After over a decade away, the iconic Silent Hill series makes its return with a surprise drop – The Short Message. Landing out of the blue during a recent PlayStation event, this bite-sized horror adventure is Konami’s opening gambit to revive the franchise. And hey, you can’t fault them for the price. The game is totally free and clocks in at under two hours. So what’s the story?
In The Short Message, you play as Anita, a troubled teen wrapped up in a spooky plot involving an abandoned apartment building with a dark history. Themes of bullying, depression and suicide feature heavily, making it clear this isn’t your typical horror romp. Without spoiling too much, the premise sees Anita exploring the decrepit complex and piecing together fragments of memories to uncover what happened to her missing friend Maya.
It’s a first-person affair filled with reading notes, solving light puzzles and getting the heck out of dodge when things get too creepy. The Short Message touches on classic Silent Hill vibes with otherworldly visuals and introduces a freaky new monster that’ll give fans flashbacks. While it marks a welcome return for the landmark franchise, the question is whether it recaptures the atmosphere and intrigue of its legendary predecessors. Strap in, and let’s see if Konami still has the magic.
Heavy Themes, Clumsy Execution
The Short Message aims to tell a mature and meaningful story about the struggles of modern teenage life. You play as Anita, a high schooler battling depression, bullying and self-harm. She enters a reportedly haunted apartment building searching for her missing friend Maya, which kicks off a dark psychological journey.
It’s ambitious subject matter for sure. The game tries touching on suicide, abusive parents, body image issues and the pressures of social media. While commendable in theory, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The writing tends to hammer its points, lacking any subtlety. Instead of nuanced characters, we get shallow archetypes and caricatures. Lines like “dumb slut” and “ugly bitch” get hurled around pretty liberally to drive home the constant bullying. The abusive mother pops up as almost a cartoonish villain with over-the-top cruelty.
The game seems unsure how to handle the complex themes with care or depth. It’s less a thoughtful exploration than a checklist rattled off for shock value. The story fails to earn its mature elements, undermining the serious issues it raises. Support info for suicide prevention ironically feels out of place next to characters casually romanticizing the idea at points.
While Anita and Maya have potential as leads, they needed way more development as real, multifaceted people. The narrative glosses over key details too quickly, leaving their motivations and friendship thinly portrayed. The big twist regarding Maya’s fate tries echoing Silent Hill 2, but without that game’s intricate groundwork. As a result, it lacks any gravity or meaning.
The Short Message reaches for something bold thematically but fumbles the delivery at almost every turn. With its blunt-force scripting, it feels less like a mature drama and more like an after school special that’s trying way too hard to be “edgy.” What could have been a compelling and scary coming-of-age story ends up falling painfully flat.
Bland Mechanics Drag it Down
When it comes to actual gameplay, The Short Message doesn’t give players much to sink their teeth into. It falls squarely into the walking simulator genre, prioritizing story over interactivity at almost every turn. The entire game adopts a first-person view as you slowly explore various rooms and corridors from Anita’s perspective.
Most of your time is spent reading through textual logs, diaries, graffiti on walls or responding to occasional phone messages. While uncovering fragments of memories and backstory, you’re basically on an interactive sightseeing tour. The game holds your hand tightly, ushering you down a linear path with little autonomy.
Apart from some light puzzle solving, interaction is severely lacking. There’s no combat whatsoever. No way to actively impact the creepy events unfolding around you. Gameplay boils down to opening doors, glancing at items and pushing the analog stick forward through unsettling hallways. Rinse and repeat.
Things spice up briefly during the “chase sequences” where you suddenly need to flee from a disturbing monster by navigating a maze-like area. Your only option is to run and hide, amping up the tension considerably. However, these selections are over way too quickly, providing only fleeting bursts of intensity amid longer stretches of passive wandering.
The final chase ratchets the difficulty up exponentially, forcing you to memorize a sprawling layout to locate multiple hidden items. Getting caught sends you back to square one until you nail the demanding gauntlet. This painful, repetitive trial-and-error contrasted harshly with earlier walk-in-the-park ventures.
The Short Message continuously inhibits its own scares and intrigue by severely limiting interactivity. With gameplay stripped down to barely existent bones, it often feels like you’re observing events rather than influencing them, sapping any agency. Silent Hill veterans will surely feel disappointed by mechanics that rarely transcend mindless walking and reading at a sluggish pace.
Visual Highs and Lows
One area where The Short Message shines is its impressive visual presentation. Exploring the creepy abandoned apartments offers some strikingly realistic environments, drenched in atmosphere. Intricate details fill each room, from discarded clothes and leftover food to disturbing scribbles and ominous symbols. Items feel deliberately placed rather than haphazardly scattered for random spooks.
The art direction nails the unsettling aesthetic fans associate with the series. Flickering lights, peeling paint and inexplicable viscera covering walls effectively ratchet up tension. Full-motion video elements add cinematic flair during critical story beats too.
However, some technical issues tarnish the experience. Performance struggles to maintain a steady framerate as you wander areas or get chased by threats. Stuttering visuals unfortunately disrupt immersion at key moments. The game aimed for photorealism but couldn’t quite achieve the smooth and stable imagery to fully sell it.
