Version tested: PlayStation 2
One of the most appealing things about Silent Hill Origins' release on PSP last November was the way Climax managed to shoehorn a fully-fledged and exclusive Silent Hill adventure onto a handheld. Played with the lights off on a winter's night, it was a great little stopgap release for long-term fans - not least because, as a prequel, it helped reveal a little more of the back-story of Alessa Gillespie, and the oddball cult that caused all this nonsense to occur in the first place. On that basis alone it was well worth buying, even if it did practically zero to innovate or improve the somewhat clunky gameplay.
Now available on the PS2, its belated release serves a couple of purposes: die-hard fans unwilling to shell out for a PSP can enjoy the first Silent Hill release in almost four years, and series aficionados who prefer big-screen gaming can experience things in a more cinematic sense. But other than a cursory upscaling of the visuals, and improved sound quality, this is the exact same game that received generally warm acclaim the first time around despite being an unapologetic cover version of the first three Silent Hills. So is that good news or bad news?
Sticking rigidly to the wonderful but now-ageing survival-horror template, the things that the series is brilliant at - i.e. atmosphere and compelling narrative - are well up to scratch. And by returning to the puzzle-based, exploration-heavy gameplay of the first three Silent Hills, it's generally a pleasure to work through. Some old niggly gameplay problems remain, but this was never a game that was designed to take the series forward - that's for the forthcoming Silent Hill Homecoming. For now, this is a chance to take a step back and find out where this perpetually intriguing story began.
In typically spurious circumstance, we get to explore the troubled past of a character confronted by their inner demons. In this case, we follow the nightmarish adventures of lone trucker Travis Grady. Travelling at night, he almost runs over a young girl. Fearing for her safety, he makes chase down the foggy, darkened lane, only to find that the fog is actually smoke pouring from a nearby house. Bravely dodging between the flames, he discovers a charred victim and carries her outside before blacking out.
Coming around in the foggy nightmare that constitutes the eerie, abandoned streets of Silent Hill, Travis and therefore you get to indulge in a bit of obligatory exploration before wandering around a grimy hospital, supposedly looking for the girl you encountered at the start. In reality, of course, this is just another thinly veiled excuse to try the handles of an untold number of locked doors, continually flicking back to the map screen to determine where you haven't been. As usual, you must negotiate your way past writhing, deformed creatures of unknown origin, either dodging them completely or taking them on with your fists, bits of wood and firearms.