Silent Hill: The Short Message review: "not perfect but it makes me think there might be a future to Silent Hill"

Silent Hill The Short Message
(Image: © Konami)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Silent Hill: The Short Message is an interesting, if not amazing rebirth for the series that proves it can be reanimated for a modern audience. Atmospheric and full of potential it bodes well for future instalments.

Pros

  • +

    Good atmosphere

  • +

    Interesting reinvention

  • +

    Creatively weird monster

Cons

  • -

    Blunt writing undermines the seriousness of its themes

  • -

    Maze sections can feel relentless

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There's a lot to like about the first actual new Silent Hill game since 2014's PT. Despite some clumsy, laboured writing, Silent Hill: The Short Message has a similar vibe to Resident Evil's excellent number 7 reimagining – taking familiar touch points and reworking them into a fresh, more up to date wrapper. It looks like a completely new take on the series, replete with a new first person view, but under all the fresh trappings and modern style, the bones of what the old games did poke through, comfortingly, to remind you what you're playing. 

Fast Facts

Release date: Out now
Platform(s): PS5
Developer: HexaDrive
Publisher: Konami

The old crackly radio that used to warn you of monsters is now a mobile phone that buzzes and flickers whenever danger is near, for example. While the rusty, chain link rusted hell of the other world is… actually pretty much you remember it – a threatening tetanus infused mess of oxidised metal corners and mystery liquids oozing across the floor. 

Silent Hill The Short Message

(Image credit: Konami)

Silent Hill: The Short Message follows a young girl exploring a derelict old apartment building for reasons I won't spoil here, but the overall thrust of the narrative is pleasingly Silent Hill and matches the 'hell of your own making' themes the series has used so well in the past. The monster, the post-it notes that cover the Otherworld like peeling skin, and all the trappings of school, teen life, and more littering the place like detritus all have meaning to the protagonist and call back to some part of what happened in her past.

Teenage kicks

As Anita you wake up in a crumbling maze halls, exploring various rooms while trying to piece together your memories of how you got there and why. Silent Hill: The Short Message sees you navigating rubbish strewn corridors and overturned, messy rooms picking up notes and clues while getting texts from two of your friends. It's atmospheric and, at least initially, intriguing, as you try to second guess what led to where you are now. 

Interspersed with these more exploratory beats are frantic dips into the Otherworld where you're chased through a maze-like warren of chain link fences and barricades. I won't spoil what's following you here, but trust me when I say that it's a confusingly weird and unsettling creation from Silent Hill's long-standing monster designer Masahiro Ito. These maze sections are nearly always a panicky, wall hugging run as you try to avoid being caught. Sometimes it can be a bit hit and miss if you get lost or run into a dead end, but when these spaces hit the spot the tension and fear is good. Original Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka is on hand here as well for music and sound design, and in at least one spot it's just as good as the old days and, generally, hits the mark overall. 

Silent Hill The Short Message

(Image credit: Konami)

What lets Silent Hill: The Short Message down, however, is a clumsy, almost brute force approach to the writing. It's all about the trials and difficulties of being a teenage girl in an online world, but there's an outsider feel to the bluntness with which it articulates everything. In the case of two of the main characters, it sort of boils their teenage life down to being sad and romanticising suicide. There are support screens about how to get help that flash up after all of three chapters to give you some idea how how hard it leans into self harm and suicidal ideation. To some extent these only go to highlight just how crassly the game treats the topics it touches on. 

Hellraiser

It's not that the concepts themselves are bad – Silent Hill has always been about people paying for their sins in a cell they built along the way. The minefield of young adulthood and what happens here is absolutely perfect for a Silent Hill-style purgatory. It's just the writing seems almost afraid you'll miss things unless it's really, really clear – teenagers get sad, have body issues, and school children can say really mean things. The potential subtlety and nuance of what it's like to be young and unsure are somewhat lost when the only way Silent Hill: The Short Message seems to be able to articulate it is by throwing messages like 'dumb slut' and 'ugly bitch' repeatedly in your face, often in phrasings that feel more functional than entirely natural. At one point the line 'shut your whore mouth' is used, said by no high schooler ever. Or indeed anyone this side of 1909. 

Silent Hill The Short Message

(Image credit: Konami)

Whether these issues stem from the game's short length, leading to a desire to exaggerate for clarity, or translation issues, isn't clear but it is the weakest element. Silent Hill thrives on ambiguity, with people still picking apart meanings and interpretations of games that are 20 years old. Silent Hill: The Short Message on the other hand is explicit to the point of feeling like it's written in all caps with a 60 font. There's also a secondary plot line about a broken home that is somehow ancillary while also capable of being the main story as well.

So, Silent Hill: The Short Message is not PT levels of wow, but then that was always going to be exceptionally difficult to achieve. But The Short Message is a decent statement of intent at the very least. There are a couple of good scares, some nicely tense moments and an atmosphere that manages to touch the past glories of the series. Most importantly, it feels like a Silent Hill game – even with the new ideas and flaws. Because it doesn't seem to be teasing anything, or linking to any future project, it mostly seems to be Konami proving they can bring the series back. And, while it's not perfect, it does make me think there might be a future for Silent Hill after all.

More info

Available platformsPS5
GenreHorror
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Leon Hurley
Managing editor for guides

I'm GamesRadar's Managing Editor for guides, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.