Back in the day, the original Silent Hill was the reason I was desperate to get my hands on a PS1 of my own. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat for countless hours, patrolling its grim, mist-filled streets and tentatively walking its nightmarish hallways.
When Silent Hill 2 was released on the PS2, I went with a friend to our local Blockbuster to rent it out for the weekend. We ended up playing through the whole thing in a single day, thanks to a trusty walkthrough that we followed to the letter. Both of us letting out a sigh of relief each time we handed the controller over to the other person, for their next turn.
I’ve been hooked on the series ever since, despite not being a huge fan of horror games, and have hoovered up most of the subsequent games (barring Silent Hill: Book of Memories on the PS Vita) during the intervening years.
So, when I discovered that a new PS5 exclusive Silent Hill game was being released on January 31st, and FOR FREE no less, I downloaded it, grabbed a spare pair of underpants (just in case), and got stuck in.
Player Discretion is Advised
The first thing that strikes you when you boot up Silent Hill: The Short Message for the first time is the on-screen warning that the game features themes of suicide, self-harm, and bullying.
Player discretion is advised. This is not one for younger gamers and is rated 15 for a reason. However, tapping into these very modern and very troubling themes gives The Short Message a relevance that transcends the usual spooky-things-happening-in-a-spooky-place nature of most horror games.
This is a first-person psychological horror game that centers around a teenage protagonist, Anita, as she searches for her missing friend Maya inside a dilapidated and abandoned apartment block.
With your trusty phone to light your way, you begin your search through the maze-like corridors of this deserted apartment, which we learn through flashbacks has become the site for several teenage suicides.
Short Messages Tell a Story
As you delve deeper into the building, you’ll receive text messages from your friend Amelie, as well as more mysterious messages from Maya, who seems to be aware you are searching for her.
In this story, Maya is a popular graffiti artist who has built up a dedicated social media following, and you’ll see examples of her work adorning the walls of the building, as you tread through its cavernous halls.
In a creepy twist, The Short Message’s flashbacks show Maya depicted in live-action footage, standing by examples of her work, reciting inspirational dialogue about the value of self, and the strength of one’s personality.
This works brilliantly. It’s surprising, weird, and more than a little creepy. It also reinforces the reverence that Anita has for Maya, as well as exposing the resentment she harbors towards her success and popularity.
As it transpires, Anita is riddled with self-doubt and fear, feeling unpopular and unworthy of anyone’s praise or adoration. As the story unfolds, you’ll see walls lined with sticky notes, on which harmful and hurtful messages have been scribbled.
These messages often involve violent and hateful language and can feel overwhelming to endure as you play through the game. It’s a very clever way to integrate the game’s environment into the story, and it really helps make the central message about self-worth hit home.
There’s a Monster Here! You OK?
There’s no combat in Silent Hill: The Short Message. As Anita, you are armed solely with the light from your smartphone.
During most of the campaign, you’re free to soak up the atmosphere at your own pace, but at certain points in the narrative, a familiar (and terrifying) crackle takes up, and you’ll find yourself being hunted by a monster.
With no way to defend yourself, you’re left with one option, and one option only – RUN.
If you let this monster catch you, you’re toast. A rewind mechanic will transport Anita back to the last point in the game before the pursuit is triggered. You can try and try again, until you manage to scramble your way to the next safe zone, kickstarting the next sequence in the story.
The monster itself is unique to The Short Message, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a Silent Hill title before. Without spoiling it for anybody, it is both beautiful and terrifying, and an effective manifestation of the real-life horrors that haunt and pursue Anita.
These sequences are tense and scary – the first couple of times.
Once you’ve tried – and failed – to get away from the monster, and you get harmlessly sent back to the previous point, it does rather extinguish the good work that’s gone into building that vibe of claustrophobic terror.
Knowing that you can try, and try again if you don’t first succeed, does, unfortunately, dial down the tension here, and can make some of these sequences feel a bit flat. Which is a shame.
However, the creature creation here is superb, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best (i.e. most horrific) monsters to ever grace a Silent Hill game. And though subsequent encounters will feel steadily less frightening, it’s fair to say that the first time this thing pops out, you’ll probably jump a clear foot out of your seat.
A Message Worth Sharing
What happened to Maya? What will happen to Anita? That’s for you to find out, and not for me to spoil here.
At around two hours, Silent Hill: The Short Message doesn’t require a big investment of your time to complete. It’s dripping with atmosphere, from the brilliant dingy visuals to the tense soundtrack.
At its heart, The Short Message is about valuing oneself, even in the face of conflict or discouraging remarks from others. It’s about knowing your own importance, and the importance of those around you, and not letting self-doubt creep in through the walls of your mind.
It’s OK to be yourself, and it’s OK to be different. Everyone is valuable and everyone is important. And even if you reach the point where you think nobody cares, there are always other people who are willing to listen and help, and people you can turn to.
Don’t scramble around in the dark, trying to find your way through the maze all alone. Reach out, talk to other people, and find a way through together.
It’s a truly worthy message and one that is brilliantly executed in the format of this horror game. Some of the world’s worst horrors come from within, and sometimes being alone is the most terrifying place of all that you can be.
The fact that such a dark subject matter is dealt with with such sensitivity is to Silent Hill: The Short Message’s credit.
Everyone with a PS5 should download this game, play it, and then hug their loved ones afterward.
This was a brief, but effective slice of horror from Konami, and a tantalizing glimpse at what could be in store for the franchise in the future.