Silent Hill games first hit the gaming scene way back in 1999, and the first few entries were considered defining moments in the survival horror genre. The whole series—and its film and printed media spinoffs—has consistently focused on players running from horrendous monsters, solving puzzles, and surviving in a dank, creepy environment. And now, 10 years since the last game in the acclaimed franchise was released, the gamemakers at Konami have jumped in to deliver more of that with Silent Hill: Ascension.
But the big question is: Is this even a game? And the answer is: sorta, but not really.
Silent Hill: Ascension is likely best categorized as an interactive, choose-your-adventure streaming show. Viewers can join in on PC or download an app for their iPhone or Android device. The episodes began streaming on Halloween, and new 5- to 15-minute episodes are broadcast daily at 9 p.m. (Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific), and all past episodes can be watched. The series is said to continue running for some four months. And it’s free. (Again, sorta.)
So, what is Ascension about and how do you “play”?
This particular Silent Hill follows a cast of characters in different countries who are being tormented by otherworldly grotesqueries, the murder of loved ones, and the endangering of themselves and the children near them.
One storyline focuses on a cult of people who worship dark spiritual creatures, for instance. Another features a clan who lost a family member to murder—or perhaps something much, much more horrible.
Those descriptions may seem awfully vague, but in a sense, that’s the point. The “game’s” creators say that the online community shapes where the story will go and who lives or dies. And then those decisions become part of the Silent Hill canon going forward.
Participants who play free, earn IP (the game currency) by solving puzzles (rhythm games, classic tile puzzle, etc.) and navigating a character through some short, threat-filled side scenes. And then they can throw those earned points toward the vital decisions that the community of thousands of viewers make.
Every scene is livestreamed and concludes with a quick-time event in which participants are prompted to register their votes within a limited timeframe. The outcome generally pivots the current episode’s story action. (The scenes of each episode are pre-produced with a variety of potential outcomes, including character relationships and fates.)
Of course, the more IP you have, the more power you wield. And that’s where in-game currency options come into play.
While you can “play” for free, Konami offers paid season passes to players. They afford the full range of puzzle access, in-game cosmetics and stickers, and character customizing bonuses.
Why do you need to customize your avatar? Because the player who has the biggest influence on a given outcome earns a chance at a “Gold moment,” and their avatar can make a cameo appearance in the next episode. Oh, and to that throw-your-financial-weight-on-the-scales end, players can also buy IP in exchange for real-world currency.
Where this dark and ghoulish tale eventually goes is anybody’s guess. But it will probably be a bloody (and potentially expensive) trip. Gamers must be online to play.
Some characters do strive to protect the innocent. And the interactive nature of communicating with online participants, in an attempt to push the storyline in one direction or another, can be enjoyable. (But potentially problematic, too. More below.)
Fan choices here may impact future games.
Game or not, Silent Hill: Ascension is, like its namesake, regularly ghoulish and spiritually very dark. Ghastly and gruesome things abound. You see armless shambling corpses; large lumpy and fleshy behemoths; tormented things wrapped in barbed wire; skinless fanged hounds; multi-limbed, clutching torsos impaled on meat hooks; flying creatures made of flayed skin; and much more emerging from dark shadows. They’re all aimed at ripping, gouging and snapping nearby humans.
Characters get staggeringly drunk. It’s implied that someone is killed by an overdose of morphine. Someone’s neck is snapped. Creatures are shot and burned. Cult members hope for a foul, beastly “purifier” to materialize from the spiritual world and justify their devout faith. Members participate in a spiritual ceremony featuring slashed palm and wrist and spilled blood. Etc.
Language in the dialogue includes blasphemes of God’s name, uses of f- and s-words, and a variety of other profanities.
The fairly heavy-handed monetization of play is a, uh, game killer for most. And for all of the gamemaker’s attempts to make online participation a part of the gameplay, the choices that win out rarely make the story better. In fact, the choices tend to reflect darkly on online participants themselves. And the online chat can be even more twisted, asinine, and profane than the streaming horror show itself. (It’s so profane, in fact, that I can’t post any examples here.)
Not every good idea can ascend into the pantheon of great games. Frankly, Silent Hill: Ascension barely makes it off the bloody ground.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.