggy world and the Otherworld in this game through the use of mirrors. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it was used to its full potential. It's mostly just a way to get around inaccessible areas in one of the worlds. It would've been nice if they used it more creatively, like having the character change something in one world to make a reflection in the other world to solve puzzles or gain items and information. They did this in the Theater level, but I think that's about it.
Another thing about the mirrors is that they kinda remove the tension and fear of going to the Otherworld. In previous games, you could suddenly be thrown into the Otherworld and not be let out until you finished the area. But here, you're in control and can jump between worlds freely. Still, it's good that they tried some new things in this game.
For the most part, the puzzles aren't overly difficult or ridiculously easy. A few are enough to make you think a bit or be more observant (the pill puzzle in the Sanitarium and the calendar puzzle in the Motel are my favourites), while others are fairly easy to piece together if you read the clues in the notes you find. The Flauros puzzle near the end is pretty vague though. It didn't take me too long to complete it, BUT I completed it out of sheer luck. I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing.
If you've ever tried all the difficulty levels in previous games to have a different experience during a new playthrough, or set the difficulty to easy because you didn't want to worry much about the puzzles, or whatever...you can't do that here. There isn't a selectable level of difficulty for the puzzles (or anything) in this game.
This has always been the least fun part of Silent Hill games for me. I always thought the combat was slow and/or stiff. A new thing they have are enemy grapples where you have to press the right button to avoid an attack. It's not much, but it does add a bit more to a fight. That's about the only half-positive thing I have to say about combat. Another new thing they added, which I'm fairly neutral over, is that all melee weapons (except the special unlockable ones) break after some use. There are also heavy weapons that break after one hit, but are powerful enough to knock most enemies down in that one hit. You'll find dozens and dozens of weapons if you take the time to explore, and unless you fight a LOT, you shouldn't run out of melee weapons. If you somehow do, you still have your bare fists to fight with, or firearms.
Some issues I had with combat:
-Some enemies are cheaply-placed RIGHT in front of a door and attack you right when you enter the room.
-I've had my charged attacks unfairly interrupted by grapples several times. I let my charged attack loose and it does connect with the enemy, but they don't react to it; instead, it goes into their grapple sequence after my weapon has struck them. Sometimes, it doesn't even strike them, let alone make them react to the hit. I've lost a few one-time weapons like TVs because of this.
-There are a few times where you may be fighting multiple enemies at once, and, particularly if an acid-spitting Straight Jacket is one of them, this can get annoying if you're surrounded.
-Some melee weapons are too slow. There were a few times where I ended up trading hits back and forth with an enemy, or when I couldn't hit them at all with my current weapon because their attack kept interrupting me before my attack animation would kick in. It would've been nice to have a guard button to help with these slower weapons.
Yeah, I know some people are going to say "You're supposed to run from the enemies, not fight them", but I don't like running away. Besides, when you look at how many weapons they give you and how they added the new grapple system, I'm pretty sure they did expect you to fight at least a fair amount of battles.
The first thing that comes to mind: the supporting characters are SOOOO weak, in my opinion. They only show up a few times in the game. When they do, the dialogue exchange is so brief. It adds very little to the story and doesn't really make you interested in the characters or anything. If those characters are only there for nostalgia of Silent Hill 1, that's still no excuse, considering that they're pretty much the only characters you interact with during the whole game. They should be there for a better reason if those are some of the only other characters hanging around.
The story itself is pretty straightforward and there aren't really any shocking twists or revelations, in my opinion. I was a little disappointed. Some things seemed a little predictable to me, and nothing was really drawing me in and driving me to continue playing to see what happens next. I'm not sure if that's a flaw in the story-telling or the story itself. Possibly the story-telling, because the story could've had more potential if they developed it better during the game. I know many Silent Hill fans love to look for subtle details, debate, analyze, and theorize over things in the games though, and this game still has a fair amount to think about in the end.
The monsters were, for the most part, a little disappointing. I was hoping to see new, interesting monsters, but this game reuses ideas from Silent Hill 2. Monsters like the Straight Jackets and The Butcher are lacking originality. Speaking of The Butcher, if he's supposed to be such a big deal, why is he in the game so little? I only remember seeing him three times during the whole game (though I could have miscounted a bit), and one of those times is optional as far as I know.
One of the other monsters I didn't like were the Carrions. I didn't like their design at all. It just looked like some random-ass (emphasis on the word "ass") lump of fat. They even include larger versions of these later on in the game, instead of giving us a totally new monster.
I also had problems with some of the bosses. Two of them show up as normal enemies after you fight them as bosses, which make their appearances as bosses kinda cheap. As for the last boss: I won't go into any detail and spoil it, but I will say that I think its design is very generic. It could've easily shown up in a bunch of non-Silent Hill (heck, even non-horror) games.
