Silent Hill: Ascension is the first game bearing the Silent Hill title since 2012. But is it the addition to the franchise that we have been waiting for all this time? I’d say it depends on what we expected and, more importantly, why this game exists.
The easiest approach to Silent Hill: Ascension is to hop on the outrage bandwagon and join the overwhelmingly negative reviews. But I say we take a deeper look at what this game is and what it’s trying to do before passing the final judgment.
What is Silent Hill: Ascension?
“What is Silent Hill: Ascension?” is a seemingly simple question. The standard answer is a “choose your adventure” game more akin to a streaming show than a traditional game. But this run-of-the-mill definition doesn’t really explain what Silent Hill: Ascension is—it merely puts a label on it.
Going beyond labels (and taking a step back), let’s ask something different: Is Silent Hill: Ascension a Silent Hill game? And is it what most fans of the franchise would consider a game at all?
A brief look at the Silent Hill franchise
Here, the answer gets much more complex. The Silent Hill games I know are a staple of the survival horror genre with a strong focus on atmosphere and an unavoidable feeling of melancholy. However, even this view of the franchise is too broad.
Speaking honestly, for me, a Silent Hill game is one of the first four made by Team Silent. And if we’re talking about what I consider the Silent Hill game, that would be Silent Hill 2. In other words, my perception of the franchise is informed by that game, and I expect a similar feel from every entry that follows.
Until 2012, that was more or less what I got from Silent Hill games. Then came Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and, for everything that game was, it didn’t seem like a part of the same universe. And sure, P. T. came out two years after, returning to the familiar atmosphere. But somehow, I knew that, after Book of Memories, new entries in the franchise wouldn’t follow the same path.
Although there was over a decade of pause before the next franchise installation, Silent Hill: Ascension proved me right.
A different direction
As an interactive show, Silent Hill: Ascension couldn’t be further from the over-the-shoulder survival horror. Likewise, the massively multiplayer web and mobile-based aspect makes the game an entirely different beast. Ascension isn’t capable of providing a genuine single-player experience, but it never aimed to do anything of the sort.
With all of the above considered, I’ll say one thing: I wasn’t disappointed by Silent Hill: Ascension. How is that possible? Because I didn’t expect a Silent Hill game.
Since it was announced, I knew the game wouldn’t even attempt to simulate a genuine Silent Hill experience. After all, trying to do so through a browser or a phone screen would be detrimental at best and impossible at worst. Plus, we’re eagerly waiting for the Silent Hill 2 release date, which could drop any day, and the same goes for Townfall.
Simply put, “true” Silent Hill games are behind the corner. There’s no chance Konami would entrust a major franchise entry to mobile platforms. That’s precisely why I was mostly curious while waiting for Ascension to launch.
Granted, what we got from Silent Hill: Ascension wasn’t precisely mind-blowing. From the graphics to the gameplay, many players found the game lackluster on various fronts, and rightfully so. Yet, this entry did something I consider genuinely exciting.
Silent Hill: Ascension lets fans decide on the direction of the canonical story. This means that our decisions in this game may reflect on upcoming titles to some extent.
In a nutshell, I don’t see Silent Hill: Ascension as a Silent Hill game. In fact, I’m on the fence about whether I view it as a game at all. It’s an online interactive experience, and it contributes to the universe. But, for me, the best way to think about Ascension is as an expansion to the canon rather than an actual game from the franchise.
That being said, Silent Hill: Ascension gameplay exists, and we’ll need to take a deeper look at it to do justice by this entry.
A breakdown of Silent Hill: Ascension gameplay
Aside from watching the episodes and customizing your character, Silent Hill: Ascension has two primary gameplay modes: decisions in the main story and the puzzles from the Arcane Library. The former lets you spend the main in-game currency, Influence Points, to vote on what’s going to happen in specific situations. The latter allows you to earn said Influence Points.
The main story and decisions
You follow the main story of Silent Hill: Ascension through daily episodes. Each episode has a moment in which the audience can impact what happens next. You can either vote during the live show or for a limited time after.
Instead of casting a single vote, you’ll invest a certain amount of Influence Points in one of the three available options. The option with the most IP will win, and the following episodes of the show will include the decision in their plots.
Decisions on a massive scale are interesting in concept. The entire community deciding on the game’s (and potentially the franchise’s) direction sounds like a breath of fresh air. Yet, in execution, this model shows several pitfalls, and those might be the reasons why so many people are angry with Silent Hill: Ascension and its developers.
Firstly, crowd-sourced decisions aren’t necessarily the optimal path forward. Going by what the majority wants to see may result in a deeply unsatisfying experience. Why? Choices reached through consensus often lack impact and make the rest of the storyline seem less deliberate. In short, there’s less artistic integrity and intention in this model.
