Silent Hill Five Review

Faye Seidler
84 min readJan 1, 2023


Silent Hill Development History

Silent Hill is a video game horror franchise spanning over two decades that often focuses on themes of psychological horror, reality bending, trauma, and rebirth. Konami originally published the first game in the series in 1999, then followed up with Silent Hill 2, 3, and 4 over the next five years. They then published several stand-alone games between 2004 and 2012, such as Homecoming, Shatter Memories, and Downpour.

The series seemed like it was starting to putter out, until a secret teaser trailer for Silent Hills named P.T. was released without fanfare in 2014. While there was a ton of hype for this game, a falling out with game director Hideo Kojima ended up canceling the entire project and souring Silent Hill as a franchise for Konami for several years.

The next game released, Silent Hill 5 (SH5), wasn’t released until six years later. This game was released exclusively on physical disk for PS5 in 2020, following a lengthy and obscure ARG. Fan backlash to the ARG led to a running community joke that the game was canceled and never finished. SH5 remains the most recent Silent Hill release, but Silent Hill f, Silent Hill: Townfall, and Silent Hill 2: Remake were announced towards the end of 2022.

While this will primarily be a review of SH5, I wanted readers of any background to have a brief history of the franchise and where it is today. I only have personal experience playing the first five mainline games within the series and haven’t played any of the spin-off titles. During research for this review, I did watch detailed gameplay and story analysis videos for games like Book of Memories, Shatter Memories, Downpour, and Homecoming to give myself some familiarity with them and their influence on SH5. (Shoutouts to Grand Gaming Channel for their detailed commentary and refreshers on the majority of Silent Hill Games prior to SH5. Also Developer Commentary on SH5 was extremely useful)

SH5: Overview

SH5 functions as a soft sequel to Silent Hill 3, but it incorporates game design, characters, and world building of nearly every game in the franchise to some degree. We don’t know much about the development or production details of the game. Given the ARG nature of the game’s release, the credits are likely not real in the same way P.T. was originally released under a fake studio. This makes it difficult to place the actual designer, studio, or people involved, but it does seem likely that they have some original members of Team Silent.

The music practically has to be Akira Yamaoka’s haunting melancholy and the creature’s bizarre uncanny distortions feel like the work of Masahiro Ito. Further confirming this is their announcement to be part of future Silent Hill projects. They’re also working to continue adding ARG elements to the franchise with Silent Hill: Ascension. So, one can really see many of the base elements of SH5 as the logical springboard between P.T and what’s being announced for future projects.

That said, SH5 was an overly ambitious game. It was the first game that allowed you to fully explore the entire city, freely control the layers of reality, and it gave you a character who felt safer in the monstrous corridors of blood and rust than around other humans. SH5 had the open world elements of Downpour, the interactive phone like Shattered Memory, compelling interactive dialogue sequences as good as a Telltale game, and immersive psychological horror.

The biggest criticism was the game was unfocused. While each element within the game was very well designed and executed, the elements could at times be jarring or contradictory with each other. The game could start to feel like a masterpiece of original Silent Hill horror, but then also featured boss fight sequences that mirrored Dark Souls. The game has incredibly layered and structured dialogue sequences that might feel more like a visual novel, but also open world elements that don’t hold your hand.

At different times during the game, there were moments where I was disappointed to be kicked out of the visual novel elements to go back into survival horror. There were moments I was super invested in the survival horror aspects and didn’t want to bash my head against the wall for where to go in the open city. There were times I just really loved exploring the open world and found the prospect of doing a two or three hour dungeon a chore.

This game really felt like Konami wanted to tie everything together and give some closure to their original story after 15 years of side projects. I think these dissonant elements of the game came about because of Kojima’s falling out and I believe SH5 is more than likely two or more games combined. I have nothing to support this claim, but I think this game really is something resurrected from the ashes of P.T. and one or two unannounced projects that were being developed around 2014. I think there really was a visual novel standalone they were developing and an action rpg style game, but unless someone breaks non-disclosure agreements, we’ll never know.

I think ultimately it is just an unfortunate situation, because I think if the turbulence with Kojima didn’t destabilize Kanomi’s feelings about Silent Hill and if they didn’t try releasing SH5 right in the middle of a global pandemic and still try to make their ARG work, this game could’ve been a defining moment in gaming. It could’ve been the Elden Ring of 2020.

