Silent Hill: Origins is a troubled game, to say the least. I almost feel guilty for hating it as much as I do, considering how much of a mess its development was. After the completion of The Room, Team Silent was disbanded by Konami. To quote Douglas Adams “this has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move”. The reasoning given wasn’t that Silent Hill was over, rather, they wanted the series to continue with a “different feeling”. Translation – Konami still wanted to make money off of the Silent Hill name, but wanted the games pushed out faster and cheaper.
Intended to be the first Silent Hill game on the PSP, the project was first given to Climax Studios’ LA team. It apparently had a very troubled development and the footage released looked like a very generic over-the-shoulder action game, no doubt trying to capitalize off of the success of Resident Evil 4. The game was then handed over to the UK team. At one point during this clean up process, Origins was even intended to be a dark comedy of sorts. Sam Barlow, by his own admission, didn’t even see the point in making a prequel to the original Silent Hill, but did his best to steer the project in a different direction, to make it more faithful to what the series had been. To that end, Konami did nothing to change their budget or time expectations. It should really come as no surprise that what resulted was the worst Silent Hill game ever made.
Origins is Silent Hill in the same way that someone doing an Austin Powers impression is Mike Myers; they may hit the general beats, but at no point does it feel authentic. With nowhere of substance to go narratively, the game goes backwards in time to dilute and break established parts of the series canon in an misguided attempt at clarification. The issue here is that Silent Hill 1 did a pretty solid job of explaining itself. It also, by virtue of being the first game, is where most of the important stuff happened. This leaves Origins as a contradiction. Travis, the main character, enters the Otherworld and fights monsters, despite neither actually existing at that point in the timeline. The game makes very weak attempts to explain this, but what’s left in the end is really just a shameless cameo-fest of characters that don’t look their age and certainly don’t act in any logical fashion, all the while Travis is trying to deal with his own personal demons and a shameless Pyramid Head rip-off that shows up occasionally.
It’s a pattern that would subsist for the rest of the series: an uninteresting main character that forgets details of his past and goes to Silent Hill so that a bunch of monsters can help him remember. Three of the main four games had nothing to do with this, but… people liked Silent Hill 2, so every new developer would try, over and over, to recapture that magic.
Perhaps you’re someone that doesn’t care about any of that and just wants a creepy horror game to play. Even by that simple criteria, it’s hard to recommend. It’s a clunky game about a truck driver fighting monsters with pool cues and filing cabinets. The nightmare world of Silent Hill is reduced to a simple puzzle mechanic, letting you switch back and forth via mirrors as if you were playing Link to the Past. Previously, the nightmare was something thrust upon you without consent. Now, it’s a simple detour, eliminating any threat that it may have once had.
At significant risk of sounding too much like an entitled fanboy, this is the point where Silent Hill died for me. Efforts beyond this point did little to reignite my faith that it was something that anyone else would be able to get right. Silent Hill was a labor of love. With Origins, it became nothing more than an obligation.