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Review: “Silent Hill The Short Message” is Rich with Detail But Vague on Theme

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Komani’s recent combat reveal for Silent Hill 2 came with a surprise announcement. During Playstation’s State of Play livestream the Publisher unveiled a free game exclusively for the PS5, and set in a familiarly Silent Hill-esque setting.

Silent Hill: The Short Message is a short-form game (I finished it over the course of one evening) featuring Anita, a young, contemporary protagonist who is drawn to a derelict apartment block by a text message from her friend, a street artist by the name of Maya.

However when Anita arrives she soon discovers things are not remotely as they seem. As she searches for the now missing Maya, Anita’s world, her true memories of recent events, and the very building itself begin to close in on her.

Told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator (which is personally something I’ve always enjoyed in video game narratives), The Short Message follows a deeply unhappy protagonist whose life story is revealed over 3 tight chapters. Armed with only her phone’s flashlight, Anita must explore each room of the decrepit apartment block, searching for clues as to the fate of her friend.

In true Silent Hill fashion there are twisted nightmare versions of the same vistas through which Anita is pursued by the game’s version of Pyramid Head — a doll-like nemesis bound in barbed wire and sprouting cherry blossoms from her head. This is not the only nod to previous Silent Hill franchises. As the player begins each chapter Anita finds herself back at the game’s starting point, and returning to the same spaces, with each return revealing a more nightmarish version of its predecessor. One can’t help but remember Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s promising teaser trailer for Silent Hills, a game which ultimately never saw the light of day (no pun intended) and which used similar gameplay to tremendously terrifying effect.

Silent Hill: The Short Message is beautifully realized (if you can call crumbling rooms stacked with disturbing detritus beautiful). Additionally, live capture flashbacks featuring Maya offer needed moments of respite between levels, and a clever way to divulge more backstory.

However with so many themes — depression, suicide, self harm, social media addiction, bullying, peer pressure, and teen pregnancy to name a few — vying for our attention, one can’t help but wonder if the folks at Konami found inspiration by letting a book on social issues for teens fall open on random pages in their zeal to win over a younger-skewed audience before the launch of Silent Hill 2. The game randomly pops up suicide prevention messages with helpline phone numbers, but it all feels a little on the nose, and the issues explored in the game are never given more than superficial lip-service. For this reviewer they were the least enjoyable aspects of the game. (Full disclosure: I quizzed a 14 year old girl about her interest in Silent Hill: The Short Message based on the themes therein, and she expressed a desire to either play the game or watch a YouTube play-though based on the subject matter alone … So what do I know?)

Many fans of the Silent Hill series will no doubt want to check out The Short Message for some hints as to how the upcoming remake will look and feel, and how it might play on the PS5. Although this is not a technical performance review, we can tell you the game is built on the Unreal Engine and offers a mostly streamlined viewing and playing experience, except in some closeup moments featuring the protagonist, and during some cut-scenes featuring full motion video sequences. However the slight judders are not enough to spoil the mood. The Short Message runs best in the maze of tight dark corridors and claustrophobic rooms that dominate the layout, and where thankfully there is no requirement for distance details, and where the phone flashlight can best show off the game’s use of shadow and illumination.

Overall, The Short Message is an enjoyable but not too scary entry in the Silent Hill series, rich in clever gameplay, textures, and landscapes, and with broad but somewhat vague themes that are certain to appeal to specific audiences.

This generous freebie will no doubt give new fans a taste of the world of Silent Hill as we wait for the main course.

Silent Hill: The Short Message is now available for feee from the Playstation store.

Platform: PS5

Release: 1/31/2024

Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.

Genre: Horror

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