Secondly, as an individual player, I’m practically guaranteed to be disappointed in how the story unravels. The reason for this is simple: Even the players investing the most IP in a decision make up only a tiny part of the total voter base. In other words, those deeply invested in how the story goes will probably feel more frustrated as the choices they make get overwhelmed by the majority’s decisions.
Finally, as intriguing as the decision mechanic seems, there’s no way around it: Making one decision per episode (and not getting a guaranteed outcome from it) hardly constitutes gameplay.
In light of these problems, the second major mode of Silent Hill: Ascension, the Arcane Library, seems more like a way to offset the shortcomings of the decision mechanic.
Arcane Library puzzles
As mentioned, Arcane Library puzzles in Silent Hill: Ascension allow you to earn IP. More precisely, the puzzles from one section of the library do that. There’s another section that awards Hope, a special resource that impacts a character’s destiny. The two sections in question are called Arcane and Mindfulness.
Arcane puzzles from the Arcane Library come in several different flavors. For instance, you can play match-three, lockbox, and slide puzzles. Within the F2P model, only one puzzle type is available every day, and which type you can play rotates daily.
The puzzles have several levels that increase in difficulty. However, I didn’t find myself challenged by almost any of them. The puzzles that did challenge me (Tiles) ended up being more frustrating than anything else—until I learned how to master this puzzle type and wrote a brief guide on the topic.
Mindfulness puzzles are a way for players to earn Hope for a specific character. If enough Hope is earned, the character will fare better in an event. Outside of this mechanic, these puzzles were a mixed bag for me.
To some extent, Silent Hill: Ascension Mindfulness puzzles are more fun than Arcane ones. As an example, the Guitar puzzle (which isn’t really a puzzle) is essentially a rhythm game where you play along with Akira Yamaoka’s beautiful tunes.
On the other hand, the puzzles in this game mode aren’t much more challenging than their Arcane counterparts. Which brings me to the ultimate point about the Arcane Library as a whole:
Puzzles have been a significant part of Silent Hill games forever, but they didn’t constitute the most engaging part of the experience. In Silent Hill: Ascension, puzzles are the most engaging activity, as the majority of your time in the rest of the game will be spent as a passive viewer.
On that note, the puzzles just aren’t hard or exciting enough to justify their in-game position. Furthermore, full access to all puzzles and their levels will be locked behind the Season Pass. This leads into the final consideration about Silent Hill: Ascension: is it free to play, and precisely how much of the game can you experience without paying?
Is Silent Hill: Ascension free?
The majority of the backlash against Silent Hill: Ascension comes on account of monetization. The gameplay options are already limited as is, so players naturally weren’t happy with a significant piece of that content being locked behind the paywall.
Theoretically, Silent Hill: Ascension is a free game. You can download and install it without paying, and the game doesn’t prevent you from participating in game modes. However, the Season Pass exists as an undeniable fact.
My take on it is that plenty of Silent Hill fans are taken aback primarily because they expected something along the lines of the previous single-player games. Yet, Ascension is a mobile experience first and foremost. It stands to reason that it would feature a monetization model similar to the majority of mobile games.
Additionally, you couldn’t argue that Silent Hill: Ascension is pay-to-win. The reason is simple: You can’t win in the game! The most you can do is contribute to the group decision, and it’s a pretty massive group, so individual contributions are negligible.
The main takeaway here is that, yes, Silent Hill: Ascension is free, and yes, it features some paid content. But the game’s other issues are much more problematic than monetization.
Silent Hill: Ascension—Confusing and (maybe) worth it?
As a game, Silent Hill: Ascension doesn’t offer much. You can view the daily episodes, vote (for what it’s worth), and solve puzzles. As a part of the Silent Hill universe, the game could be more important than it seems, paving the way for an emergent canon based on popular votes.
From my point of view, the main problem here is that the game doesn’t know where to aim. It might be appealing to audiences new to Silent Hill, but those people likely won’t engage with it too much. On the other hand, true franchise fans get an experience best described as overly casual.
So, why do I say the title may be worth it?
We don’t yet know when the next Silent Hill entry will come out. We also don’t know how much Ascension will dictate the direction of the upcoming games. If you’re as enamored with Silent Hill as I am, getting a glimpse at the familiar universe could be a good way to kill time until the next major release. Plus, if the decisions in Ascension end up having an impact on future storylines, you can get the bragging rights for being there as those choices were made.
With everything considered, I wouldn’t judge Silent Hill: Ascension too harshly. Instead, I’d advise against taking the game overly seriously. Rather than a genuine Silent Hill game, view it as a small expansion to the existing canon. That way, the fans, the game, and the franchise at large can keep living in peace.
There’ll be more coverage of Silent Hill: Ascension in our Game Guides and News sections. The same goes for other mobile games as well. Keep an eye on new pieces to learn about gaming news as it breaks, and let us hope for good news on the upcoming Silent Hill 2.
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