top of page

Review: Silent Hill: The Short Message (2024)

By Dominique Weldon


An attempt to reclaim psychological horror acclaim, Silent Hill: The Short Message is Konami’s take on horror gaming in the digital age.



To gamers, there’s little more exciting than a gaming showcase. During these online presentations, publishers share video trailers, gameplay, and information on upcoming games to instill interest and anticipation within the gaming community. Therefore, myself and many others were eager to watch the PlayStation State of Playback in January. While several intriguing games were featured, including Death Stranding 2, Dragon’s Dogma II, and Sonic x Shadow Generations, what captured the attention of many viewers were the Silent Hill presentations.


The Silent Hill series is a classic franchise that forever changed the landscape of the horror genre. The series was at the height of popularity during the early 2000s, and to this day, many horror fans deem the original Silent Hill trilogy a psychological masterpiece due to the games’ compelling plots, uncanny settings, and intentional characterization. Sadly, the franchise is now considered less impactful since many recent Silent Hill games are heavy-handed in their themes and storylines. In fact, many fans consider P.T (2014) the last enjoyable Silent Hill game.


The playable teaser, P.T, was a demo for an upcoming Silent Hill game directed by Hideo Kojima, creator of the world-known Metal Gear franchise. Horror gamers frequently consider P.T as the most terrifying game to ever exist. While I would encourage every horror fan to play P.T, it is sadly difficult to access since it was removed from the virtual PlayStation 4 store upon the full game’s cancellation. What makes the cancellation of the full game all the more painful is that there hasn’t been another Silent Hill game for consoles since P.T, the only other attempt at a Silent Hill game being Ascension, a “playable” TV show filled with repetitive episodes and micro-transactions, at least not until Silent Hill: The Short Message was announced and released during the January PlayStation State of Play.


What’s surprising about Silent Hill: The Short Message is that few people expected this game, despite several rumors of the game’s existence. After all, most viewers believed the presentation would solely center on Silent Hill 2 Remake, a game many wait for with bated breath, due to its poorly received trailers. However, it seems that the game’s publisher, Konami, wanted to provide fans with another game while Silent Hill 2 Remake remains in development. The Short Message is not only free but was available to play the very same day as the PlayStation State of Play, so I, along with many others gave the game a try.




Silent Hill: The Short Message is approximately a two-hour long, first-person game. Our hero, Anita, is a teenage girl who lives not in Silent Hill, the series titular town, but in Kettenstadt, Germany, which translates to “Chain City.” She travels to an abandoned building that local graffiti artists use as studio space, planning to meet with her artist friend Maya. However, while Anita is outside of the building, the game suddenly cuts to black, and she awakens inside a small, dark room located inside the building. She travels through graffiti-covered rooms and constricting hallways with her phone in hand in desperate search for Maya, who is somewhere inside. As the game continues, we learn more about Anita and her friends Maya and Amalie, who we text throughout the game.


As for the gameplay itself, The Short Message is mostly a walking simulator, meaning the player travels throughout the setting and typically doesn’t use a weapon to engage in combat. Walking simulators have become rather common in horror games since the 2010s; although, the original Silent Hill games were not considered walking simulators, since those games had enemies that players could kill with acquired weapons. Therefore, it was good to see that The Short Message contained other gameplay styles. While Anita never engaged in combat, she did enter several labyrinth sections, in which the player needs to run from a mysterious creature covered barbed wire and Sakura blossoms.


Even though The Short Message received some middling feedback, it’s important to mention the game’s strengths to provide a balanced review. One of those strengths is the effective design of the Sakura creature. A major theme in the game is girlhood. The Short Message recognizes that girlhood is much more than its stereotypical soft and gentle depiction. Therefore, this towering feminine creature wrapped in wire and Sakura blossoms fully encompasses the conflicting elements of girlhood. Then again, the creature is designed by legendary illustrator Masahiro Ito, the individual who created the iconic creature Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2. Thus, it is no surprise that the creature in this game is frightening as well and mirrors the game’s unsettling setting. The music also strengthens the game’s horror elements, for the score was created by the famous composure Akira Yamaoka, who is unquestionably talented at creating haunting soundtracks. For those who are curious as to what makes an eerie OST, please take a listen to the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack below.



Lastly, I do appreciate that the developer, Konami, created a true Silent Hill game. After the release of the previously mentioned Silent Hill Ascension last year, it was pleasant to see a video game company create playable games.


While my praises for the game ends here, several online reviewers and critics have shared their appreciation of The Short Message’s subject matter. The game deeply examines serious topics that are often avoided within video games, including suicide, self-harm, bullying, and child abuse. Thankfully, this game has plenty of content warnings, which is appreciated and needed, and everyone should consider these content warnings before watching or playing the game. Therefore, I appreciate the attempt at a serious game and its return to origins since the Silent Hill series is known for examining the complexity of humanity.


At the same time, The Short Message focuses on suicide and other serious subjects without providing the care those topics deserve. We see instances of this lack of care through the dialogue, which is not only heavy-handed but delivered in a cheesy manner, minimizing the plot’s gravity. The lackluster dialogue was present throughout the game’s short length of approximately two hours. Of course, many films and TV shows handle such topics in a short amount of time; however, this game was unable to fully utilize that time. If this game was given more room to breathe, there could have been the potential to develop the characters, their struggles, and the tension, which was highly needed to make the ending work. While I will not spoil the ending, I will say that it is unearned. I don’t believe something as complicated as suicide be wrapped up in such a short, sweet bow. Although, my biggest concern with the game is the lack of repercussions towards the latter half of the story. Some of our characters behave in what would be considered harmful, and we don’t see repercussions regarding their behavior, which may leave a bad taste in the mouths of many players.


With those criticisms in mind, I struggle to recommend this game to others. Of course, The Short Message is free and that may be enough for some of you to give it a try. If that is the case and if you have the time, then by all means, check it out. However, despite the non-existent price tag, the carelessness of the plot and the flatness of the characters, I feel like many players would be better off purchasing another title that handles these subjects with care.


This leaves me questioning the fate of the Silent Hill series. The Short Message was done in-house, and if the games created by Konami themselves are this lackluster and careless, I worry about the franchise of what many used to consider a superb psychological horror series. Hopefully, Konami will learn from the feedback The Short Message received from fans, especially since Silent Hill 2 Remake does not have a date yet. There may still be time for Silent Hill 2 Remake to be tweaked and polished, allowing fans to re-experience the series' brilliance.


 

About the Writer:

Dominique Weldon is a Black biracial writer based in Indianapolis, IN. She is a first-generation college graduate of the University of Iowa and received her MFA in Fiction from Butler University. Her work appears in Lover’s Eye Press and DarkWinter Literary Magazine. Currently, she reads fiction for Split Lip Magazine and writes for Erato Magazine. Find her online at www.dominiquekweldon.com

Comments


bottom of page