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Silent Hill: The Short Message - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Earnest look into teenage mental health and self-harm
  • Criticism of social media addiction
  • Heart is in the right place
  • It's free!

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Overly blunt and heavy-handed
  • Laughable connection to Silent Hill
  • Chase mazes can be annoying
  • Retreading increasingly-tired horror tropes

Overall Impression : C-
Hope and optimism in the face of depression
isn't enough to carry this game.

Silent Hill: The Short Message - cover

Developer:
HexaDrive

Publisher:
Konami

Platforms:
PlayStation 5 (via PSN digital download)

MSRP: FREE

Original release date:
31 January 2024

Genre:
psychological horror

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
2 hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood, Strong Language, Violence
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating: mature teens, because of:
explicit references to suicide, self-harm, domestic abuse, bullying, and depression.

Official site:
www.konami.com/games/silenthill/tsm/us/en/

Silent Hill: The Short Message is a first-person horror game about wandering through looping, decrepit hallways in an abandoned apartment building, while confronting a secret, repressed guilt. And stop me if you've heard any of this before.

Silent Hill used to be a series that innovated, that pushed the envelope. The first game basically introduced the video-game-playing public to the concept of psychological horror. The second polished the formula to introspective perfection, while also providing a template for a plot twist that would be repeated in (what feels like) every horror game since -- at least the ones not named Resident Evil. Even action-oriented games like Dead Space ripped off Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill 3 introduced gamers to a teenage girl protagonist who actually felt like a real person, instead of being a hyper-sexualized "boob ninja" in a bikini or skin-tight catsuit, while also providing jaw-dropping technical accomplishments. The moving, bleeding, living environmental textures of Silent Hill 3's Otherworld amazing and un-precedented at the time. And it's character models and lighting looked better than many games that would be released on the following generation of consoles.

Hideo Kojima's playable teaser P.T. spawned a cohort of horror games ripping off the formula of first-person looping hallway horrors, of which The Short Message is only the latest example. And heck, even P.T. was really only popularizing horror conventions that Silent Hill 4 had already started experimenting with a decade earlier.

This is a blunt and earnest depiction of teen depression, self-harm, and suicide.

The Short Message, on the other hand, is largely a retreading of horror gaming tropes that are quickly becoming tired and stale. The looping hallways were mind-blowing back when P.T. did it -- ten years ago. But I've seen it in seemingly every horror game since, from Layers of Fear to Visage to MadIson.

It isn't just general horror trends that The Short Message is retreading either. It's also invoking well-worn and frustrating habits that the Silent Hill series just refused to break in its never-ending quest to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle that was Silent Hill 2. The character's repressed guilt being hidden from the player and revealed as a mid or late-game plot twist? Check. The person you're looking for being dead already? Check. Silent Hill acting as a purgatory that seems to be willfully trapping people until they confront and overcome aforementioned guilt? Check.

The heaviest, bluntest hammer Konami could find

One thing that The Short Message doesn't bother to copy from its ancestors is the subtlety and nuance that Silent Hill used to be famous for. The Short Message is unbelievably heavy-handed, blunt, and melo-dramatic. This is owing, in large part, to trepidation from Konami and/or developer HexaDrive about how to depict the game's subject matter: teen depression, self-harm, and suicide. It's a touchy subject, for sure. One has to give credit to Konami and HexaDrive for so directly addressing an issue that most game publishers and developers won't touch with a 20-foot pole.

HexaDrive's depiction of mental illness is not
as hopeless and fatalistic as Bloober's.

But this is also where The Short Message lands on one of its greatest strengths. It's blunt depiction of teen suicide is at least a hopeful and optimistic one -- one that is also grounded based on the very real social and technological issues that often motivate or catalyze real-life self-harm and suicide by actual teenagers. And this is not something that we should overlook in discussion of The Short Message. It's almost the polar opposite of how Team Bloober (the company that is developing the Silent Hill 2 remake) has historically treated the same topic. Bloober has always shown abuse victims as totally, fundamentally broken individuals for whom death or suicide is a welcome release that spares the world from their burden.

In contrast to Bloober, The Short Message wants depressed teens to know that they are not broken, that they can get help, and that there are people out there who care about them and would miss them and would be there for them in their times of need. The Short Message wants people to know that recognizing the red flags, and talking to the person can save their life, and that, for the depressed individual, things will get better.

If nothing else, The Short Message has its heart in the right place.

And let's face it, teenagers aren't exactly known for subtlety or nuance. Teenagers do tend to blow things out of proportion and be melo-dramatic. So it's hard for me to hold The Short Message's overly-blunt and melo-dramatic dialogue against it. Yeah it's cringe-worthy at times, but it's cringey in exactly the way that real-life teenagers are often cringey. There might also be more intentionality behind the blunt, cringey dialogue than is apparent at the surface level. Does the heavy-handed and cringey dialogue represent the literal events as they actually happened? Or are we seeing the world as the teenage character sees it?

