09 September, 2009

Silent Hill: Origins

It's a little bit early yet to be celebrating Halloween (Samhain for my Pagan readers :D), but I recently decided to finally pop in Silent Hill: Origins and give it a playthrough (or two or three). It's officially the fifth game in the franchise, following the spin-off-turned-canon SH4: The Room, and acting as a prequel to the original game. As such, the plot ties into the details of the cult's original experiment which resulted in the transformation of Silent Hill into the nightmare town it is, and offers a little bit more detail about said cult and said experiment which was mercilessly obscure in the exposition of the first game.

The game's plot is split between the primary protagonist's own psychological problems, and his incidental encounter and subsequent meetings with Alessa Gillespie, cultleader Dahlia's daughter - the girl whose sacrifice turns hell loose on the tranquil lake resort town, and whose nightmares form the basis of the town's endless terrors ("when do we get to see into your sick little mind?" - be careful what you ask for...). The protagonist, Travis Grady, is a truck driver who happens to be driving by Silent Hill at entirely the wrong time (although you can be sure it's no coincidence). Travis has blocked out a particularly gruesome event in his childhood, involving his parents, which unsurprisingly, the haunted town is insistent on dredging up for him.

Gameplay-wise, Origins plays much like a traditional Silent Hill. The part of the town you get to explore is a little section just barely overlapping with that of the first game - with the familiar Alchemilla Hospital making another appearance (along with fan-favorite character Lisa the nurse). Other locations include a suitably creepy sanitarium, a cozy theatre (like for plays, not movies), and a motel.

Two aspects of the game that stand out are the mirrors and the melee weapons. Mirrors serve as the primary transportation module between Silent Hill and the "Otherworld", allowing you to choose when to move between the realms (although it's a pseudo-choice, since you have to go where the game leads you - but at least it gives you the feeling of controlling your passage; although not being in control is scary, knowing that you have to enter the Otherworld and that you have to be the one to take that step, willfully, is scary, too). The infamous siren that I so miss from the first game does return, but only to signal the end of each nightmare portion (after the boss battles, that is), and seems to correspond with Alessa waking up (hence the recession of nightmares) - at least I think that's what's going on.

On to the melee weapons. As a truck driver, Travis (apparently) has the strength to grapple with his demons in generally closer quarters than protagonists of the past. Although there are a variety of firearms available for the claustrophobic, the game is littered with all sorts of handheld items that can be used as weapons - from knives, scalpels, and hammers, to wooden planks, typewriters, and even drip stands (those things you find beside hospital beds)! All of these weapons are breakable after a certain amount of use (which usually isn't a whole lot), although the sheer number of them available pretty much ensures you'll never run out. Actually working up the courage to get up close to the demons, to conserve your all-important firearm ammo, is your problem, though :p. Although, some of those items (like the typewriters and portable TVs) can be tossed at the enemy, and actually pack a decent punch. And speaking of punches, you can actually fight the demons barehanded if you've got the guts!

Well, for my first run-through of the game, I did fine. Took me some time to adapt to the fighting, learning the demons' maneuvers, what type of weapons to use against which species of nightmare, and whatnot. I ended up losing a lot of health throughout the game, prompting me to actually get a bit worried in a couple places. What trouble I had with the regular demons was made up for, I guess, in the boss battles, which turned out to be relatively easy for me. To my surprise, the game apparently doesn't have difficulty levels, so it won't be getting any harder on subsequent run-throughs, as I had initially assumed, though. To my horror, two of the bosses returned later as regular run-of-the-mill demons! (Although, to be fair, the first "boss" was just a regular demon to begin with, if possibly a little stronger than average). The other bosses were pretty creepy, that's for sure. Especially "Daddy"...

Here are my summary stats for my first run-through:

Total enemies killed using melee weapons: 40
Total enemies killed using firearms: 56
Total enemies killed using fists: 83
Total items collected: 353
Number of map views: 486
Number of times saved: 37
Distance walked: 25.34
Total game time: 8:26:25
Total flashlight use time: 4:24:54
Number of game completions: 1

Eight and a half hours to beat it the first time. The "total enemies killed using fists" isn't as impressive as it sounds, when you take into account that only the final blow matters. When you hit a demon a few times, it falls to the ground. You can then "stomp" it to finish it off in a single hit, whether with a bullet, a melee weapon, or your boot (counts as "fists"). If you're too slow, it'll get back up and you'll have to hit it some more to knock it down again. So generally, I like to save ammo by shooting a demon down and then switching to fists to stomp on it.

Total items collected netted me a "Collector's Accolade" - I'm planning on earning some more accolades, then I'll probably come back and post an addendum discussing the "extras". 37 saves - as you can see, particularly the first time through a game, I'm a very cautious player. I'm also a very thorough player, which contributes to the number of items collected. I have to laugh that my highest rating is "number of map views". I'm surprised they even count that (there's an accolade related to it - so that's why). But yes, I check my map obsessive-compulsively. Practically every time I change rooms. And in the brief parts where I don't have a map (or when I enter a new area and before I pick up the map), I get stressed out because I can't visualize the overall architecture of the area I'm exploring. I actually said to myself at one point, "I feel nervous without a map". XD

I'm gonna end this on an interesting note. Origins has it's own Pyramid Head of sorts, in the form of The Butcher. He's basically a less distinctive Pyramid Head (i.e., without the signature pyramid head), who carries a huge butcher knife (though still considerably smaller than PH's Great Knife (though just as deadly)), and is rather more preoccupied with sadistically slicing through the flesh and bone of his victims than raping them (as PH is wont to do). So maybe not quite as distinctive a character as good ol' Pyramid Head, but still pretty intimidating. Although his presence in the game seems more secondary than primary, I understand he has some significance with regard to our protagonist's psychosis, but that's to be explored in the "bad" ending to the game, which I am currently pursuing. Ah, you gotta love Silent Hill, where the "bad" endings are often better than the "good" ones!

Hm, there was another issue I was going to address, but I guess I'll leave you hanging (on the meat hook?) until my followup. :p

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