Silent Hill: The Short Message Review – Okay, But Can We Get a Real Silent Hill Now?

Silent Hill: The Short Message Review – A Missed Opportunity in a Beloved Series

The Silent Hill series has been in a weird spot ever since the cancelation of Silent Hills from Direct Hideo Kojima. The series has always had a knack for delivering a survival horror experience within a world that resembles something from a David Lynch film, but it really wasn’t until last year that we started seeing real moves being made by developer Konami for this IP. However, the developer’s experimental approach to the series hasn’t really garnered any new fans and likely pushed away old ones. Silent Hill Ascension, for instance, is a strange entry in the series that deals with mixed media and audience participation. The newest entry is Silent Hill: The Short Message, a game that wasn’t technically supposed to be a game, but they released for free exclusively to PS5 so let’s see how it fits into the Silent Hill universe.

Silent Hill: The Short Message attempts to tackle ambitious matters in its narrative, but ends up delivering a messy and unengaging experience.

Navigating the Uncanny Universe of Silent Hill: The Short Message

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Although Silent Hill: The Short Message is a first-person experience, don’t go in expecting the level of creativity found in PT. In fact, the narrative is basically spoon-fed to the player until the credits roll, which takes around 2 hours. At the game’s opening, we wake up as Anita, an angsty artist who is struggling with retaining a positive image amongst her peers. She seems to hyperfocus on what people think about her and look to her phone for validation whenever times get tough. As we explore the Kettenstadt building, we learn that Anita has been invited by her friend Maya to meet her there. Maya is a popular artist who joined Anita and her friend Amelie to form a group. However, we learn that there’s a bit of mental instability within the group’s members that puts them at odds with each other, which is why Anita wants to make things right. Without spoiling the narrative, there are a few twists that are really easy to see coming, but interestingly, the game’s narrative decided to push beyond these big reveals and then explore the “why.”

The game’s simple exploration and lack of interactive environments fall short when compared to the depth and immersion offered in games like PT.

Although Silent Hill exists in an uncanny universe, the struggles these characters face are ones based on reality. Anita has insecurities and frustrations that we can probably all resonate with. Emotions of jealousy, confusion, love, and coming of age all get jumbled up in this 2-hour experience. It’s a lot to take in at first and probably not something that anyone dealing with this heavy subject should experience, but I was impressed at the ambitious matters this game tried to tackle. Now, I would have been more impressed if they actually did something with it, but sadly, too many interactions take you out of the experience. Playing the game as Anita is meant to make you feel like an extension of her, but from the very beginning, she is an unlikable mess. This could all be by design, though, and if that’s the case, the Silent Hill universe is way more meta than I thought, but I couldn’t get over the fact that monsters are chasing this girl, and she doesn’t bother to tell her friend during a phone call, it’s all business as usual in Silent Hill.

Comparing Silent Hill: The Short Message with the Legacy of PT

Gameplay takes the form of simple exploration as you interact with objects that set off triggers to new areas. I found the environments to be well-detailed, but there’s very little to do within these environments outside of looking for objects of interest. This is a shame, especially when compared to PT, where every object held some kind of importance. As I played, I took my time to look at everything, but after about 20 minutes, I found that there wasn’t really any reason to, which made the gameplay simply about finding key objects to progress rather than paying attention to the environment. On the point of comparing this to PT, there aren’t really any puzzles that will stump you for long. I think the only time I was stuck wasn’t even because of a puzzle but instead because I couldn’t find what object to interact with in the library to progress the game. The scares are also confined to maze-like running sequences that require you to do some trial and error to get through, but I was always able to figure it out sooner or later.

Outside of that, there really isn’t much to Silent Hill: The Short Message. I thought the graphics and character models were fine, but the voice acting was a little awkward. From my experience, this could have to do with the audio lines not syncing with the lips. Regardless, it’s a free experience that began as a means for the new staff members to create a horror game for future projects. Even looking at it from that lens, I found games like Layers of Fear, which largely resembles a horror walking simulator, offer more immersion with the use of level and sound design. Sadly, Silent Hill: The Short Message doesn’t really offer the quality some might expect from the game. Still, I applaud the devs for trying here and tacking subject matter that many avoid.

While Silent Hill: The Short Message is a bold experiment, it fails to capitalize on what makes the series special, leaving it as an obscure release in the franchise.

The Experimental Nature of Silent Hill: The Short Message: Risks and Misses in Game Development

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Silent Hill: The Short Message is a very messy experience that doesn’t really capitalize on what makes this series special. Still, it gets high marks for its portrayal of an uncanny universe, but having us play as one of the most unlikable protagonists ever in a video really takes you out of the experience. It’s not something you’ll think about after you play it, and as time goes on, it’ll be some obscure release that future gamers will stumble upon and ask, “What were they thinking?” That said, this was an experimental release, and it’s cool to see developers take chances like this, as it’s the only we’ll see advancements in this genre.

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A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

Silent Hill: The Short Message (PS5)

Silent Hill: The Short Message diverges from traditional Silent Hill experiences, offering a brief, two-hour narrative focused on character Anita's personal struggles and insecurities. Set in the eerie Kettenstadt building, the game attempts to blend psychological depth with the franchise's hallmark uncanny atmosphere. However, it falls short in gameplay depth and environmental interaction, especially when compared to predecessors like PT. The game's simple exploration mechanics, predictable narrative twists, and lack of engaging puzzles lead to a somewhat detached experience. Despite decent graphics and an attempt to tackle complex themes, the game's execution and lack of immersive elements leave it feeling underwhelming. While it represents an experimental approach by the developers and is commendable for its ambition, Silent Hill: The Short Message ultimately fails to deliver the profound impact or memorable gameplay that fans of the series might expect.

The Good

  • Ambitious Narrative Themes: The game ambitiously tackles heavy subjects like mental instability, jealousy, and coming-of-age struggles, attempting to resonate with real-life issues.
  • Experimental Approach: The game's experimental nature is commendable, showcasing the developers' willingness to take risks and explore new ideas.

The Bad

  • Unlikable Protagonist: The main character, Anita, is portrayed as an unlikable mess, making it challenging for players to empathize or connect with her.
  • Lack of Gameplay Depth: The gameplay primarily involves simple exploration and interacting with objects, lacking depth and engagement compared to other entries in the genre.
  • Predictable Twists: The narrative contains twists that are easily anticipated, reducing the impact of the story's developments.
  • Limited Scares and Puzzles: The game's horror elements and puzzles are confined to maze-like sequences, lacking the intensity and complexity expected from a Silent Hill game.