Out of all the monsters, I did kinda like the Remnants and Ariels. The Remnants kinda freaked me out when I first saw them. Ariels are Two-Backs are kinda disturbing too. Nice. The Sanitarium boss looked positively creepy as well. Also, I think the sounds the monsters make are much improved over the sounds the Silent Hill 4 monsters made. No burping here.
Well...I'm usually not one to care about graphics too much. I'm not sure how much I can say here. This is a port of a PSP game, but they did take the time to remodel some things like the character faces to add more detail. They look pretty good, though I wouldn't say they're at a Silent Hill 3 or 4 level of quality. Maybe around or above Silent Hill 2. Environments have a good amount of detail, and the levels all look pretty different from each other (my favourite is probably the Theater). The level of visibility outdoors, in the fog, seems a little higher than previous games, which I liked because it made it easier to navigate the streets. I think the textures and the lighting effects look great as usual. They work nicely to set the creepy mood of the world. As I said though, this game is pretty dark, so it's hard to fully appreciate all the indoor stuff.
Wow. People weren't exaggerating when they said there are lots of audio problems. Many times when I opened a door, the door's sound effect didn't play. This may have been the case for more than 50% of the time I opened a door. How the heck does something as simple as a sound effect when opening a door get screwed up?
The music has issues too. There were several instances where music would just stop abruptly, though I'm not sure if the music was actually cutting when it wasn't supposed to, or if the music track just reached the end and didn't loop to the beginning. If it's the latter, and if it was intentionally not supposed to loop, then...well, that's a bad choice. Perhaps with the exception of the introduction music when you're running on the road, the music should loop. It was annoying just being left with silence after a while for seemingly no reason.
Another audio glitch: sometimes when picking up an item, you hear this weird noise, like the item pickup sound playing numerous times and layering over itself. I think this has to do with the fact that the game sometimes seemingly fails to recognize how many times you press the X button to examine stuff and confirm choices (as mentioned in the Control heading above). It could also be because it thinks you're still moving when you pick the item up; when you pick up an item and try and move the analog stick before confirming the pick up, it kinda sounds like the audio glitch from when you first examined the item. Whatever the case, it's sloppy programming.
However, when audio does actually choose to work properly, it is good. The music by Akira Yamaoka sets the appropriate mood as always. I think the voice acting is fairly good as well. My only non-glitch complaint about the audio is that I think some of the sounds when you hit an enemy simply don't have that "impact" to give you a sense that you're doing real damage. I still remember the first time I smacked around a Lying Figure with a plank in Silent Hill 2. THAT was cool, but I feel it's lacking in this game.
I've heard most people say that this game took them around 4 hours on their first try. I took around 10 hours, which is around the same amount of time I spent on my first playthroughs of Silent Hill 2-4 (I haven't played 1). Maybe even a little more, actually. I'm not sure why mine is so much higher, but I did take a lot of time exploring everywhere outside and indoors, checking every corner, door, everything. Running around back and forth between worlds probably took a fair bit of time, as well. I feel it has more backtracking than previous games because you're not directly led between different worlds. You have to jump back and forth yourself by finding a mirror.
Length of a plain playthrough aside, there are a lot of extra costumes (or "accolades") you can unlock that should keep you busy for quite a while if you choose to go after them. You get them by fulfilling certain requirements while playing through, and getting them all will require at least a few playthroughs. There are also three different endings you can obtain, one being the traditional UFO ending.
I believe this is the first Silent Hill not developed by the usual team, Team Silent (I don't know about the spinoff games). I think the team did a good job making it feel like Silent Hill. I wasn't really disappointed with that aspect, with the feel and the gameplay. What I was disappointed in were the supporting characters, the story, and some of the monsters. I didn't like the combat either, but...I never really do in these games.
If you're a Silent Hill fan or a horror game fan, I think it's still worth playing. And if you missed the Silent Hill stuff (flashlight, radio, running around the streets, unlimited inventory space) in Silent Hill 4, this game brings them back. It's rough around the edges, but I still enjoyed the experience and didn't regret spending my time on it.
If you're new to Silent Hill games and want to try one, I wouldn't recommend this as the first one to play. As a side note, I also wouldn't recommend Silent Hill 4 as the first one to play. I don't think it's a bad game, but it's not very representative of traditional Silent Hill if that's what you're looking to experience. Personally, I would recommend Silent Hill 2 for its story and characters or Silent Hill 3 for its gameplay and levels. I haven't played Silent Hill 1, so I can't comment on that.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Silent Hill: Origins (US, 03/04/08)
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