Silent Hill Has An Identity Crisis

Just add my opinion to the heap of other critical perspectives on Silent Hill

Silent Hill Has An Identity Crisis
Thankfully it's just a short message. Source: Konami

In the shadowed alleys of our gaming memories, Silent Hill looms like a spectral apparition.

A town shrouded in fog, where radio static heralds unseen horrors.

But as the years pass, this once-iconic franchise grapples with an existential question: Who—or what—is Silent Hill now? Will the series ever return to its former glory?

Can it be reborn for a new generation of gamers, or is this simply the beating of a horse that well and truly died years ago?

The Birth of a Beautiful Nightmare

In 1999, Silent Hill emerged from the crypts of Konami.

The original game, one that leaned heavily into psychological horror, thrust players into the shoes of Harry Mason—a desperate father searching for his missing daughter. The town itself became a character—an enigma wrapped in rusted chains and decay.

It was a combination of mystery and ethereal horror that differentiated it from other survival horror titles at the time. It was more mature, grown up. I was 14 when I first played it, much too young, but all the better for it.

I was completely receptive to the macabre ideas within.

It was a pivotal experience in my so-called formative years, and it influenced what I looked for in horror games. The bar was set. Everything after this would be compared, for better or for worse, with Silent Hill.

Silent Hill (Video Game 1999) - IMDb
Harry frantically searches for his daughter in the fog-draped town of Silent Hill. Source: Konami / SHN

When its sequel materialised, Silent Hill 2, players anticipated a familiar descent into psychological horror. But what they received was a labyrinthine journey that defied expectations.

If Silent Hill was a nightmare, then Silent Hill 2 was purgatory.

Using the power of the PlayStation 2, it was a game that offered so much emotional complexity that it's near as can be to the perfect Silent Hill game. A wondrous, captivating journey into the tortured soul of our imperfect and deeply flawed main character.

A flawed and imperfect portrayal of humanity, and the moral spectrum that defines it.

James Sunderland—a widower haunted by grief and guilt. His journey begins with a letter from his deceased wife, beckoning him to the fog-choked town. But this is no mere rehash of the original. The makers of Silent Hill 2 were a self-assured group of narrators, who had their unique visions and styles, and who collaborated to create a masterpiece of psychological horror.

17 Years Later, Fans Are Still Uncovering Secret Features in 'Silent Hill 2'
Silent Hill 2 has gone down in history as one of the greatest games of all time. Source: Konami

As Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw once said, "It's a fascinating voyage of pain and despair that leaves you emotionally drained and satisfied."

The third and fourth instalments of the series did not receive as much praise from critics as the previous ones, but they still retained the essence of Silent Hill. They were after all still made by Team Silent.

Team Silent was a group of Konami developers who created the first four Silent Hill games. They were known for their psychological horror, atmospheric design, and innovative storytelling. They disbanded after Silent Hill 4: The Room and the franchise was given to Western studios.

These later instalments continued to explore the themes of psychological horror, personal guilt, and twisted realities that defined the franchise. They also featured familiar elements such as the foggy town, the cult, the radio, and the iconic monster design.

Despite some changes in gameplay and story, they remained faithful to the vision and atmosphere of the original creators.

But Silent Hill eventually splintered.

Origins, Homecoming, Shattered Memories, and Downpour were such disappointments that they are better left unmentioned. They only proved that Silent Hill had lost its spark and that Konami had other fish to fry.

Was Silent Hill condemned to the public forever?

Don't Call it a Comeback

Silent Hill 2 Remake. Source: Konami

In 2022, during a digital presentation, Konami shared information about various projects. To the surprise of many, they unveiled several new Silent Hill video games and also explored other avenues to showcase what Silent Hill meant to them in the coming years.

I felt a mix of excitement and hesitation because Konami had not earned the trust of the fans with their previous actions. Fast forward to 2024, and to the surprise of many, Konami released a free Silent Hill game called The Short Message.

The Short Message

Silent Hill The Short Message is the first game to demonstrate a new direction for the series. However, its narrative was so obvious and definite that I felt drained by it, even with its three-hour gameplay.

Why is The Short Message associated with Silent Hill at all, outside of brand recognition?

Silent Hill: The Short Message Plot Leaks Despite No Official Announcement  - IGN
The Short Message, though free, left a lot to be desired. Source: Konami

The game doesn't take place in Silent Hill, but in a fictional German town called Kettenstadt, which suffers from economic woes. The “Villa”, a deserted apartment complex that attracts graffiti artists and suicidal girls, is the setting of the game.

Our protagonist, Anita, has a background that eventually leads to an almighty cliched reveal that, of course, humans are imperfect creatures. We all do things for our self-interest, some things worse than others.

But by the time this reveal rolls around, any message has lost all meaning because you're constantly bludgeoned over the head with how the game tells you to feel.

The more I played The Short Message, the more I realised it wasn't for me.

Silent Hill in name only, it's nothing more than a shortlived diversion at best, and at worst, a derivative, soulless Silent Hill experience.

With just how over-the-top The Short Message is. I'm left feeling that there's absolutely nothing left to the imagination and that it's a bit of an insult to those on the other side of the screen.

Silent Hill: The Short Message has been rated again, this time in Taiwan |  GamesRadar+
One of the many halls you'll wander though. Source: Konami

After aimlessly wandering around forever, engaging in a confrontation with a genuinely intriguing character, it's disappointing that their impact is lessened by making us flee from them through a frustrating maze.

When all is said and done, Anita isn't a particularly complex character, and I don't care much for her continued existence within this world, nor any of the characters mentioned.

I am aware that this is an entirely free game, but the cynic in me questions if this is the case because it would be in poor taste to charge for a game this problematic.

So perhaps this is a miss, it doesn't mean that the Silent Hill 2 remake will be as well, right?

Yeah, about that...

Silent Hill 2

"Even Bloober Team's CEO Is Unhappy With Silent Hill 2 Remake's Latest Trailer," reads the article from The Gamer.

From one mishap to another, it would seem that Konami and Bloober are at odds with each other. This does not bode well for a unified creative vision for one of the most respected games of all time.

From The Gamer, "Last week, PlayStation put on its first State of Play showcase of the year, giving us a better look at a handful of games coming out in the next 12 months. One of these titles was Silent Hill 2 Remake, and while it was nice to get some gameplay footage for the first time, a lot of fans of the original game descended upon the trailer to criticize its heavy use of combat, something which isn't particularly associated with the Silent Hill series."

To make things even worse, after seeing the reaction from fans online, Bloober CEO Peter Babieno said he understands where all the criticism is coming from regarding Silent Hill 2 Remake's recent trailer and that it didn't "reflect the spirit of the game".

He further elaborates that Bloober Team does not handle the marketing for the Silent Hill 2 Remake, and it is solely the responsibility of the publisher, Konami. This suggests that Konami is entirely accountable for editing and submitting the trailer showcased by PlayStation.

In that regard, what does it say for the entire creative vision?

I don't hold much hope for the Silent Hill 2 remake; it seems like that ship has sailed. Whether it's due to development issues or other factors, things aren't looking promising.

With each update, we seem to lose what made Silent Hill 2 an unforgettable experience, and why The Short Message suffers.

Subtlety and the ability to create an experience in which the horror lingers on well after the game has been switched off. I'd recommend playing Silent Hill 2 on original hardware or emulating it.

You won't regret it.