It's the middle of the night in the summer and I'm sleeping over a friend's house. The air conditioner is making the room bitterly cold. My friend's cat is scratching at the door of the room. We stare silently at the dark corridors of an otherworldly hospital where the walls are covered in rusty grates and blood. Mysterious and foreboding sounds echo all around us. Despite our better judgement, we press forward.
That was my first experience with Silent Hill over a decade ago. I've since played the first four games and love the series dearly. When I heard that a Source Mod called Silent Hill Alchemilla (developed by White Noise) dropped on Mod DB I absolutely had to check it out. If they had managed to make a game half as good as any of the first few Silent Hill games I would have been pleased.
As it turns out, "half as good as any Silent Hill game" is exactly what they delivered.
[caption id="attachment_33326" align="alignright" width="300"] The crackling radio alerts you to the nurse standing behind this grate in a delightful homage to the Silent Hill games. Unfortunately, this is about as close you get to facing any real enemies.[/caption]
Silent Hill Alchemilla is an original story that opens with the classic warning that is a staple of the series: "There are violent and disturbing images in this game." Well, actually, it opens with "В зтой игре содержатся сцены жестокости и насилия." before the English warning. This is because the developers hail from Ukraine and Russia according to the flags on their Mod DB page. English is clearly their second language as there are quite a few grammatical oddities in the dialogue and written elements throughout the game.
Silent Hill Alchemilla begins in a dingy house that has clearly fallen into a state of disrepair. You can click around on various things such as the bookcases or refrigerator and get little bits of background information or interesting dialogue. One of the facets of previous games that Silent Hill Alchemilla has managed to expertly emulate is nearly every door is locked, broken, missing a doorknob, or otherwise not functional for mysterious reasons.
After some minor exploration, I found myself in the backyard of the house. I went to open the fence gate and was confronted with a shaking screen and an air raid siren loudly blaring in the background. Silent Hill veterans will recognize this as a signal that you are transitioning to the "Otherworld" - a twisted, bastardized version of the real world where walls are replaced with grates and blood & gore replace the paint. However, I instead found myself outside of a hospital.
Encountering the hospital within the first few minutes of Silent Hill Alchemilla is a bit strange - it's usually an early level in the previous games but rarely is it this early. Still, a little variety in the formula can be appreciated. I fruitlessly explored the tiny courtyard until I resigned myself to reluctantly entering the lobby. A handwritten note on the counter got me started on the path to making my way through the hospital.
[caption id="attachment_33327" align="alignleft" width="300"] Silent Hill Alchemilla manages to include a lot of memorable elements from the previous games such as the mysterious voids cutting off the streets.[/caption]
The first real section of the game showcases some of the auditory strengths and weaknesses in Silent Hill Alchemilla. Seemingly random ambient sounds left me sufficiently paranoid and unsettled. However, one of the early music tracks was very distracting - it had a particular sound in it that sounded like banging or footsteps of a sort. It became less scary and more annoying as I was trying to make my way through the hospital. This was the only serious blemish in the game's music and SFX which are otherwise done quite well. The occasional voice acting of the main character was quite good, too. He has a bit of a Slavic accent to him, but who's to say everyone living in Silent Hill was a born and bred American who spoke English with a New England accent?
I hit a severe hiccup trying to solve some of the puzzles in Silent Hill Alchemilla. I had a difficult time remembering some of the specific notes or which particular items I had picked up. The game relies heavily on you reading and interpreting various clues left throughout the level (whether they be a written note, a page in a book, or written in blood on the walls). However, you don't actually take the notes with you or have any way of tracking the ones you've seen in game. The only way to refer back to them (short of using a walkthrough) is to take screenshots and look at them occasionally with Shift & Tab (which is exactly what I did).
You're required to find certain Macguffins in order to progress in Silent Hill Alchemilla - a valve to turn on a pipe, a key to open a door, a strange doodad such as a tarot card, etc. Unfortunately, the game completely lacks any sort of inventory system whatsoever so you have no way of tracking which items you've found and which you haven't. I ended up relying on taking external notes about which items I found and where I found them. This is another major weakness of Silent Hill Alchemilla as it relies strongly on solving puzzles and finding keys.
