It’s been over a year since the Silent Hill Transmission stream, where Konami revealed that the franchise is back. However, amid the new titles, Bloober Team’s remake and that one interactive TV show we’ll never speak of, some wondered about the Silent Hill game that leaked earlier that year. It was reportedly meant to be released in 2021 but was delayed due to the pandemic. However, several rating board listings indicated it still lived, and finally, at the recent State of Play, Silent Hill: The Short Message launched, free to play on PS5.
It’s not very long, clocking in at about an hour and a half with some retries, and will likely invite comparisons to Kojima Productions’ P.T. due to its first-person perspective. The Short Message is aiming for a more self-contained narrative, though, and tackles other heavy material like suicide, bullying, self-harm and child abuse. While these topics are handled relatively well, with the appropriate seriousness, the overall narrative can get a little too heavy-handed.
"Like P.T., players will revisit the same rooms, with some new ones opening up over subsequent chapters, before the conclusion."
The Short Message starts with Anita, a teenager who pens a letter to her adult self about how humans should be self-sufficient and not rely on others. She’s not a lone wolf, though – if anything, she really wants to be noticed by other people, especially Maya, a talented graffiti artist who goes by the moniker C.B. (short for Cherry Blossom). The latter paints the girls’ scars as cherry blossoms and wants to capture the feelings they’re holding inside.
By comparison, Anita is constantly made fun of and abused, both for her art and general appearance. It may seem like the grass is greener on the other side for Maya, but she also faces issues and bottles it all up inside without telling anyone.
After witnessing a mysterious fog (hint, hint), Anita awakens at an abandoned apartment complex with no memory of how she got there, and events take a strange turn. Maya messages her about meeting up, but a monster stalks Anita through the hallways. Multitudes of notes also cover the walls, insulting and abusing her. The worst part is that she can’t leave until she finds “it,” per Maya. What is “it”? “It” is what you have to find, and you’ll be reminded of that a fair bit.
A decent chunk of the narrative is revealed in live-action sequences as Anita struggles to remember things, much less her reason for being there. It’s all set against the backdrop of a city facing industrial decline after rebuilding efforts fell through due to the pandemic, the negative effects of teenagers seeking approval online and rising suicide rates. Like P.T., players will revisit the same rooms, with some new ones opening up over subsequent chapters, before the conclusion.
"Some scenes will hit you, while others feel like they’re a bit too obvious in why Anita must endure this purgatory."
The problem, especially in a supposed psychological horror title, is that some dialogues feel unnecessary. In one chase sequence where Anita flees for her life, she pleads for someone to notice her. Sure, it fits with her overall thinking in the chapter but otherwise, it feels awkward when she’s trying desperately to stay alive. Some scenes will hit you, while others feel like they’re a bit too obvious in why Anita must endure this purgatory.
Still, Fadile Waked does well as the protagonist. Some lines can feel uneven or stiff, but she delivers on the more emotional moments. Haruka Sakaguchi, who plays Maya, does a fantastic job in the live-action sequences, exuding an air of mystery and that inner sadness which threatens to burst out. However, the lip-syncing on her lines doesn’t quite match in many circumstances – it’s probably because her dialogues were originally recorded in Japanese. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it can look odd when you stop and notice.
Debora Uehara, who plays Amelie, also does a good job as the supportive friend fighting her own personal battles to get through the days. One other performance stands out, but not in the best way. It’s almost comical due to the dialogue and delivery. Thankfully, the plot gets back on track soon after.
Despite how confined the apartment complex can be, it’s meticulously detailed, whether it’s the oodles of graffiti adorning the walls or the trash and rubbish filling the hallways. Unreal Engine 5 shines here, showcasing sharp textures, atmospherics and great lighting and shadows. When Anita uses her phone to illuminate the surroundings, it comes across as natural. Even the particle effects are worth noting, particularly in the more harrowing sequences, and the music is also pretty good (especially the credits song). The downside is that the experience is very restrictive.
"That being said, there aren’t any survival horror elements – dying in the chases will take you right back to before they began. There’s also no real threat or danger outside those, diminishing some tension."
Konami and developer Hexadrive clearly wanted to focus on the narrative above all else. It captures that oppressive Silent Hill atmosphere as it transfers seamlessly from the rundown complex to a pristine school hallway or into a well-kept home steadily following into neglect. However, the gameplay is little more than a walking simulator in the strictest sense of the term (except for the places where you’re required to run).
There’s only one puzzle to speak of, and it involves something as simple as searching for a few brightly colored numbers on the walls and ceiling. Much of the title sees you looking at things, reading and interacting with graffiti and art. It’s not like I expected combat, especially in a free title like this, but even P.T. had a bit more exploration-focused puzzles. There also aren’t many scares – perhaps two or three overall.
It’s a given when considering the game’s length, but more down to the focus on atmosphere and narrative. I would settle for a few effective scares, coupled with some macabre discoveries, rather than unnecessary jump scares every other minute. That being said, there aren’t any survival horror elements – dying in the chases will take you right back to before they began. There’s also no real threat or danger outside those, diminishing some tension.
Silent Hill: The Short Message comes across as many things. It’s an earnest message to those with suicidal thoughts to seek help and for other people to try and talk to them if they sense something is wrong. It’s also an Unreal Engine 5 showcase of sorts while reflecting the stories that Konami wants to tell. On top of that, it feels like an introduction to the world of Silent Hill for potential newcomers, focusing more on the general theme without having to delve into the extensive lore.
"Silent Hill: The Short Message has some shortcomings, but as a compact title and a beginning for things to come, it’s solid and worth experiencing."
It could also be viewed as a means to explain how other titles could embody Silent Hill. This is best seen in a little newspaper explaining the fog, referring to it as the “Silent Hill Phenomenon” after the titular town. It’s described as representing uncertainty and “sensory illusions” for those who are psychologically unstable, and how when they experience “high stress,” their vision may become “obscured or tunneled.” “Social uncertainty or apprehension about the future manifests as fog, thus blurring the lines between illusion and reality.”
It also teases that as time goes on, “more and more cases of the Silent Hill Phenomenon” are seen. A “rapid rebuilding of society” with a “stronger emphasis on counseling and mental health care for the young” is in order.
Some of the series’ media has veered away from venturing to the town, and this feels like an explanation for how its influence can spread through the world. As far as potentially setting up other Silent Hill stories, it’s a unique approach which still retains the core premise of the guilty facing their deeds – and other inherent trauma – head-on.
For now, Silent Hill: The Short Message has some shortcomings, but as a compact title and a beginning for things to come, it’s solid and worth experiencing.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
Excellent visuals and attention to detail, with a solid soundtrack. The narrative is engaging and its actors put in good performances despite some unevenness. Approaches heavy topics like suicide and abuse well. Few scares, but they're effective.
Lip-syncing on a character feels off, which can be distracting at times. Not much to the gameplay, save for interacting with notes and chase sequences. Narrative can get a little too heavy-handed, showing its hand a little obviously at times.