There were just so many compounding factors and poor choices that ultimately regulated this game to complete obscurity. Not helped by how most Silent Hill fans will pretend it doesn’t even exist and Konami doesn’t even officially recognize it anymore. And while that may seem insane for a publisher to do something like that, we’ve recently seen the 70 million dollar Batgirl movie shelved.

I wanted to keep this introduction relatively short, spoiler free, and get you hype to play the game if you’ve never heard of it before! In the next part I’ll be discussing the entire story and component gameplay elements. If you’re worried about spoilers, I’d recommend playing the game first, but I will warn you getting a copy is crazy hard. I lucked into borrowing a copy from a woman I met in a gas station and started dating.

Game Design Elements and Motifs

Before I get into the story, we should go over some of the unique game design elements within SH5. This game’s protagonist is a sixteen year old girl named Ashley Davis.

Concept art for Ashley’s Sigil

The big motif of the game is hearts, where the character’s anxiety is reflected in both the noise and vibration of a beating heart. Her ability to change worlds is controlled by that terror and integral to the gameplay. Many monsters also are thematically designed around this and some of the architecture seamlessly combines industrial pipes with veins and arteries. The main antagonist, as a direct contrast, is The Heartless Man — whose identity you don’t discover until the very end of the game.

Changing Text Interaction

At several points in the game written text will change between the layers of reality. It isn’t featured prominently in many spaces, but is essential for understanding some of the lore and history with Ashley. It’s also used for a number of puzzles. The main way this feature is utilized is that the deeper you are in reality, the more raw the message is — often revealing the real intention or emotion behind what was written. An example could be a sequence like these:

“Sorry, didn’t mean to bother you” => “I need help” => “I’m so scared”

“We do it for your own good” => “We do it for us” => “We hate who you are”

As mentioned this element is not utilized frequently in the game nor does it apply to every text you find, but I think what we are seeing is the first attempt at the concept and something they’re interested in working into future titles as seen in some leaked concept art here:

Interactive and Dynamic Dialogue

Example: “Do you want to grab a burger after this?”

  1. “Yes, Dad.”
  2. “Can we do something else?”
  3. |Locked: ”I want to go home.”|

Dialogue prompts involve one to four choices for response. These responses are tied to the X, Triangle, Circle, and Square buttons. You hold down the corresponding button to what you want to say and that will make the text larger. Whatever text is the largest when Ashley triggers her response is what she’ll say.

The gimmick is that some responses will start out larger and represent what Ashley’s initial reaction may be. Other responses may be behind ice walls that you need to break by tapping the button first to unlock them. Others are locked and cannot be accessed unless certain conditions are met and this likely serves to represent things Ashley isn’t ready to say, but wants to.

In some cases, if you don’t make a choice, that will be read as you intentionally staying silent as your response. The timing windows on this are forgiving enough that you don’t feel extremely pressured, but tight enough that you have to really pay attention. They’re also custom to the kind of responses you’ll be giving. As an example, you get less time to respond to just “yes” or “no”, than if you were presented with lengthy responses.

This can make the dialogue and interaction really anxiety inducing and I feel does a great job at representing how uncomfortable or scared Ashley can be in conversations. In general, it communicates so many things implicitly by just the design of the dialogue interaction and the options you see Ashley come up with. It doesn’t bother telling you something is hard for Ashley to say, it shows you by making it difficult for you to say it and I think that’s really cool.

This is by far my favorite element of the game. I get why it wouldn’t click with someone looking for a more action oriented experience, but the depth of communication and information given by this system is incredibly rewarding and interesting. I hope it comes back in future games.

Heartbeat/Realty Shifting

Silent Hill as a series has often been about exploring or more accurately being trapped in different layers of reality. In SH5 your character can at times move freely between the Regular World, the Fog World, and the Otherworld. This can be done by holding L2 and R2 to descent reality and L1 and R1 to ascent reality. The higher your heart beats, the faster the shifts between reality occur. If your heartbeat is less than 100 bpm, you can’t do it. A number of items and game mechanics interact with this feature:

Rusty Valve: Prevents or limits reality shifting. They have to be found and turned to control reality again.

Tranquilizer: These lower your heart rate and can prevent your ability to shift. You’re often attacked with these in Regular World, but there is one boss and end game event that benefits from self-tranqing.