The Silent Hill Phenomenon

The Short Message also tries to connect itself to the wider Silent Hill mythos in an incredibly cheap and flimsy way. In addition to treating Silent Hill as a purgatory that refuses to let people leave until they confront their guilt, it's also now some kind of psychological illness that people just catch. This is, of course, not how the original games worked at all. According to The Short Message, the horror of Silent Hill isn't some mystical power that emanates from the lake and gives physical form to people's subconscious desires and fears. It's a "brain fog" now that can affect anybody, anywhere, and locks them in their worst nightmare.

So Silent Hill's supernatural power is just mental illness now?

It might also be related to COVID? Economic anxiety from the COVID pandemic is probably the next biggest theme of the game after the suicide and bullying. It makes me wonder if this game and the upcoming Silent Hill f are going to establish that the worldwide anxiety and fear from COVID caused the powers of Silent Hill to spread around the globe.

Needless to say, The Short Message does not take place in Silent Hill, nor in Maine, nor in the United States. It takes place in a fictional town in Germany called Kettenstadt. The apartment complex that makes up the setting of the game was supposed to be the subject of an economic revitalization effort, but the COVID pandemic shut that down. Now, the building is condemned.

This sucks. I get that it's hard to keep coming up with increasingly-contrived ways to set the game in or around Silent Hill. I have no problems with having other settings, but I would have preferred if the games would just establish that whatever power affects Silent Hill also happens naturally in other places. I was expecting that Silent Hill f would establish exactly such a thing, that maybe there are other lakes that also manifest nightmares. Events like those of the original Silent Hill games could happen anywhere, to anyone, and the possibility space for future games would be near endless.

Instead, this "Silent Hill Phenomenon" is a sort of "brain fog" that will only serve to limit the narrative possibilities for future games. It further reinforces that Silent Hill only affects people who are guilty and have baggage to resolve, which will only lead to an endless parade of stories derivative of Silent Hill 2, Homecoming, and Downpour. Stories like those in the first, third, or fourth games simply won't be compatible with this new version of Silent Hills' supernatural power. Heck, these documents even suggest that the fog isn't even real, that even the fog is a figment of people's imaginations.

But then there's also a bunch of stuff about a witch who may have cursed the town. So I really don't know where they're trying to go with this. Maybe there will be more stuff about occultism or witchcraft in later games?

Are there actual witches, or is this all in people's imaginations?

Honestly, if Konami had dropped the "Silent Hill" title, and just released the game as "The Short Message", and prominently advertised Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka's involvement, I'd have played it, and might be more favorable towards it.

Chased through blind mazes

The Short Message doesn't do itself many favors with gameplay either. There are a few neat moments and set pieces, but the only gameplay challenge is an Otherworld maze in which the player is chased by the Cherry Blossom monster. The mazes loop, and the monster can spawn in front of the player, forcing you to have to backtrack and take an alternate route. The first couple times through the maze seemed fine. There were paths that looped back around each other, and any time the monster spawned in front of me, I could circle back, and take one of the looping side paths to get to the other side of the monster.

Later in the game, however, the paths actually lead to dead ends. If you run into these dead ends (which I did multiple times), you have absolutely no recourse and will die and have to restart the maze. The mazes start out benign, but get annoying by the end of the game. They're also very dimly lit, and so it's kind of hard to see where you're going, let alone take in any of the environmental details.

Chase sequences start to really suck by the end of the game.

There's also a few "puzzles". but they barely qualify as puzzles. The closest thing to a real puzzle in the game was in a school hallway. The solution to a locker combination was literally painted on the wall, and the player only needs to put the numbers in the right order. I did it by accident on the first try, just entering them in the order I saw them. The actual solution isn't all that much more challenging.

The game does look pretty good overall. The models and textures are good, and the environment does feel appropriately menacing. All the graffiti on the walls, combined with tricks of the light, narrow corridors, and tight corners can lead to some cheap little scares. Sometimes, there's humanoid figures or demons painted on the walls, which might cause a bit of a startle as you sweep your flashlight across a room, or if you open a door or turn a corner to come face-to-face with one.

Other than that, there's not much in the way of genuine scares. Most of the "horror" of the game is in knowing that the protagonist is prone to self harm and suicidal thoughts, and the tension that comes along with hoping that she doesn't give in to her worst thoughts and urges.

A gesture of good faith?

I can't really be too hard on The Short Message. It's price point and length are un-beatable. It's no longer than a movie, and is absolutely free. Konami is offering this game for free. And when I say, "free", I don't mean, like, what we usually mean when we say "free to play". There's no micro-transactions, or loot boxes, or any in-game purchases of any kind. It's also not a mere demo or trailer or shovel-ware. It's a full game (albeit a 2 or 3 hour one), telling a complete and competently-told story, with fairly high production value, without asking for a single penny from the player.

It's almost impossible to believe after years of Konami basically saying "fuck you" to all the fans of its video games (whether Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Contra, or any of their other IPs), but The Short Message feels like it might be an honest and earnest gesture of good faith from a company that has acted with nothing but malice towards its consumers for over a decade.

It still doesn't imbue me with optimism regarding the series' future, or Konami's ability to adequately manage it -- even with Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka's involvement.

I really hope Konami will stop trying to chase Silent Hill 2's success, and do something more original.

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Comments (1) -

02/05/2024 16:46:34 #

I'm getting really sick of Konami repackaging and reselling Silent Hill 2 with a different name every few years.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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