It'll be a pretty quick trip, but it's a fun visit to The Otherworld.

User Rating: 8 | Silent Hill: Origins PS2
As is pretty obvious from the title, this game takes us back to a time in Silent Hill before Harry Mason's adventure. Travis Grady, a trucker with a troubling past, is startled out on the road by the figure of a child running out in front of his rig. He slams on the brakes, narrowly missing the girl, and stops to see her run off. Concerned she may be hurt, he follows her to the site of a burning house. . .

As a Silent Hill aficionado I had some concerns about the fact Team Silent wasn't working on this installment. Would the gameplay be significantly altered? Would the monsters be up to par? And most importantly, would the spirit of my favorite little creepy town be changed? Basically, would the game be a half-baked version of what I craved? Most Silent Hill fans are pretty hardcore about what they expect from the series, as anybody who has played Silent Hill 4: The Room will tell you. SH4 wasn't a bad game, but as an installment of the series it left a lot of fans choking on their controllers. So what was going to happen with a new developer in the mix?

Fear not, Pyramid Heads. While there definitely are some changes to the gameplay and some issues with lighting levels and camera angles, personally I found SH:0 to be more tasty than the aforementioned SH4. One thing that is important to remember for the PS2 player is that this game is a direct port of the PSP release, so some of the issues are forgivable. But let's get on with the breakdown, shall we?

On the positive side, the design of the environs held up to my expectations. Nice foggy streets, good ol' rust-and-blood motif in the Otherworld, and another incredible soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka add to a great buildup of tension and fear. The monster AI seems to have been tweaked, and they will definitely come after you! The combat has changed somewhat - now there's tons of items that can be picked up and used to put the smackdown on those peeled-looking monstrosities that wander around, plus the usual selection of guns and ammo. Not to mention you can actually use your fists to do a fair amount of damage. Some monsters will even grab and grapple with you, and you will need to either repeatedly mash the X button or hit the two-button combo shown on the screen to escape - an addition I rather liked as it added a bit of verisimilitude to the mix. The storyline for the character of Travis Grady, while perhaps not as revealing as the fans could hope for, works out with the SH world-view. I also found great enjoyment in the replay, with unlockables such as the Moon Gauntlets and Tesla rifle with unlimited ammo - nothing like whipping up some ownage on the creepies! And last, the addition of mirrors to flip between the two worlds makes for extra exploration opportunities.

Now to mention the so-so:
While there's a pile of stuff you can pick up, you have to factor in the fact that most of it will break. Since I enjoy melee fighting, I found this a little irksome. I had literally dozens of broken boards, pipe wrenches, the occasional scalpel and screwdriver, and heavy smashable objects like typewriters, glass bottles and filing cabinets in my inventory, but most were only effective for one or two battles. I have to admit, I did enjoy running through the streets carrying a television set - just for the giggles of having Travis look like a looter. Still, I'd have traded it in for a good, non-breaking pipe length! That's all right, though - a good title should mix it up on occasion, and while it didn't win prizes in my book it was an interesting addition. The puzzles were pretty simple to deal with; I didn't feel as mentally challenged as I did with the other titles, That's not entirely a bad thing, as I tend to prefer the exploration aspect, but it does leave you feeling a bit short-served. Inevitably there's at least one puzzle in any other given SH title that leaves me sweating for a few hours, and I breezed through the ones in SH:0 with minimal perspiration. Finally on this category, I'd have liked it to have been a bit longer; my first play-through took me about 8 hours, which translates into four for the average gamer (I like to re-explore areas repeatedly in case something new pops up). My second play (to get the UFO ending) took me just about 3 hours. Again, I'm inclined to chalk that up to it being short to make it more appropriate for the hand held version.

Last, the annoying.
The lighting in this one drove me positively NUTS. Yes, this is a creepy game and it's well-served by being dark and mysterious but half the time I was using my map just to figure out where in the ROOM I was. There's an achievement for playing with no flashlight and another for only looking at the map less than 25 times; if you get those, you are VERY MUCH the better player and you leave me in awe, because I really fought over not being able to see diddly squat in a lot of areas! Doors in the Otherworld can be nigh-impossible to see, and I was frequently checking the map to be sure I didn't miss any. Another frustrating issue was you can't really move the camera angles as you could in previous installments. I'm guessing this is due to the fact that they had to limit this for the hand held release, but nothing's worse than KNOWING something's around the corner and all you can see is the hall behind Travis. You can hit the L1 button and it may or may not adjust to Travis' viewpoint. While camera angles always have and always will be a sticking point with me, I found this to be one of the most annoying I've played in a while. Lastly, I feel the monsters weren't very well-balanced. Many of the average on-the-street critters gave me more difficulty than the boss monsters did. As a matter of fact, the technique for the bosses was pretty much the same. Run in circles around them (or from one side to the other), shoot, run around it again, shoot. . . none of the bosses took very long to polish off.

Still, as a devotee of the series, I found I could get over the problems and I enjoyed this trip to Origins. It's a pretty decent addition to a terrific franchise, and worth a survival horror fan's time and money.