Energy Drink: Health item that increases heart beat, provides temporary immunity to tranquilizer.

Earbuds: Music can raise and lower heart beat depending on the song.

Golden Pine Cone Necklace: Special item that increases reality shifting efficiency. Also is closed, half open, or open depending on the world you’re in. (Used to solve a reality maze in game and functions as a soft tutorial on reality shifting)

Healthwatch (Fitbit): Optional item you can equip that will display your heart beat on the bottom left of the screen.

There are some areas or times where Ashley refuses to shift. There are times when one reality is lethal if she stays in it. Most of the game uses this design element in creative ways for level exploration and boss fights. For example, a boss may have a massive AOE attack that is only avoidable if you shift into a different layer of reality. Ashley will also use this power to avoid awkward conversations.

Combat/Damage/Game Over/Saving

This game handles relatively traditionally and not unlike Downpour, in that you must make an assessment of your characters health by looking at them. The more bruised or bloodied Ashley looks, the worse she is doing. This game also features haunting damage, displayed as corrupted symbols appearing over your body. The more haunted you are the more likely you’ll randomly wrap reality, freak out when your heart beat is high, or get jump scared with ghostly elements. There are shrines to purify you or items that help reduce haunting.

Ashley can heal both health and haunting corruption in her own bed and from items that spawn around the world. It works like Silent Hill 3 in that the game will spawn a few of these items and replace them when you run out, but won’t let you stock them up. You also get a passive heal from the golden pipe and heavy immunity to haunting while wielding it.

Ashley doesn’t use guns, but a bow will be her primary weapon in late game. Otherwise she uses traditional melee weapons. The Regular World is always first person perspective and Ashley is unable to fight in it. Fog World or Otherworld are both third person perspective, where Ashley is very mobile, can dark souls roll, and has 3-hit combos for most of her melee weapons.

Enemies and environments adjust for her mobility, often seeking to limit, trap, or grapple her. Ashley has relatively little total health, so she very much avoids direct combat where possible. She’s not trading blows with Pyramid Head or anything and there are a number of attacks that will kill her in one hit.

The game autosaves. If you die, typically there is an animation of Valtiel ripping out your heart, pulling a beating heart from a skin bag satchel, and placing it into your body. I bring this up to say that your deaths are canon in this game. You can skip this scene. Saving happens after each chapter or much later in the game, you can save by sleeping in your bed. Otherwise, the game is pretty limiting with where it lets you save.

SH5 Opening Sequence

The game opens up on a bright, beautiful vista overlooking Toluca Lake . I couldn’t get a clear image of it, because of motion blur, but I share it below to just highlight the immediate brightness of the game. I’m not going to share many images directly from the game, as I feel like that may get me in trouble with Konami — but this feels generic enough it could be from anything.

As a veteran Silent Hill player, I think this one moment of dissonance really got me curious. I didn’t know anything about this game starting out and I was honestly expecting some dark or gray atmospheric palettes like almost every other game. I was expecting rain and clouds and fog. I was expecting something that made me think about death, but instead I nearly had to close my eyes at the brightness.

You’ll quickly discover that you’re in first person perspective, buckled into the back of a car, and it is your character looking out the window at the scene above. Looking down you see that you’re wearing a vintage black dress covering you from neck to ankle. If you try moving your character fidgets against the buckle.

In the driver seat is a middle aged man with a suit and tie. The passenger side seat has a lady in a nice flower dress. The man is on the stocky side and balding, he has the look like he could’ve played sports when younger and kept in okay shape. The lady is trim and layered in make-up. Eventually the silence is broken when the man asks you if you want to get a Konami Burger after church.

This gives us the first dialogue prompt in the game. To keep the review on the shorter size, I won’t get into each prompt, but convey what you tend to get out of them. You learn these people are your parents. Ashley’s answers tend to be very short and don’t particularly matter, as your parents talk over whatever choice you do make. Locked dialogue features an option to go home that we can’t select, but still indicates to us that Ashley does not want to be here.

The dialogue here feels like nothing more than small talk and while it happens you can look out at the streets, the people, and the city in general. A lot of the early game functions as a soft tutorial, which is why the dialogue doesn’t strictly matter. It’s giving you a chance to explore it and play with the dialogue system, before there is real consequence to it.

