Silent Hill: Ascension Falls Flat With Glib Approach to Trauma, Microtransactions
In Silent Hill: Ascension, Konami and Genvid demonstrate that the series can be further ruined in new and inventive ways.
Silent Hill 2 is considered one of the greatest games of all time thanks to its genuinely unsettling atmosphere and deft use of visual and narrative horror to explore complex themes of guilt and loss. The series has seen many, many missteps since that beloved game came out in 2001, and its most promising project, Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hills, was snuffed out even after its demo P.T. earned its own place as a superlative horror game experience. That was nine years ago, so it’s safe to say that expectations for Silent Hill have been low for the last decade.
On Halloween 2023, long after fans made peace with Silent Hills never happening, a new “game” in the series launched. Silent Hill: Ascension is an ongoing, episodic, interactive streaming show, the first taste of Silent Hill we’ve had in years. In Silent Hill: Ascension, Konami and Genvid have shown me that the series can be further ruined in new and inventive ways. It’s a parade of awful and insulting choices that need to be explored from several directions.
Choose With Votes, Vote With Money
First, though, it would help to explain what Silent Hill: Ascension is. This isn’t a conventional game you can purchase and play on a console. Rather, it’s a web-based experience that presents non-interactive scenes like television episodes, then presents viewers with choices to determine how the story unfolds through nightly installments.
On paper, this sounds like an interactive movie like Black Mirror: Bandersnatchon Netfilx, where you can choose where the story goes until you reach an ending. That isn’t the case with Silent Hill: Ascension. Rather, all viewers can vote on a decision that will be made in the next installment, and the decision that gets the most points determines where the show heads next.
I said points, not votes, and that’s where the first botch of Silent Hill Ascension hits like a sock full of quarters. Viewers can spend Influence Points (IP) to give their votes more weight. The more IP you put behind your vote, the more it matters.
So, how do you get IP? Points are meted out slowly as you accomplish achievements like watching new chapters; solve more puzzles, get more points. You can get about 800 IP per day, and another 1,500 IP with weekly rewards. Or you can spend $20 for 26,400 IP, which is more IP than you can get in a month just from watching and playing, and it’ll all be available at once for you to dump into any decision you want to claim. Also, if you spend the most IP on a decision, you can get a “Golden Moment” reward that’s basically a badge that shows just how much you wanted to tilt the scales.
If you want to get more IP, you can purchase a season pass, like the $20 Founder’s Pack. This gives you a series of rewards you can unlock like in a game with a battle pass, including thousands of IP and plenty of cosmetics and emotes. Oh, and the season pass also fully unlocks the puzzle games, because otherwise you can only play a couple levels in two out of six of Silent Hill: Ascension’s games each day.
Genvid repeatedly notes that Silent Hill: Ascension is free to watch/play. It’s just not free to fully engage with any of the interactive elements. Genvid also says these decisions impact Silent Hill’s “canon,” which seems pretty tenuous. They might change how this story goes, but the actual canon of Silent Hill as a series and a world is pretty fluid.
Cosmetics for Passive Viewers
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I mentioned cosmetics and emotes, and that might sound very strange for an interactive show. After all, it’s not like you’re actually in the show itself. You’re watching it. That’s Silent Hill: Ascension’s next smack across the face.
New installments are released at 9 p.m. ET every night, and everyone can watch together live. There’s even a chat box so you can react to the new chapter. It’s an incredibly simple and barely moderated chat with no organization, groups, user lists, or pretty much anything useful. But you can blast or promote what you type during a livestream by spending IP.
You can also make your own 3D avatar for Silent Hill: Ascension, but it probably won’t have any difference on your viewing experience outside of that avatar’s face as your profile icon. There are only a handful of options in terms of face, hair, and skin color (unless you buy the season pass and unlock more options). Those options won’t show up very well in your profile icon, because it’s very tiny. At least you can customize your icon with a unique frame—if you buy the season pass and unlock more frame options.
There’s a small chance your full avatar, including clothing and accessories that would otherwise be invisible, will be shown off to viewers. There will be cameo contests where your avatar might be chosen to have a cameo in an episode. That’s it.
Then there are the emotes. If you want to chat during a stream, you can use a good handful of emotes by default without spending anything. They’re the usual collection of emojis and a few other icons. Or, again, you can buy the season pass and get more unique emotes. There are different characters facepalming, there are different monsters, and there are, well…
Spoiler: It’s Trauma!
This. This is what really prompted me to write this column. This is the essence of all the ways Silent Hill: Ascension is insulting to series fans, genre fans, or anyone who appreciates an atmospheric exploration of dark themes.
A rainbow sticker that says “It’s Trauma!”
Spoiler for the entire Silent Hill series: It usually is trauma. One of the most consistent things about the horrors of Silent Hill is that they usually reflect main characters’ personal traumas in some way. One of the reasons Silent Hill 2 is so engaging is that the Silent Hill James Sunderland visits and the monsters it’s filled with are defined by his feelings of guilt and loss. The ending and some of the monsters even change based on the player’s actions interpreted as James’ mental state, like how many times he looks at the letter his wife sent him.
Slapping a literal rainbow sticker that says “It’s Trauma!” across that shows just how little Genvid and Konami actually think about the quality or significance of Silent Hill as a series, or why it has managed to persist when its best game came out 22 years ago.
I’m not offended because it’s insensitive or reductive about mental health. I’m offended because it hurts the storytelling with its existence. Just by being there, it says that Silent Hill: Ascension isn’t actually interested in being a compelling interactive narrative that explores its themes with a fraction of the care and subtlety of Silent Hill 2.
Though the season pass out front should have told you that.
But How Is It, Though?
I watched the first three chapters of Silent Hill: Ascension after they were released together on Halloween. I tried to take in the story and presentation as fairly as I could, separate from my reaction to the microtransactions and the sticker. And on its own, it seems pretty meh so far.
Visually, it would be generous to call its graphics early-PlayStation 4. Supermassive’s Until Dawn, one of the best examples of interactive horror in the last decade, looks better than Silent Hill: Ascension.
Aurally, the voice acting is decent-to-very-good and the music leaves little impression on me.
Narratively, I’m not sure exactly where the show is going yet but I don’t have high hopes. So far it’s split between a cult in Pennsylvania and a family in Sweden, and neither has had a lot of opportunity to do much except witness two horrible deaths and react to them. The cult seems like the Order from the Silent Hill games but with a much friendlier exterior, which is an interesting idea to build upon. My big problem is Karl Johansen, the Swedish father dealing with monsters attacking his farm. He might as well be wearing a T-shirt saying “I feel guilty about my wife!” It’s not exactly eased into like James Sunderland’s story in Silent Hill 2.
Even if Silent Hill: Ascension manages to tell a compelling story at this point, it’s already shackled by its microtransaction structure. But even without that, I don’t think Silent Hill: Ascension can manage to tell a compelling story when plot points are determined by vote and there’s already an actual rainbow telling you it’s about trauma.
If you want to play a scary game that won’t try to wring money out of you constantly, check out some of our favorite RPG Maker horror games. Or think outside the box and realize just how secretly terrifying a lot of other games can be.