July 6, 2007 - When we first saw Silent Hill Origins we were very, very scared. Not because it's a brand new adventure in Konami's long-running and deeply disturbing survival horror series, mind. More that developer Climax seemed to have been bitten by the Resident Evil 4 bug, talking up a more action-focused expedition to everyone's favourite lakeside getaway, Silent Hill. When SH4 ended up this way, we thought it was rubbish - and hopes weren't high for the PSP iteration either.
None of that The Room sort-of Silent Hill here. This is the real, foggy deal.
However, it's been one long year since then and, with development now shifted to Climax's Portsmouth studio in the UK, things have come on leaps and bounds. While our US comrades have already dabbled with Origins for some initial impressions, we were lucky enough to enjoy - if that's ever the right word for a Silent Hill game - some extended play time with a far more polished build of Origins.
As a refresher, Origins follows protagonist Travis Grady, a truck driver with a murky past. Of course, it wouldn't be Silent Hill if the lead didn't have one or two demons and - given the sudden flashbacks and static-concealed references on the CB radio during the intro - it looks like Travis might have more untapped psychosis than most. Incidentally, about that intro: it's an impressive opener, with the usual sky-high quality pre-rendered Silent Hill cinematics in tact, replete with some gorgeous scoring from series stalwart Akira Yamaoka. In fact, fans will be thrilled to note Origins has an absolute ton of Yamaoka's beautiful, ethereal compositions - not just his more-prevalent otherworldly bonks, bangs and industrial screeches.
This sucker-punch opening is actually indicative of the game as a whole. Climax told us that Konami's only real stipulation during development was that Origins matched the same triple-A standards expected of the series. By all accounts, Climax seems to have risen to the challenge, with everything from storyline to stunning graphics right up their with Konami's best, bonkers Japanese efforts. Graphically, Silent Hill's interiors and exteriors - alternate reality or otherwise - are rendered in exquisite detail, with the series' staple fog and shadow as gloriously oppressive as ever. This version even goes as far as incorporating real-time self-shadowing on all torch-lit objects, which is an impressive feat for PSP, whichever way you look at it.
Refined melee combat means everything's potentially lethal. Witness: the hatstand!
Story-wise, we've got high hopes for Origins too - although clearly there are still massive questions begging to be answered after our initial couple of hours play time. As the name suggests, Origins visits Silent Hill prior to the PS1 game's events, introducing (or re-introducing, depending on your perspective) some of the series' most memorable characters. These include creepy little girl Alessa, her mother and - steady your beating heart, long-time fans - nurse Lisa Garland. However, if, like us, you find the Silent Hill mythology explored in parts 1 and 3 a bit hackneyed, Climax is also promising a return to the deeply unsettling abstract psychological horror of Silent Hill 2 in its exploration of Travis Grady.
In fact, one of the game's key new mechanics is intrinsically woven into Travis's back story, with Travis's ability to hop from 'normal' Silent Hill to its rust-hewn, hyper-industrial counterpart via mirrors tied directly to his past. Truthfully though, as neat as it is visually, this dark world/light world mechanic isn't perhaps as involved as it might be. From what we've seen so far, it merely serves as window dressing on your standard Silent Hill exploration, acting as a road block between different areas rather than offering any increased depth. There looks to be less of the sudden, unexpected reality switches too as a result, removing one of the tenser, unpredictable elements of previous games.