Warning: The following article about Silent Hill: The Short Message contains spoilers.
At first glance, The Short Message looks like a Silent Hill game in name only. If you stick around until close to its end, though, one particular file provides a look into what could happen next in the franchise.
The Short Message, shadow-dropped as a free PlayStation 5 exclusive during the last State of Play broadcast, is a two-hour first-person horror adventure. As Anita, a troubled teenager, you end up trapped in an abandoned housing complex in Germany. All you have to go on is a series of text messages from an acquaintance, Maya, who tells you there’s something in the building that you have to find.
Mechanically, The Short Message is a “walking simulator.” It features one significant puzzle and a couple of chase sequences, but most of the rest of the game involves exploration, finding clues, and figuring out where to go next. In addition, maybe half of its run time involves non-interactive cutscenes and FMV movies. It’s just not much of an actual game, which is the first real strike against it.
You’ll also want to take its content warnings very seriously. The Short Message deals with topics that include child abuse, bullying (online and otherwise), self-harm, and suicide, and does little of it with any particular grace. Even by the standards of a Silent Hill game, it’s a rough sit. All in all, it’s understandable if you decide to sit The Short Message out.
That being said, there’s one thing about The Short Message that I thought was particularly interesting, which serves as a callback to 2001’s Silent Hill 2 and presumably its forthcoming remake.
Granted, that’s not saying much. Most of The Short Message is effectively a callback to the first four games in the series, from its imagery to its protagonist to its basic premise. It packs a lot of shout-outs into its two hours.
Even so, there’s only one in-universe link that The Short Message has to the rest of the series. “The Silent Hill Phenomenon” is found right near the start of Chapter 3, in the hallway on the building’s first floor. Inspect the folded newspaper on the pile of garbage in the corner.
This undated magazine article discusses a newly-discussed syndrome, where “those affected suddenly claim to see fog – even on fair-weather days – and lose consciousness shortly after.” The effect was named after “a similar event that occurred in an eponymous U.S. town” and is explained by a psychologist as a hallucination caused by high stress.
At first glance, this is a weak attempt to justify The Short Message being branded as a Silent Hill game in the first place. The more I thought about it, though, the more it reminded me of some old discussions in the fan community.
Specifically, it has to do with what’s going on in Silent Hill in the first place. In the games’ universe, Silent Hill is a tourist trap in Maine that has a bloodier history than any of the locals like to admit. It’s also the home of a doomsday cult, the Order, which carried out a ritual that was meant to summon its god to Earth.
That didn’t work, but the failed attempt left its mark on Silent Hill. By the events of Silent Hill 2, the town has developed a habit of drawing people in and then tormenting them with their own guilt, misplaced or otherwise. Everything in James’ run through Silent Hill 2 relates back to his own issues, large and small, from the shape his Otherworld takes to the enemies he fights.
It’s a great idea for an anthology setting, but the series has rarely explored it in any detail. Instead, most of the games in the Silent Hill series are about the Order, either directly or through the consequences of its actions. Downpour is the only other game that comes close to using Silent Hill 2’s anthology format, and it’s also the game with the reputation for having killed the series.
That being said, a couple of games, particularly Silent Hill 4 and Homecoming, have played with the idea that whatever’s wrong with Silent Hill isn’t limited to the town’s borders. Homecoming, in particular, sees the “curse of Silent Hill” spread to the nearby town of Shepherd’s Glen, and Silent Hill 4 is largely set in the distant city of Ashfield.
The Short Message, according to files in the first room in the game, is even further out from that, as it’s set in 2022 Germany. Without spoilers, it’s also heavily reminiscent of Silent Hill 2 – in that it’s an anthology piece. More than anything else, The Short Message is about Anita herself, who’s being tormented in much the same way as James Sunderland.
Combined with the idea of a “Silent Hill phenomenon,” that paints a picture of what might have been happening in the Silent Hill universe since the events of Downpour and Homecoming. Silent Hill might have gone intercontinental. Whether that means it’s outgrown its borders or started to spread like a disease, The Short Message suggests that Silent Hill has become bigger than a town. If a teenage girl in Germany can get run through a psychological gauntlet the same way James did, all bets are officially off, and the series could go almost anywhere from here.
Silent Hill: The Short Message is free to play on PlayStation 5.