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Silent Hill: The Short Message Review


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Summary

  • Silent Hill: The Short Message is a free, first-person horror game that explores themes of self-harm, suicide, and abuse.
  • The gameplay in The Short Message is not groundbreaking, but the story is handled well and has the potential to engage players.
  • The game effectively incorporates modern elements, such as text messages and references to the COVID-19 pandemic, while also featuring the involvement of original Team Silent members.


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Silent Hill: The Short Message is heavily themed around self-harm, suicide, and abuse, and it is impossible to discuss the game without also talking about these points in some detail. Reader discretion is encouraged.

Konami’s Silent Hill: The Short Message is the company’s first real attempt to return to the series since Hideo Kojima’s P.T. experiment (ignoring, as everyone should, Silent Hill: Ascension), and serves as an interesting parallel to what came before. P.T. was originally billed as a demo for an unnamed game from 7780s Studio, a fictional game company that never existed, and quietly appeared on the PlayStation Store with little fanfare. It wasn’t until players had completed P.T. that they even learned they had just played part of a new Silent Hill game.

Conversely, Silent Hill: The Short Message was dropped as part of PlayStation’s State of Play January 2024 event alongside a “combat trailer” for the planned remake of Silent Hill 2. It’s a complete, short, free, first-person horror experience PS5 owners can download from the PS Store (just like P.T.) and even evokes similar imagery early on – cockroaches, a bloody bathroom, and slightly stuttering door opening animations which give the impression something is being loaded in off-screen. It’s also far less subtle, to varying degrees of effectiveness.


Stating the Obvious Up Front

Silent Hill The Short Message Game Poster

Silent Hill: The Short Message

Silent Hill: The Short Message is a free, brief look at modern SH potential.

Pros

  • Story is handled well and has potential
  • PT comparisons are mostly favorable
Cons

  • Gameplay isn’t as groundbreaking as one might hope

With The Short Message, it is clear one of Konami’s main goals is to update the world of Silent Hill to exist in the modern day. This doesn’t just mean most of the in-game conversations happen through text messages, although they do, but it also includes inserting recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic directly into its narrative. The game places players in the role of Anita, a teenager who is looking for her friend Maya in an abandoned apartment complex. The complex isn’t in the town of Silent Hill though, it’s in a fictional German city called Kettenstadt (which Google Translate says means “Chain City”).

Why call it Silent Hill at all then, apart from brand recognition? It helps that members of the original Team Silent are involved (Masahiro Ito did creature design and Akaira Yamaoka composed the music for The Short Message), but throughout the experience there’s a nagging sensation that this could have been called anything else. At first glance, Silent Hill: The Short Message really feels like it wants to be P.T. by way of Resident Evil 7 & RE8, which makes the fact that the end result is more Life is Strange than anything else even more interesting.

What The Short Message Is

Two Gameplay Types To Observe

Silent Hill: The Short Message consists of two main kinds of gameplay which are swapped between at various points throughout the story. The first is a “run away from the scary monster” chase sequence, which sees the player transported to an alternate dimension version of the apartment building called the Otherworld. In the Otherworld there is a disturbing monster with a head covered in cherry blossoms and wrapped with barbed wire who is constantly chasing Anita, and if the player gets too close they are caught, killed, and must begin the whole sequence over again.

This is nothing unique to horror games of the past decade, but at least Ito’s designs, as always, look gloriously disturbing here. The second kind of gameplay Silent Hill: The Short Message includes are fairly standard first-person walking around exploration segments. The player has no real inventory, only a cell phone which pulls triple duty as a communications device, a flashlight, and the menu screen you use to re-read any of the many, many documents found in the environment. The controls consist of being able to look behind yourself with L1 or R1, squint and zoom in to something far away with R3, and the ability to walk with the left stick. Everything else is relegated to contextual X button presses.

For a free game that shows the first glimpse of what Konami is truly going to do with the franchise, Silent Hill: The Short Message is absolutely worth experiencing.

The Short Message, when it isn’t showing animated human faces, looks fantastic. The transition effects from the normal world to the Otherworld in particular are impressive, with normal hallways suddenly fluttering to life like a stadium full of people performing a wave with massive eyeball posters. It also makes heavy use of FMV sequences, typically for flashbacks, in a way that makes these moments feel (likely deliberately) somewhat detached from the characters in the game proper. Given how Anita looks and animates in the cutscenes where the player is no longer in first-person, this is probably for the best.

Unreliable Expectations

Story Effectiveness & Implementation

Cherry Blossom Monster in Silent Hill The Short Message

Silent Hill: The Short Message has something to say. In a PlayStation blog post accompanying the game’s launch, producer Motoi Okamoto stated that the team “... ended up looking at how modern youth communicate online and through phones, and the role that could play in a psychological horror story.” There is a moment early on in The Short Message where Anita stares at her friend’s social media page and laments the fact that she’s gaining followers while Anita herself keeps losing them. Nasty comments from strangers, trolls, and from people she trusted appear both on her screen and in the graffiti and post-it notes that cover the apartment complex’s walls.

It’s a story about how small things can build over time, how people become overwhelmed but hide their fears and frustrations from others, how just because someone looks like they have their life together it doesn’t mean they actually do. It’s a story about characters and consequences, and about suicide and struggling to stay out of the spiral suicidal thoughts can bring on. It’s about how one form of trauma can beget another even when we try hard to keep that from happening, and, because this story has a Silent Hill in the title, there’s also one slightly frustrating puzzle section that seems thrown in just for the sake of including a bit of actual gameplay.

How well it handles these topics will vary depending on a person’s own relationship with them. For what it’s worth, as someone who struggled with suicide for the first two decades of my life, I thought Silent Hill: The Short Message ultimately did a good job in both its depiction and its overall message regarding the issue. It’s a shame the gameplay didn’t offer much on top of that.

A Short Message On Silent Hill

A Strong Start For New SH

Silent Hill A Short Message Logo

For a free game that shows the first glimpse of what Konami is truly going to do with the franchise, Silent Hill: The Short Message is absolutely worth experiencing. That’s not to say it’s perfect. The “walk around and find the only interactable object in the room” gameplay brings nothing new to the table, and after being caught by the monster two or three times the escape room segments become far more tedious than they do scary (especially the final one). The dialog is a bit too on-the-nose, and all the social media references that seemed pretty important in the beginning are quietly shoved to the side once the real story reveals itself. That all being said, it’s a far better start than it could have been, and it is undeniably the best new Silent Hill media since 2014.

Silent Hill: The Short Message is available to download for PS5 owners for free on the PlayStation Store.

Silent Hill The Short Message Game Poster

Silent Hill: The Short Message

Released
January 31, 2024

Genre(s)
Survival Horror

ESRB
M

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