Silent Hill: The Short Message takes players on a chilling adventure filled with self-harm, abuse, and the darkest recesses of the human mind. It's a game that delves deep into the realms of horror, demanding caution from those who dare to explore. Konami's return to the Silent Hill series after the enigmatic P.T. experiment presents an intriguing parallel, making it impossible to ignore the dark themes that permeate the game.
Unlike its mysterious predecessor, Silent Hill: The Short Message was unveiled during PlayStation's State of Play event in January 2024. Alongside a combat trailer for the anticipated remake of Silent Hill 2, this free first-person horror experience for PS5 owners emerged from the shadows. It echoes the eerie atmosphere of P.T., with its unsettling imagery of cockroaches, blood-stained bathrooms, and doors that hesitantly creak open, hinting at hidden terrors. However, it lacks the subtlety of its predecessor, opting instead for varying degrees of directness.
The Short Message serves as a glimpse into the potential of modern Silent Hill. Konami's primary goal is to update the franchise to exist in the present era. This includes incorporating recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic into the game's narrative. Players assume the role of Anita, a teenager searching for her friend Maya in an abandoned apartment complex. However, this complex is not located in the infamous town of Silent Hill but rather in a fictional German city called Kettenstadt (meaning "Chain City").
One might wonder why the game bears the Silent Hill name, apart from the obvious brand recognition. While the involvement of original Team Silent members, such as Masahiro Ito for creature design and Akira Yamaoka for music, adds credibility, the experience itself leaves a lingering feeling that it could have been titled differently. At first glance, Silent Hill: The Short Message appears to aspire to be a blend of P.T., Resident Evil 7, and Resident Evil 8. Surprisingly, the end result leans more towards the atmosphere of Life is Strange, making for an even more intriguing experience.
The gameplay in Silent Hill: The Short Message revolves around two distinct styles that seamlessly intertwine throughout the story. The first involves heart-pounding chase sequences, where players must flee from a monstrous entity in an alternate dimension known as the Otherworld. This grotesque creature, adorned with cherry blossoms and entangled in barbed wire, relentlessly pursues Anita. If caught, death is inevitable, and the sequence must be restarted.
While not groundbreaking in the horror genre, the creature designs by Ito are disturbingly glorious. The game also features standard first-person exploration segments, where players navigate the environment armed only with a cell phone. This multi-purpose device serves as a means of communication, a flashlight, and even a menu screen for reading the numerous documents scattered throughout. Controls are intuitive, allowing players to look behind with L1 or R1, zoom in with R3, and walk using the left stick, with contextual interactions managed by the X button.
Silent Hill: The Short Message, as a free game offering a glimpse into Konami's future plans for the franchise, is undoubtedly worth experiencing. The visuals, particularly when animated human faces are absent, are stunning. The transitions between the normal world and the Otherworld are particularly impressive, with seemingly mundane hallways transforming into pulsating masses of life, reminiscent of a stadium crowd performing a wave. The game also employs FMV sequences, often for flashbacks, creating a deliberate sense of detachment from the characters within the game. This contrast is perhaps for the best, given Anita's appearance and animation in the non-first-person cutscenes.
Beneath its surface, Silent Hill: The Short Message carries a profound message. According to producer Motoi Okamoto, the game explores how modern youth communicate online and through phones and the psychological horror that can stem from these interactions. Early on, Anita gazes at her friend's social media page, lamenting her own loss of followers. Nasty comments from strangers, trolls, and even trusted individuals appear on Anita's screen and manifest as graffiti and post-it notes strewn across the apartment complex's walls.
The story delves into how small experiences can accumulate over time, how people become overwhelmed while concealing their fears and frustrations from others. It reminds us that appearances can be deceiving, as even those who seem to have their lives together may be struggling internally. The narrative tackles the topics of suicide, self-harm, and the struggle to resist the downward spiral of despair. As expected from a Silent Hill title, there is also a slightly frustrating puzzle section that seemingly exists solely for the sake of including gameplay.
The effectiveness of Silent Hill: The Short Message in handling these delicate themes depends on each individual's personal connection to them. As someone who battled with suicidal thoughts for the first two decades of my life, I found the game to be a commendable portrayalof the struggles and complexities surrounding mental health. However, it's crucial to note that these topics can be triggering for some players, and the game should be approached with caution.
The conclusion of Silent Hill: The Short Message is both haunting and thought-provoking. It challenges players' perceptions and leaves them pondering the true nature of the horror they have experienced. The ending serves as a reminder that the monsters we face in our lives are often internal, and conquering them requires strength, resilience, and support.
Silent Hill: The Short Message is a bold departure from the traditional Silent Hill formula, but it captures the essence of psychological horror while incorporating modern themes and gameplay mechanics. It may not be a full-fledged Silent Hill sequel, but it offers a tantalizing glimpse into the potential future of the series. Whether Konami will fully embrace this direction remains to be seen, but for now, players can immerse themselves in this unsettling journey into modern horrors.