Barring last year's Christophe Gans movie adaptation, fans of the Silent Hill series haven't had much to celebrate in the four years since Silent Hill 3. The last game in the series, Silent Hill 4: The Room was clearly a separate game hastily integrated into the Silent Hill mythos. Meanwhile a brand that - for a while - sat at the pinnacle of the Survival Horror genre has seen itself overtaken by a revitalised Resident Evil, the increasingly potent Project Zero series and even Sony's under-rated (if overcomplicated) Forbidden Siren duo. So the news that the first proper entry in ages, Silent Hill: Origins, was to come from a new developer and on a handheld format must have been met with an agonizing mix of hope and misery. After all, PSP reworkings of existing franchises haven't always met the highest quality standards, and there's always a huge risk in handing a Japanese property over to a Western developer. That goes double when the series' ‘feel' is so important.
So the good news is that UK developer Climax's take on the world of Silent Hill stays very true to Team Silent's existing work. Visually, Origins sits as close to what we saw in Silent Hill 2 and 3 as you could reasonably expect on the PSP. Gaming's most mysterious town remains wreathed in an almost tangible gloom and swathed in thick layers of floating fog. The sense of decay is palpable. Lighting is minimal and expertly used, and the glare of your character's torchlight is handled brilliantly. Origins also manages the gritty film overlay that has been a signature of the series since Silent Hill 2, and even enhances it with a range of cool film-jumping and scratch effects. The environments have just about the right level of clutter and mess, and apart from the slightly boxy-looking character models, Climax has the Silent Hill 2/3 look nailed.
More impressively, Climax has also captured the right tone. This time our hero is burly trucker Travis Grady, and his journey through Silent Hill takes him through events connected to the first game - making Origins a sort of prequel - with twists that seem to parallel the second. Those of us who played the first game can reacquaint ourselves with scary Dahlia Gillespie, her creepy daughter, Alessa, and unhinged nurse, Lisa, not to mention such locations as the good old Alchemilla Hospital. Those of us who loved the second will be thrilled to see an antagonist so reminiscent of the series' most terrifying monster, Pyramid Head, and moments that mirror key portions of Silent Hill 2. If you know Silent Hill 1 to 3, then you'll find Origins brings the series full-circle and carefully pulls a few loose ends together. If not, don't worry. Silent Hill is always an interior journey for its lead as well, and this one takes Travis back into the unexplored dark regions of his own past. New locations like the Cedar Grove Sanatorium, the Butcher's Shop and the Artaud Theatre fit in perfectly with the seedy Silent Hill ambiance, and the storyline develops with that mix of strange mystery and psychological turmoil that is the hallmark of the series.