The credits roll while this dialogue plays out, but again the people listed are probably fake. When I tried looking the names up, I typically found they were connected to horror movies, novels, and manga. One example is the sound designer being credited as Hain Awman or cHain sAwman. I wouldn’t even have noticed, except when I googled it, the recommended search made it very obvious.

Anyways, while the credits roll, you start to hear the iconic Silent Hill music, the one that started the first Silent Hill game. The somber music in contrast with the bright sunny day, full of people, creates a kind of uneasy tension for veteran Silent Hill Players who would likely be more comfortable with foreboding emptiness and isolation. This beginning is every bit as bright as the good endings of Silent Hill, making the players wonder unconsciously how dark the game will get.

Eventually, the car turns and drives into a nearly full parking lot, where you see dozens of people heading into the church. Your Dad tells you the doors are unlocked before getting out himself. I like how this communicates in subtle ways that the child locks were on and likely usually are when you’re in the car with them. While it’s never clearly stated, this behavior makes much more sense later when you find out Ashley has frequently ran away from home as a younger child.

As you get out of the car, your mother leads the way and your father comes up behind you and starts moving you along if you don’t move forward at a fast enough pace. You’re stuck at a calm walk for this part and if you try to walk away, your father will grab your hand and lead you himself. I think it’s an interesting message and game design aspect, because you wouldn’t be aware of that level of control unless you resisted. And if you do, you quickly learn there is nothing you really can do.

You find what appears to be your place in the church pews, moving into narrow pathways between knees. You’ll find you’re seated between your parents and they feel like guards. You’re also noticing a lot of people are looking at you. It’s hard to make out any conversation, but the pure sound of dozens of conversations create their own singular cacophony. The room does feel alive and people are still up and about and running around and there is laughter. After just a minute, the church pastor gets up to the podium to announce the Sunday Sermon will be starting and for everyone to take their seat. He seems to be looking at you, locking eyes intentionally, while waiting for his flock to organize itself.

The man introduces himself as Pastor Joseph Stone, wishes everyone a good morning, and quickly gets into a sermon about the love of god and the corrupt world. While it feels rather generic, after his introduction, he says he wants to talk about something important. He looks at you again, before saying:

“There are some that believe they can go against God’s will. Who live in delusion and mock the grace and love of what God has given them. And those who mock God will never receive salvation. They will go to Hell. They will never feel the joy of God’s everlasting paradise!”

While the priest doesn’t point and does speak to the room while delivering the sermon, you still see people look at you. While this is happening the screen gets darker and more compressed, you can hear your heartbeat picking up. It doesn’t really feel different than the haunting mechanic in Silent Hill 4.

The dialogue of the priest turns into a sharp ringing noise and you can’t make out the words anymore. With nothing to do, you can just struggle against your father and after doing this a few times it prompts a dialogue.

“This was the deal. You just have to listen.” The father says.

“I have to go to the bathroom. Please excuse me.” Ashley says. He lets you go and you’re able to navigate the Pews again. The people you see either divert their eyes or look at you in judgment and disgust. The heart beat sound gets faster, the halos of intensity surround you and the impression is the world feels like it’s caving in or that you’re going to pass out or both.

You can tell the preacher is still saying something, but it’s muffled to the point you can’t understand it. The intensity of the noise, heart beat, and pressure keep building until you move out the doors and to the bathroom. In theory you’re free to move around the pews or take your time, but the intense elements you’re experiencing naturally direct the player to seek the bathroom rather than trying to explore anything. There isn’t a reward for exploring either, so especially diehard completionists will just suffer meaninglessly for the effort. L’s in chat.

Once you’re in the bathroom, you’re prompted to lean against the sink for support. You can then look in the mirror and finally see your character. She has black hair that falls to her chin, but looks like a boyish cut for a girl. She’s wearing earrings and has some mascara on, but she otherwise looks plain. Your character starts to breathe very heavily and rapidly. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, it is picture perfect.

Since you’re primarily seeing the mirror at this point, you start to see the world shift in it. It looks like it is becoming drenched in time. This is something veteran players will recognize as the empty or Fog World motif. While this happens the camera pans out to third person and slowly on the mirrors precipitation forms and conveys the message “Welcome”, “Back”, “‘Ashley”.

SH5: Church Level

If you examine the fogged up mirrors, your character will say to themselves, “I guess they missed me.” It is worth noting this is where a player would first discover the protagonist’s name. Her dialogue prompts for the bathroom are fairly mundane, indicating she doesn’t have to go, specifically she didn’t even drink water today, just to make sure she didn’t. I only bring them up, because each of them points to her total lack of concern with the situation, indicating prior experience to shifting reality and some level of comfort with it.