On the audio front though, The Short Message sounds downright incredible thanks largely to composer Akira Yamaoka. As the musical mastermind behind early Silent Hill entries, Yamaoka’s industrial tracks instantly transport you back to those glory days. Haunting melodies and dissonant noises flow wonderfully to capture nightmarish moods. The chilling ambience sticks with you more than any jump scare or set piece.
Similarly, sound design nails little touches like echoing footsteps and eerie background tones to get under your skin. Things like static through a radio, wind howling outside or strange whispers in your ear subtlely boost dread as you explore the disturbing setting.
If the visual shortcomings got remedied through patches, The Short Message would offer audio and artistic directions rivaling the best entries. Yamaoka’s music especially outshines the weaker writing and gameplay. For series fans craving another dose of his iconic compositions, this game delivers a potent fix. Just be prepared for some unfortunate frame rate disruptions along the way.
Leaning Hard on the Classics
As a surprise release clearly hoping to reignite enthusiasm for Silent Hill, The Short Message inevitably draws comparisons to previous franchise highlights. It borrows several key elements from the iconic PT playable teaser, while trying to recapture the tone and style of early series entries. Ultimately though, it falls short of reaching the horror heights fans reminisce about.
The first-person viewpoint and overall premise immediately mirror PT in many respects. Both surround exploring a creepy building with looping layouts, uncovering a tragedy related to a missing person. The Short Message likewise throws in specific story beats that feel plucked straight from PT’s playbook. A bathroom filled with cockroaches instantly evokes matching memories.
However, PT employed subtle psychological tricks and nuanced storytelling where The Short Message is anything but subtle. It takes the core ideas of PT’s enigmatic narrative but handles them far more clumsily, with writing that lacks any real grace, elegance or intrigue. Set pieces similarly try capitalizing on PT’s scenarios without fully understanding what made them work so unnervingly well.
In terms of Silent Hill heritage, several elements aim to tap into that nostalgia. The hellish Otherworld environments stay true to form with unsettling industrial aesthetic. Iconic creature designer Masahiro Ito introduces an equally freaky new threat. And music from venerable series composer Akira Yamaoka sets an authentically nightmarish tone throughout.
On the whole though, The Short Message downgrades gameplay and interactivity big time versus earlier Silent Hill chapters. Reducing things to mostly walking and reading saline documents dwarfs what past titles achieved narratively by fusing story with actively engaging puzzles and combat. Where fans remember challenging fights and spine-tingling chases, this entry offers only brief fleeing segments diluted by tedious wandering in between.
For all its cool horror trappings, The Short Message fails building genuinely scary scenarios out of them. It clings tightly to nostalgia without earning it through compelling writing or varied gameplay. As a small bite meant reawakening interest, perhaps it works. But as a game standing shoulder-to-shoulder with revered predecessors, it falls woefully short. Here’s hoping lessons get learned to recapture that magic in the future.
Worth a Shot, But Proceed With Caution
So after over a decade without any new Silent Hill, does The Short Message hit the spot for horror fans jonesing for their fix? As a free, bite-sized peek at where Konami could take the series next, it’s arguably worth checking out. Temper those expectations though, because it introduces some cool ideas wrapped in uninspired execution.
The Short Message deserves credit for trying a more grounded, psychologically-driven narrative tackling relevant issues. Seeing iconic monsters and music return brought waves of nostalgia. Certain visual and audio elements came together wonderfully for bursts of dread and tension straight from the Team Silent glory years.
However, lackluster gameplay continually inhibited those high points. Walking simulator mechanics offered little actual interactivity besides reading text and memorizing maze layouts. The story and themes felt too rushed and clumsy as well, squandering opportunities to inject more nuance, character development or intrigue. Ultimately it failed recapturing what made pioneering franchise entries so special.
As a quick litmus test for Konami to gauge interest, perhaps it accomplishes that baseline goal. But The Short Message won’t dethrone classic Silent Hill memories. It plays things too safe while lacking the narrative punch or creative gameplay of forebears like Silent Hill 2. This first dip back into horror provides mild creepy fun if you temper hopes accordingly.
Moving forward, Konami hopefully learns from criticisms about playability, storytelling finesse and technical optimization. The Short Message lays some acceptable foundations. With more fine-tuning and risk-taking in future projects, the beloved franchise could return to form. For now, cautious fans might find 90 minutes of free scares worth their time, even if not reaching anywhere near its full scare potential after a 10+ year break.
Silent Hill: The Short Message
The Short Message aimed to revive Silent Hill after a long absence. It delivers fragments of the classic vibe through its visuals, audio and nods to earlier entries. For a free bite-sized horror romp, it gets certain elements right. However, lackluster gameplay, technical glitches and a clumsy story prevent it from recapturing the franchise's past greatness. As a proof of concept meant reawakening interest, perhaps it works. But as a standalone game, it rings hollow. The Short Message earns points for effort, but squanders its potential. Hopefully future Silent Hill projects build upon these baby steps in a bigger way.
- Strong horror atmosphere and classic Silent Hill aesthetic
- Haunting soundtrack by veteran composer Akira Yamaoka
- Interesting exploration of relevant psychological themes
- Main monster design offers some creepy moments
- Walking simulator gameplay lacks depth or interactivity
- Storytelling is clumsy and lacks nuance
- Framerate issues disrupt immersion
- Falls short of franchise's pedigree