Every puzzle I encountered throughout Silent Hill Alchemilla was fair and could be solved after employing some logic, save one - the dreaded "Valve Nurses" in the Otherworld part of the hospital. You're presented with two valves embedded in nurses on either side of a door with metal bars blocking the way. Turning either valve spins the bars. I could not for the life of me work out how to get this doorway to open up. I referred to a walkthrough and watched a couple YouTube playthroughs hoping to find a solution but was unable to do so. I eventually just kept turning the valves seemingly at random until the doorway was opened. This is the only puzzle I would outright categorize as confusing and unfair in the game - there's no clues that would help you get past it, and there doesn't seem to be any sort of consistent logic in how the valves work relative to spinning the pipes that block the doorway.
I was also disappointed at the lack of any sort of enemies or combat in Silent Hill Alchemilla. The developers stated from the get-go on release day that these elements would be missing:
So we have an ADVENTURE type game in Silent Hill universe with NO MONSTERS and NO GUNS, MELEE. We wanted to implement these features strong enough and we searched for people for the last days and sadly didnt find any who could help us to do this quite well. It is very sadly for us too. We dont apologize for this cause we did all what we can.I've been involved in mod teams myself so I can understand making due with the resources you have. Programmers are difficult to come by (talented programmers even more so), and sometimes you have to make compromises in the face of what your team is capable of. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that these missing elements were a detriment to the overall experience. I was excited to encounter a nurse creepily standing behind a grated wall at one point in the game - I had hoped to soon find a weapon and find myself fighting for my life. I was disappointed to find that the only hazards were environmental ones (such as a hole in the floor) and a puzzle or two that will kill you if you incorrectly solve it.
In our game you will not find inventory system or notes system and the reason the same - there are no people who could do that on Source engine (people start to hate it cause it outdated). So just sit tight, take pen and notebook and play as hardcore gamer, make notes yourself, draw your maps yourself. If you Silent Hill fan - you should deal with that.
Another frustrating element was the poor point & click controls. There are certain puzzles where you have to push buttons in a certain order such as a keypad to unlock a door. The buttons give no indication as to which one you are about to push such as being highlighted - indeed, even with my cursor over a particular button I found that I ended up pushing another one. There's no animations or other indication as to which button was pushed, either - it's all guesswork up to the player. This is most unfortunate as one of these button-pushing puzzles will result in your death if solved incorrectly at any point - and there's no way to reset the puzzle if you make a mistake.
Dying in Silent Hill Alchemilla will revert you back to one of the game's save points which are marked by the Halo of the Sun, a symbol that should be familiar to players of Silent Hill 3. Each individual save point marks one potential save slot. I thought it was a bit strange that you couldn't just save in whatever slot you would have liked to but it was by no means a big deal. You're provided with just enough save points to keep from repeating sections of the game too often if you manage to slip up and die to one of the rare environmental hazards. Still, I mostly played through this blind and I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks - I found myself occasionally backtracking to the last save point just to prevent any of my progress from being undone.
[caption id="attachment_33323" align="alignright" width="300"] "This city is definitely not safe" says the man who has spent the last several hours traveling through an otherworldly nightmare.[/caption]
Despite these flaws, I found myself enamored with White Noise's take on Silent Hill's geography. They did an excellent job at getting the atmosphere and setting just right for the most part in Silent Hill Alchemilla. There were occasional oddities that did not fit with the setting. There's a phone number on a sign with a 310 area code which would incorrectly place Silent Hill somewhere around Southern California instead of its canonical location in Maine. There's also street signs with Chinese text for some reason and newspaper clippings in other languages. Despite these minor nitpicks, the overall atmosphere presented to the player was definitely fitting of Silent Hill.
If you're a fan of Silent Hill and hoped that Silent Hill Alchemilla would deliver a similar experience I'm sad to say that you'll be disappointed. If you're a fan of Adventure games, you'll find the lacking interface and occasionally confusing puzzles to be a detriment to what could have been an enjoyable game. White Noise is currently working on a patch to fix some bugs, add Oculus Rift support, and improve some minor facets of the game, but until they rectify some of the more glaring gameplay and interface issues I'm sorry that say that Silent Hill Alchemilla simply falls short. You can download it for free on Silent Hill Alchemilla's Mod DB page.
Silent Hill Alchemilla was downloaded for free by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform.
Are you a fan of the Silent Hill games? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!