Leaving the bathroom brings you to the empty corridors of the Church. The changes here are more evident and it looks like the place has been abandoned for years. If you try to go back to the main worship hall, the door you used is now locked and in blood is written “No Sinners Allowed”.

It is worth noting that throughout the game you will frequently see messages referring to you as a sinner. It’s even written on your school locker in the fog sections of the level. The game spends a significant amount of time priming you into believing it’s a soft reboot and that you’re the next Alessa, which makes the twist ending feel really exciting when you figure it out.

Anyways, you can hear some kind of screeching inside the worship chamber that sounds like a chicken being crushed to death. (I’m sorry, I don’t know what the place with pews in a church is called. The map just refers to it as the main hall, but that’s what I mean by the worship chamber.) No matter where you are in the level, you can faintly hear this noise. Ashley laments that if she doesn’t get back soon, she’ll be in trouble.

It’s pretty obvious that this section of the game is the opening tutorial. You learn about crawling through debris, climbing, and pressing yourself against obstacles. One of them is an overturned vending machine that you’re forced to crawl under and this gives you your first health item in the game, an energy drink named Silent Thrill.

(The description says, “Our unique blend of B vitamins and BCAA Aminos will make you feel like you’re running for your life! No other energy drink on the market makes you feel like monsters are chasing you!)

You’re able to find a floor map of the building with fire exits clearly marked. You see this church itself is connected to a few classrooms that are likely there for Sunday school kids. There is also a basement for storage and a furnace room. There are a few offices and one community room.

This game doesn’t allow you to look at the map while inside of a paused menu, instead Ashley puts it into her purse and takes it out when you go into your inventory and select it. I should mention at this point that your purse serves as your inventory through most of the game. It looks more like a black satchel than a purse or at the very least a hybrid of both. Incidentally, this means when you lose your purse, you lose your inventory. But this only happens at one point in the game. There is also not a pause feature at all in the game, so digging through your purse is not a free action.

The first puzzle you come across is the locked door to the pastor’s office. There is a red circular runic design on the door that the player may recognize as the Halo of the Sun. Three circles exist within the center and when you interact with the puzzle, there are handles that allow you to pull those circles out and put something into them.

There isn’t a note to explain the puzzle, but by exploring the classrooms, there are notes on the boards describing the symbol. You can piece together that the door will require blood, steel, and light to open as those are the main elemental motifs of the Halo of the Sun.

Ashley makes some comments about daydreaming during class and doesn’t remember her religious teachings. She does remember she had to offer a snake up to God in a play and that it was a lot of fun. She got to hold a real living snake for it! There is also a terrarium that she said she spent most of her time imagining the life the caterpillars would have when they were butterflies.

After exploring everything you’ll find that your purse has a flashlight that can be used, you find steel nails in the supplies closet, and there is a knife in the community room dish rack. You put the flashlight and nail into their respective slots, then Ashley pokes her finger with the blade to drip blood into the third, before closing it. She doesn’t hesitate when cutting herself in this manner or react in pain or surprise, which is the first hint to her struggles with cutting explored later on. Once arranged correctly, the seal disappears from the door and the door is unlocked.

Inside is a room with just a desk and a typewriter. The walls are entirely covered with bibles. If you get too close to them, they open up revealing teeth and attempt to bite or grab you with long tongues. They’re more unsettling than dangerous and you have to push yourself up against the desk to safely move to the other side of it.

On the typewriter is a single page document that looks similar to the sermon you heard earlier, including the generic greetings on top. However, the words are changed and appear more direct. The lines “you will listen to me” are repeated several times. “You will do what I say.” “Only I can save you.” This is the first hint at the nature of changing dialogue that I mentioned in the design aspects of this game.

In one of the desk drawers is a necklace with a tiny golden pine cone. The scales of the pine cone aren’t quite closed or opened. When you pick it up, the bibles on the walls, which were otherwise stationary (unless you had been close to them), all start to snap and make terrifying screams as though desperate to get you. This becomes a cut scene where Ashley crawls under the desk and holds the pine cone close to her. We hear her heart again beating out of control and we see the scales open wider on the pineapple as the bibles and desk disappear.

