Silent Hill: Ascension

Silent Hill: Ascension

Ascension is not the glorious comeback to Silent Hill

Ascension is not the glorious comeback to Silent Hill

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Review game Silent Hill: Ascension, Ascension is not the glorious comeback to Silent Hill

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Silent Hill: Ascension is not the glorious comeback to Silent Hill that we have been waiting for; instead, it is shallow, perplexing, and nonsensical.

The fact that the first new project set in Silent Hill in ten years isn’t even based in the community is intriguing. Even more intriguing is the fact that it’s not a game in the conventional sense. It’s an odd choice, but also quite brave considering the enthusiasm for the underappreciated horror series. There are many recognizable elements from that eerie little resort town, such as the fog, monsters, strange cult, and a large cast of characters with eerie pasts. However, if you were hoping that Silent Hill: Ascension would usher in the next wave of fantastic Silent Hill experiences, you might have to wait a little longer.

To be fair, the animated interactive series has just finished for the holidays and is still a few months away from its premiere, so we haven’t yet learned its surprising conclusions. Viewers can access the series through a mobile app, a website, and as a non-interactive series on streaming services like Sony Pictures Core. The appearance of the titular town and the manner in which the seemingly unrelated storylines will come together are still unknown.

We don’t really know anything because, even though Ascension has been on television nearly every day since its October 2023 premiere (for a month, new episodes aired seven days a week; currently, it airs Monday through Friday), the episodes have been remarkably short, typically lasting no more than a minute or two. In total, viewers are provided with about thirty minutes of weekly footage, which can be watched either daily or weekly. If you enjoy short-form content, this format is fantastic; if you’d rather take your time getting to know the characters or if you have trouble remembering things quickly, it might not be as appealing.

The narrative begins with two towns that are thousands of miles apart sharing a common fate—death at the hands of an unearthly force. Where humanoid shapes shuffle in the farm’s shadows, one town finds it mysterious, while the other believes it’s the result of a religious ritual gone awry. For them both, the death sets off a series of unsettling events.

The text is presented in brief bursts, making it a little jumbled and challenging to follow.

With so much left to explore in Ascension, even though fans of Silent Hill will recognize many of the themes (revenge, guilt, and a possibly evil religious cult), it’s challenging to form a conclusive judgment on the narrative. The snippet-like format of the story presentation contributes to its somewhat jumbled and challenging nature. (I find that it’s a little easier to follow the plot in the weekly recaps as opposed to the daily broadcasts.) The lives of five major characters—Toby, Eric, Rachel, Karl, and Astrid—are the main subject of the story. The final two feature a father-and-daughter Norwegian pair who are introduced concurrently with the untimely death of the family’s endearing matriarch. In Hope Junction, an all-American town, the first three people live as the town drunk, the owner of a laundromat, and the religious acolyte, respectively.

Astrid possesses cold, explosive, and constant vigilance. Her father may have a gentler, more compassionate nature, but he acts in ways that don’t seem consistent with the man we knew him to be. Rachel exhibits erratic behavior as well, frequently veering from calm to fury and back again in a single scene. It’s not that I can’t accept it; it’s just that you get to know characters so little that it’s difficult to understand why they’re changing every week. Nothing these people do really makes sense unless you know who they really are, and sometimes that means not much of the story makes sense either.

It’s difficult to determine who I should be supporting.
Seven weeks later, I’m still not sure how I feel about them. Since our time together has been so brief and my comprehension of their motivations so limited, it’s difficult for me to determine who I should be rooting for. However, this poses a problem as Ascension’s appeal lies in our ability to root for the characters. After all, we get to choose what happens to the main characters.

So far, Silent Hill: Ascension is an interesting game that lets you choose your own path. The audience can vote on desired outcomes and determine whether the characters should pursue “redemption, suffering, or damnation” after being introduced to a set of characters. On occasion, we have the power to influence minuscule, unimportant events. These choices occasionally have life-or-death consequences. It’s evident, as the weeks go by, that my decisions frequently diverge from those of the majority of viewers, and occasionally, I find myself second-guessing myself when the “best” course of action seems to unexpectedly condemn the character to “damnation”—for example, destroying a bloody glove in defiance of 77 percent of the votes.

That’s probably why Toby, Eric, Rachel, Karl, and Astrid veer from one extreme reaction to the next: the Ascension studio, Genvid, claims it has no idea which characters will make it through, citing thousands of incremental choices that could impact the plot. A few scenes later, Karl is phoning the police to have Astrid committed suicide after he is seen desperately assisting her in finding a missing family member. And how we got from point A to point B is beyond me.

There are moments when the voice acting and animation feel a little sloppy, as does the motion capture and acting work. Characters can exhibit complete disdain for the people and environment around them at times. In other cases, they become overly defensive, at least provocation. Nobody seems to be discussing the creatures they’ve seen or the reason their entire world just fell apart. The mothers of the missing children are not reporting to anyone else what they hear on the phone—that is, the disembodied voices calling out of the forest. It’s also difficult to ignore the characters’ inconsistent behavior once you start to notice it.

It’s difficult to ignore the characters’ inconsistent behavior once you start to notice it.

Adding to the confusion, Silent Hill: Ascension includes games alongside a battle pass, perpetuating the ongoing debate over what qualifies as a game. For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to this as interactive fiction. Via these, you can gain two different kinds of currency: influencer points (IP), which you can use to vote on important plot points or enter a lottery to have your bizarre-looking avatar appear in-game and be immortalized in Silent Hill canon, and standard XP, which you can level up said pass to unlock “rewards.” The cameos always come across as incredibly improvised and out of place.

Ascension’s intended differentiating factors ultimately contribute to its heaviness. Though it’s a novel idea to be able to vote and alter the results, the story feels choppy and unstable due to the multiple-choice options. I max out my daily XP/IP earnings with my $20 battle pass, and as of right now, I have 39.4K saved up. But the most generous voters for each option are tracked on a leaderboard, and the voters who are choosing how Rachel will take advantage of Xavier’s absence have spent 64.7K and 55.3K, respectively. Not a single person in the top five has spent less than $25,000. If someone can outscore my pathetic contribution thousands of times over, then what good are my hundred or two hundred points? Player votes should be equitable and democratic, not always biased toward those willing to pay for more power, in order for them to feel meaningful. The vote feels incredibly unfair as a result.

It’s clear to me what Silent Hill: Ascension aims to be: an interactive horror film where viewers choose the characters’ fate. Unfortunately, the story is, at best, jumbled and, at worst, nonsensical due to its piecemeal delivery and community vote system. As a result, exposition, character development, and story progression all suffer. No, I’m not sure I care enough to stay around to find out how the story will end in a few months, even though I don’t yet know how it will. The issue lies in not knowing how the story will end in a few months.

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