If you managed to have a stealth launch of a brand-new Silent Hill game on your bingo card this year, then you’re either not telling us something, or you’re in cahoots with the folks over at Konami. Either way, I think I speak for everyone when I say this: Silent Hill: The Short Message was not—I repeat, not—on our to-do lists this month, nor was it a product that we even considered to be real, let alone fully playable and free-to-play at launch. But the fact still remains: Konami has, whilst remaining under the cover of darkness for the best part of several months, stealth released a short but surprisingly juicy addition to the Silent Hill saga — if only to butter us up ahead of the upcoming Silent Hill 2 Remake.
At first glance, it’s easy to paint The Short Message as something of a love letter to the long-lost P.T. that fell from the depths of Hideo Kojima’s mind just shy of a decade ago. It isn’t quite that, but it does incorporate a lot of the same bells and whistles — particularly with its tainted foes and settings and whatnot. But what more does it have to offer, aside from all of the signature trimmings of a traditional Silent Hill title? Let’s talk about it.
A Message to You, P.T.
Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room here: The Short Message — it looks a bit like P.T, right? Aside from the fact that there isn’t a fetus in a kitchen sink, or a slender woman hovering over a balcony, for that matter, the newest Silent Hill entry does, in all fairness, sport a lot of the same components. And that’s fine, truly, because at the end of the day, Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hills is never going to happen, so we’ll take what we’re given — even if, for the most part, each new vessel that comes to light is scarcely a footnote on its source’s legendary prowess. But you know, you can’t win ‘em all.
At its core, The Short Message is a first-person survival-horror game, and one that, in a true Silent Hill-like fashion, provides its audience with a short but oddly unforgettable delve into the opaque world of its titular setting. It isn’t quite Silent Hill, so don’t expect to be able to plunge into the thick of the fog and go toe to toe with a knife-wielding nurse or our old pal Pyramid Head.
No, this is a new story, and one that features an entirely different protagonist, setting, and, of course, antagonist. In other words, if you’re hoping to patch a few bridges ahead of Silent Hill f or Silent Hill Townfall, then you might want to consider an alternate route. With that said, it does offer a minor glimpse into what the future of the franchise could hold, so for the time being, I for one am looking to The Short Message as a platform that Konami will extract blood from for its future releases. But who knows?
Pull on My Heartstrings
The Short Message slumps you into the seemingly ill-fated boots of a young girl named Anita—a lonesome soul who, in an attempt to confront several of her inner demons, finds herself lost in a seemingly abandoned apartment complex. Bound to her phone, and following a virtual paper trail left out by one of her two friends, Maya, Anita sets out to confront her past—a timeline of troublesome memories that often revolve around her abusive childhood, and the constant need for validation in a world that is so evidently lenient toward those celebrated on the likes of social media and high school cliques.
As Anita, you’re essentially left to wander through the graffiti-stuffed corridors of the complex, all the while the odd text message occasionally appears on your phone from one of two people: Amelia, a girl who’s hell-bent on comforting you, oblivious to the fact that you’re lost in an ashen realm that shows no signs of allowing you to escape; and Maya, a Queen Bee, of sorts, who asks only that you “find it.” But as it turns out, Maya died several moons prior to your arrival at the complex, which means, in short, you’re either talking to a ghost, or something slightly more sinister.
The Short Message taps into a number of themes, with the most obvious being anxiety, depression, and suicide. The game, which transpired over ninety or so minutes, invites you to not only hear the struggles coursing through Anita’s head, but relive them over a series of flashbacks and cinematic tearaways. It’s certainly dark in places, but it does touch base on an issue that’s been plaguing generations for several decades: the need to feel loved in a world where only the socially dominant blossom and thrive.
Verse After Verse
Speaking of blossoming, The Short Message does, being a horror game at heart, feature an antagonist—a cherry blossom-sporting creature who happens to stalk your footsteps as you progress deeper into Anita’s memories and the misty depths of the complex. Aside from the demonic foe chasing you down the odd corridor—a line that often transforms and bends into a number of different rooms, basements, and dungeons—there are also a selection of other things on your to-do list, such as finding pieces of memorabilia pertaining to your past, and old graffiti tags that chronicle the history of Maya—a devoted artist who also happened to refer to herself as Cherry Blossom before falling to her death.
Gameplay in The Short Message is all rather simple: examine one room, and move on to the next, all while searching for fragments that’ll help nudge you a little closer towards answering that all-important question: who is Maya, and where is she leading you? In order to breach the walls of your psyche, you must decipher the texts on your phone, and uncover the “it” that Maya often spams you with. For the sake of hiding a few spoilers, though, we’ll keep the “it” under wraps.
The Short Message is a story-driven game above all else, so if you were hoping to spend more time fleeing from enemies and swinging pipes at faceless creatures, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. Fact is, a solid seventy percent of The Short Message is, oddly enough, made up of short cinematic sequences and deep passages built around drawn-out scripts and monologues. Not that this a bad thing, mind you. However, it isn’t going to be for everyone’s benefit — especially if you’re hot off the scent of Silent Hill 2 and its other action-oriented counterparts.
While it’s certainly no P.T., The Short Message does manage to tap into several of its biggest strengths and manipulate them into something else entirely—a love letter, of sorts, that’s mainly comprised of fairly well-written verses and a moral that’s surprisingly easy to digest. Sure, it could’ve been more, but for a ninety-minute expansion that just so happens to be free-to-play, it’s also difficult to shoot it down as mere filler for a much bigger and far more ambitious project. It’s passable, all things considered, and it serves its purpose of providing its audience with a brief glimpse into one of the many, many devilish aspects of the Silent Hill universe, and does so by introducing raw materials and a couple of familiar designs that’ll make any die-hard fan of the series glimmer in pride.
As luck would have it, The Short Message does, in fact, benefit from its smooth gameplay mechanics and compelling voiceovers. And whilst it does often lose its flow to questionably placed text messages and schools of thought, everything does manage to culminate in a punchline that’s both memorable and informative. It isn’t a traditional Silent Hill experience, but it does bear its own identity.
If you’re able to wipe away the fact that this is not P.T., but rather a standalone horror with its own heartbeat and moral compass, then you should, in all fairness, be able to enjoy most of the items it has to offer. For those still drawn to the memories of a half-finished project that’ll never get a full release, however, it’s certainly not worth putting all of your eggs into one basket. Or, in this case, The Short Message. It’ll scratch an itch or two — but it won’t neutralize the heartache left behind by Silent Hills’ brief existence.
Silent Hill: The Short Message Review (PlayStation 5)
The Short Message isn’t a traditional Silent Hill game, but it is, on the other hand, a worthy adversary that’s capable of standing on its own two feet. It’s undeniably short, but its message certainly speaks volumes, and it serves as a brutal reminder that, win or lose, there is always an inner demon waiting on the other side of the quill.