Considering Silent Hill 0rigins' troubled on-again/off-again development process, the final product has certainly turned out better than most Silent Hill fans expected. When initially revealed, this survival-horror prequel broke from series tradition with Resident Evil 4-inspired combat and a not-so-spooky aesthetic overhaul.
Thankfully, Konami had the foresight to dump that L.A.-based development team and completely reset the project, handing it over to a different team across the pond at Climax UK. Their version of 0rigins plays it awfully safe, wisely mimicking the fan-favorite early Hill games with exacting precision.
Here, you once again traverse the famously fog-shrouded burg, dividing your time between thwacking shambling monstrosities and solving fetch-quest puzzles in order to unravel your own dark destiny. As always, the audiovisual trappings provide most of the "wow" factor -- exploring the game's lushly detailed environments (both the dilapidated "real-world" locales and their hellish "other-world" mirror images) remains a thrill, even on the small screen. Until heavy hitters such as God of War and Crisis Core hit in 2008, this ranks as the best-looking game on PSP: Evocative lighting effects, impressive cut-scenes, and stylish grain filters set it apart from the pack. 0rigins also deserves praise for its haunting original score by series mainstay Akira Yamaoka. His moody guitar work, Goth-tinged vocal tracks, and context-sensitive ambient noise lend it the eerie gravitas of its cult-classic forerunners.
Fans arriving to 0rigins hoping for a subtly nuanced narrative à la Silent Hill 2 will likely come away somewhat disappointed: Although it successfully fleshes out the franchise's overall backstory (not to mention attempting to retroactively merge the game and film continuities), its own protagonist suffers from an absurdly predictable character arc. Seriously, most gamers with a clue will suss out the big plot twists within the first hour thanks to some heavy-handed foreshadowing. Likewise, Silent Hill faithfuls might take offense at just how easy it is to slip between dimensions this time around -- hero Travis can jump between the two via just about any mirror in the game.
0rigins unfortunately also falls prey to the series' most notorious pitfall -- crappy combat. It's as unwieldy and haphazard as ever, despite attempts to spice it up with "quick-time-event" style button-pressing minigames while grappling with undead horrors. These bits end up feeling like pointless distractions, as a successful Simon-says input ends with a no-damage stalemate between you and your assailant. When coupled with the game's breakable weapons, limited healing items, and quick-to-tucker-out hero, you're better off just avoiding combat in general. Unfortunately, you actually do have to slay the game's grotesque boss creatures...we suggest saving up your strongest ranged weapons and taking them out from a safe distance.
For now, we'll leave it to the upcoming Silent Hill V to finally solve the nagging issue of quality combat. The issues facing 0rigins aren't new, nor should they keep fans from enjoying this tense 'n' grisly old-school romp. Sure, it's predictable, conventional, and a little bit short, not to mention ill-suited for brief pick-up-and-play sessions on the bus, but we're encouraged to see developers making an original, console-quality experience for PSP. And if you follow the game's suggestion strap on some headphones and play the game in a darkened room, you may even fall for some of its cheap scares.