April 23, 2007 - Let's face it: Silent Hill is one of those places you don't want to live in, you'd hate to visit and you sure as hell hope you don't get a postcard from. Perhaps it's the continually fog-enshrouded streets that hide frightening skinned monsters. Maybe it's the messages from deceased or long-lost relatives that potentially draw hapless people to their doom. Or maybe it's simply the continual traveling between the seemingly normal and the completely hellish dimensions that bends a character's definition of reality and insanity. Over the course of four console games, Konami's adventure franchise has redefined psychological horror for players around the world. Now, thanks to the developers over at Climax, these scares are bringing a one-two punch for gamers: they're going portable and they're exploring the source of the town's insanity with Silent Hill: Origins.
The pre-alpha build we checked out introduced us to Travis O'Grady, a trucker driving past Silent Hill during a rainy night. Of course, going near this damned town is bound to court disaster, and as Travis slams on his brakes to avoid hitting a robed figure, he finds himself enveloped in fog. As he runs along the road in search of the mysterious figure, he comes upon a house in flames and a badly burned little girl inside. While he manages to carry the girl outside to safety, he quickly passes out and awakens the next day on a bench inside of the Silent Hill city limits. Although he has no idea how he managed to get to the town, Travis' primary concern is of the child he saved, and he runs through the deserted streets to the nearby hospital to check on her. However, once he gets there, Travis runs into the only other soul he's seen in town, a doctor that ignores his questions and disappears into the bowels of the building. Following the physician, Travis quickly finds himself in an alternate version of the hospital, complete with the dilapidated environments, malevolent nurses without faces and other elements that fans of the series know well.
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Meet Travis, the unlucky soul trapped in Silent Hill: Origins.
Unlike some of the previous characters in the Silent Hill games, Travis appears to know how to take care of himself in a fight. He has a quick attack which can be used to stagger monsters as well as a power attack to inflict major damage. The strength of the hand to hand attack is determined by whether a player holds or taps the X button. Travis also has access to a finishing move once he's inflicted enough damage on an opponent, which involves some kind of kick, stomp or other attack as they lie writhing on the ground. However, he'll need to land this strike quickly, or these monsters can get back up and attack him, which could potentially trigger a "cineractive" moment. These isolated incidents serve to ratchet up the game's dramatic tension every now and then, and force players to input various button presses to respond to a critical situation or counter attack.
However, he's not forced to constantly go into a hand to hand battle with these creatures. As Travis explored the hospital, he picked up various weapons like a sledge hammer, katana and even portable television sets. Some items, like the hammer, could be cocked back in preparation for a power swing at anything that crossed his path. We also noticed that Travis will manage to get his hands on a pistol, and unlike Harry, James, Henry or Heather (the other characters in previous Silent Hill games), Travis is a pretty good shot with a gun.
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Don't expect to always use that weapon, Travis.
There's a bit of a twist to the weapon system though. Every single weapon (with the obvious exception of Travis' fists) has a durability rating attached to them, and the more they're used, the weaker they become until they eventually break. That places a definite level of strategy into the melee weapons: do you use them to soften up enemies, or save them to levy the finishing blow? On the other hand, items like the TVs are a one-time use weapon, but successfully landing a blow with them automatically kills the monster ahead of you. While we weren't able to find out whether or not there are a large number of weapons scattered around, or whether Travis will manage to figure out how to best maintain his weapons, the inclusion of weapon durability will definitely keep players on their guard as they explore the creepy surroundings of Silent Hill.
Speaking of the surroundings, Travis will be able to transition between both the foggy, "normal" world and creepy, rust colored otherworld of Silent Hill with the help of mirrors and other portal areas. In most cases, this is the only way that Travis will be able to navigate past locked doors or closed off areas, or solve various puzzles in the game. Some of these appear to be relatively straightforward, such as placing an object into a door panel to unlock it, while others are a bit more mysterious. One of the stranger ones involved putting plastic innards into a body arranged on a morgue table. While we weren't able to discover all of the pieces to complete the puzzle, it was odd to constantly be on the lookout for these body parts. Even though we knew we'd need to find all of them to solve the puzzle, we didn't want to think of what we'd uncover once the body had been put back together.