Atmospherically it’s horribly effective, particularly if, as the game suggests, you play it with your headphones on and the lights turned down. The headphones are particularly important, because it’s the audio – the crackle of the ‘monster alert’ radio, the hiss or grunt of something moving close by but just out of sight – that makes the game so damn scary. The music, by series stalwart Akira Yamaoka, is packed with foreboding ambient tracks that escalate suddenly into peaks of churning menace, and is arguably the most unsettling thing about the whole game. Meanwhile, the constant drip-feed of information through reports, notes and odd, childish drawings is more unnerving than all of the shock scares and crimson gore in Clive Barker’s Jericho. If Silent Hill is all about lurking fear and creeping dread, then Origins is a Silent Hill game through and through.
Most importantly, Origins has preserved the series’ defining characteristic: its splitting of Silent Hill into a warped, fog-bound normal world and a rusty, industrial-looking netherworld, both peopled by hideous apparitions, both linked by common pathways and architecture, but differing in small ways you can exploit throughout the game. Origins cunningly makes the netherworld a sort of dark reflection, and allows you to travel between the two sides to use new pathways or open new doorways just by touching any nearby mirror. You could argue that putting the player in control loses a little of the old terror of suddenly finding yourself in Silent Hill’s version of hell – and you wouldn’t be wrong – but it allows for a few ingenious puzzles and a little less backtracking in complex areas like the Sanatorium. And as with any Silent Hill, there’s an argument that the two worlds reflect different states of your protagonist’s mind: one a twisted vision of his present-day reality, the other a nightmare representation of his repressed unconscious. Fans will realise that this is exactly what makes the series so special: did Resident Evil ever encourage as much pretentious, pseudo psycho-analytic tosh as that?
But if presenting the authentic Silent Hill experience is Origin’s triumph, it’s also its downfall. The fact is that the Survival Horror genre has moved on since Silent Hill 3, and a lot of the old Silent Hill conventions – so faithfully reproduced here – now feel horribly dated. The third-person movement is slow, unwieldy and occasionally counter-intuitive. The reliance on fixed camera angles, even with a one-click reposition button, means that you can’t always see the monster bearing down on you until it’s far too late. Puzzles aren’t quite as ridiculously cryptic as they were in Silent Hill 1 and 2, but there are still a couple of real humdingers. Worst of all, the combat is pretty much awful.