Silent Hill: The Short Message – short but not very sweet (Picture: Konami)
At this point we think it’s reasonable to be worried if you’re a Silent Hill fan. The news that Konami was reviving the venerable survival horror series was always a double-edge sword, but while announcing so many new titles at once was very strange the optimistic take would be that at least that increases the chances that one of them will be good. So far though, that’s not how things have turned out.
Silent Hill: Ascension, the so-called ‘massively interactive live event’ is dreadful, and we still have serious concerns as to whether The Medium developer Bloober Team are the right people for the job when it comes to the Silent Hill 2 remake, with the brief new trailer during the recent State of Play not going down well with fans.
We are still looking forward to Silent Hill f, which has had by far the best trailer so far, but we were also intriguing by The Short Message, which was announced and released during the same State of Play. It’s completely free and less than two hours long, so there’s very little to be lost in giving it a try. You don’t even have to worry about it being too scary, but that’s kind of a problem with a survival horror…
One of the many issues with modernising Silent Hill is that the first three games are by far the best and yet they’re all very similar and doing the same thing yet again is not going to get you anywhere. In that sense we applaud Konami for trying something different with each of the new games, although it’s pretty obvious that The Short Message is heavily inspired by Hideo Kojima’s aborted Silent Hills – which only got as far as the famous P.T. demo.
Like the demo, The Short Message is viewed from a first person perspective and takes place entirely indoors, with a looping structure that sees you exploring certain areas multiple times, but with notable changes on each visit. The story is completely different though, and casts you as schoolgirl Anita, who has had a troubled childhood, is being bullied at school, and frequently self-harms.
As the game’s intro warns you, The Short Message deals with a number of heavy issues, including suicide, depression, repressed memories, and the dangers of social media.
Although the lore in Silent Hill games is malleable, if not outright contradictory, the idea has always been that it represents a hell of your own making, specifically designed to suit each main character’s inner demons. Some games have also toyed with the idea that it can be potentially redemptive, and that you’re not actually trapped in the Hot Place but a potentially temporary purgatory.
That’s the angle The Short Message takes, as it explores the trauma of the three main characters: Anita and her two female friends. It’s an intriguing set-up but the execution is deeply flawed on a number of levels.
Silent Hill: The Short Message – only the cut scenes are third person (Picture: Konami)
The first problem is that there’s very little gameplay. Most of the time you’re just slowly walking around an abandoned block of flats, reading endless diary pages and newspaper clips – which, as usual, proves to be the least interesting way possible for a video game to get across its story. You’re never in any danger during these sections, so it’s basically just a horror-themed walking simulator.
Sprinkled in-between these sections (and one puzzle, which we only solved by accident) are four maze sequences where you’re being chased by a monster, the first two of which are trivially easy, the third mildly annoying, and the fourth so rage-inducingly awful we almost embedded the DualSense in the wall.
The problem is that if the monster catches you, you have to start again from scratch. The fourth maze is both quite large and forces you to search for multiple collectibles to complete it, so you have to memorise the whole layout and try to predict a monster that can suddenly appear from nowhere.
The thought of having to do the whole thing again if you fail is fairly terrifying but other than that the game never gets further than tense on the fear-o-meter. And considering the original game, on the PS1, had us feeling literally sick with horror, we are not saying that just to sound butch.
Silent Hill never really had good action though, so a more serious problem is that the writing is so on the nose and obvious. Working out what’s going on in Silent Hill 2 takes some effort on the part of the player – like a horror version of Elden Ring – and it’s filled with subtle symbolism that can often be interpreted in multiple ways.
Silent Hill: The Short Message – there’s nothing to be scared of, unfortunately (Picture: Konami)
The Short Message has no time for subtlety and is clearly very nervous about handling its serious subject matter. Attempting to address such issues is brave, and the game doesn’t come across as insensitive, but it does feel shallow and obvious. The story ends up feeling like a checklist of subjects the developer wanted to name drop, more than a cohesive narrative or character study.
It doesn’t help that the script is clunky and awkward, and probably badly translated, or that the numerous live action cut scenes are very obviously filmed in Japanese, with a highly unconvincing English dub pasted on top. One where everyone has American accents despite the game supposedly being set in Germany.
Visually, the game can look very good, with an impressive rendition of the traditional Otherworld environment, but there are some frame rate issues, that can be a real impediment during the chase sequences.
The Short Message isn’t an Ascension style disaster but it’s middling at best. A few details seem to be setting up a subsequent game, or perhaps an overarching lore for multiple titles, but it’s difficult to be excited at that prospect given how the revival is going so far. This is at least a baby step in the right direction but unless Konami’s quality control improves the scariest thing about Silent Hill is going to be the thought of another sequel.
Silent Hill: The Short Message review summary
In Short: Another disappointing Silent Hill revival, that gets some of the visuals and tone right but is let down by a hackneyed script and frustrating chase sequences.
Pros: It looks like Silent Hill, especially towards the end, and the monster is a great design. The game’s heart is in the right place in terms of the story.
Cons: The later maze sequences are hugely annoying. The writing is as subtle as a brick and clearly terrified of being exploitative with its themes. Terrible live action dub and some frame rate issues.
Formats: PlayStation 5
Release Date: 31st January 2024
Age Rating: 18
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