Tucked away rather sheepishly in the handheld inner sanctum of Konami's (literally) throbbing Leipzig stand, Silent Hill Origins made its unheralded public debut today - but we came away wondering whether it really benefited from such a premature showing.
Said to be "30 per cent complete", the playable demo of Climax-developed PSP offering gave us nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of what to expect when it emerges from the fog of early 2007. In essence, the game's Leipzig showing gave us the chance to see the basic tech behind the game, as well as a fairly rudimentary idea of how the games controls and combat are shaping up. But beyond that - we'll have to wait.
So far, Konami has revealed that Origins follows the fortunes of lonesome truck driver Travis Grady (dropping the O' Grady name revealed at E3, we note) who finds himself getting stuck in Silent Hill while making a routine delivery (seriously, who makes a routine delivery there? Satan's smoke machine manufacturer?) Unsurprisingly, he finds the locals to be somewhat 'strange', and then (oh ho ho) contracts the deadly Silent Hill disease of being confronted by his troubled past. Confronted by these terrible memories of his childhood, and surrounded by utter weirdoes, it won't come as a great shock that the premise involves getting the hell out.
Naturally, a large part of the escape plan involves shooting shambling otherworldly creatures in the face rather a lot. As such, it's expected that Origins will continue to steer the brand in a more action-focused direction - something this demo appears to underline with its overhauled combat system. Presumably, puzzling will still feature in the game, but we didn't see any evidence of it in the demo, put it that way.
Unashamedly taking its cue from the revered Resident Evil 4, the first thing to note is how the closely the game apes the pulled back camera angle and over-the-shoulder aiming system - complete with red laser pointer to ensure you can pull of those all-important head shots with the minimum of fuss (and, presumably because it worked so well in Capcom's classic).
Unfortunately, with only a few dim-witted, skinless, shambling Terminator-esque zombie types (minus the benefit of their digestive systems, it seems) to shoot at, it was hard to get a true sense of how well Konami's 'Cinteractive' control system (as it's officially calling it, terrifyingly) has been adapted to the limitations of the one-stick PSP. In the blurb handed out at the stand, the idea is "to face down horrifying monsters while the control scheme changes intuitively for each situation".
Fire and forget
What this amounts to appears to be a camera system which swings around to a predetermined 'dramatic' angle whenever you head down alleyways, and changes to 'Ressie 4 mode' whenever you hit the right shoulder button to aim. Tweaking the aim seems simple enough, and unleashing pistol shots were similarly straightforward, leaving the prospect of numerous tense encounters with the full repertoire of Silent Hill's inmates.
Whether this amounts to "an enhanced camera system" or just making the most of the PSP's annoying limitations is something for discussion and examination when the game comes out. Happily, general movement and navigation seemed simple enough, but typically drunken and imprecise in the way that most single stick third person games are. You get used to it quickly, but in the back of your mind there's that nagging reminder that it’s not ideal.
Once we'd dispatched the trio of undead, we swung our rather redundant mallet around a few times (by hitting the X button), and began running around town with gay abandon (in the old fashioned sense, you understand). We indulged in a quick spot of fog-bound sight seeing, making a mental note of the cinema, restaurant, flower shop and other buildings in the vicinity, wondering what role they'd play in the finished article. We were certainly appreciative of the detail levels and faithful foggy ambience, but also somewhat frustrated that we couldn't enter a single one. Not only that, this frustratingly limited demo didn't allow us to interact with seemingly anything of note. Instead, we ran around repeatedly, doing laps of the small section of the town and wondering why the gods had been so cruel to us.
Moving onto the Asylum demo, there wasn't much more to report, sadly. This gloomily lit environment aped most of the typical Silent Hill squalor, without presenting us with anything of specific note. Abandoned offices, sitting rooms, corridors and the like promised to reveal vague hints of the direction of the game, but in truth the same skinless terminator-alikes shambled into view and posed no threat. We shot, we moved on, we wandered, we found nothing. We appreciate the game is currently at a very early stage, and that it's definitely way too early to even pass comment, but we can only report on what we're shown. On a basic level, Climax seems to have done a reasonable job of recreating the gritty visual style, the control system's progressing along the right lines, and the music's as atmospheric as ever. But beyond that we're struggling to be nice.
It sounds like a fairly obvious thing to say, but if a game's not ready to show off, don't put it in front of expectant journalists. Watch the Silent Hill Origins trailer instead and keep your fingers crossed that Climax has what it takes to keep fans happy while the Tokyo team keeps itself busy with its next gen Silent Hill.
Silent Hill Origins is due out in 2007 exclusively on PSP.