The room now has a chained fence for a floor staring down into nothing. The walls take on a bloody and flayed skin appearance like in other games, except there are thin lines etched into them with single lines of blood running down. Occasionally some of the walls have beating hearts in them. In red the message, “Follow the Heartless Man, He Will Lead Us to Salvation” is written on the wall.

Ashley sees the world changing and says, ‘Oh thank god, I’m safe.”

Church: Otherworld

You can equip the necklace and examining it reveals the instruction to press L1/R1 or L2/R2 to change worlds. It also increases the efficiency to do so. However, it doesn’t grant you the ability to do it. You could theoretically skip this whole part if you knew this already. And I really like that, this item literally teaches you to do something you always could. If you try doing it any time before the panic attack in the bathroom, Ashley will say, “I’m not allowed to do that anymore”.

If you try to go back to the Regular World, Ashley will say she can’t for some reason. While it does require a high heart beat to go from the Regular World to Fog World or Otherworld, Ashley can freely move in the supernatural spaces while being calm. However, the effort and time it takes to shift worlds still relates to your heart beat.

The Sunday school class rooms can be revisited and this time the boards just say, “How to Rebirth God”. Ashley can examine this and says to herself, “I guess Neitzche was right.”

I think it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on Ashley as a character. I don’t want to go over every comment she makes, but she has this really subtle and sardonic humor to her. This kind of attitude that if everything is shitty, may as well make fun of it. And a lot of her comments are in that vein and remind me of Heather more than anyone else. I do think it’s also a nice touch, because towards the beginning of the game we don’t know if her comments on the nature of the Otherworld are sarcastic or not given her demeanor. Did she say she was safe after looking on at the horror around her ironically or sincerely?

This was still mostly a tutorial, so we effectively just needed to learn how to shift reality, understand heart beats were connected to reality shifting, and walk through a series of obstacles within each world to make our way to the basement. One thing I’ll say is that I feel like there should’ve been more clues that you need to go there. I think this game really tried to create organic gameplay, but half of the time it felt like you’re bringing Ashley to places just because you have nothing else to do.

Also, while the music definitely gives you tension and the bibles did attack you, it’s been a relatively quiet first thirty to sixty minutes of gameplay. It’s a slow start and I think that has the potential of putting off some Silent Hill fans who like to be knocked straight into the action of surviving for their life.

Regardless, as you make your way to the furnace you can hear a terrible grinding noise. It sounds like a chain straining far beyond its breaking point, yet still holding on while it screams. Opening the door brings you into a cutscene with a strange and terrifying creature turning a valve. Veterans would recognize this as Valtiel. Ashley reacts to the monster and tries to leave, but the room is locked. The creature moves with inhuman anatomy and practically slithers up to Ashley. While there aren’t features to distinguish a face and its head continues to jerk violently, it appears to be sniffing and confused.

“Stop that! It’s nice to see you too.” Ashley says while the creature backs up. He rapidly rubs his head where his mouth would be as if indicating a need to express or communicate that it strictly can’t. After this it jumps with incredible strength to the ceiling that is also veins and mechanical pipes and wiggles into an opening and crawls away.

The veteran Silent Hill player will be rather alarmed at this change of pace or Ashley’s coolness around the horror elements that have confused or terrified previous protagonists. However, they may also remember the little girl Laura from Silent Hill 2 and recall the rules and nature of the Otherworld are not strictly consistent. If this is Valtiel, it is worth noting Heather rarely made mention or comment at the strange things it did in her game.

You’re given control of your character and are prompted to start turning the valve. What’s curious about this valve is it is in the center of a blue Halo of the Sun. Before she starts turning it she says to herself that it’s been years since she visited this place, not since she got in trouble for disappearing and the tentative promise she made with her parents. She resolves that it’s time to go back.

As you begin turning the valve by pressing “x”, the door you came in starts violently banging. It will stop after a minute and you’ll start to hear a chainsaw after that. It will cut out the handle and kick the door open. What you see is a monster wearing a yellow apron, shirtless with a gaping hole in its chest that you can see through, a yellow triangle hood, and a pallid mask where the face would be on the hood. This would be The Heartless Man. You can die here, but you really have plenty of time to do what you should be doing: turning a valve.

As you turn the valve the reality goes from Otherworld to Fog World back to the regular human one. The monster that was chasing you also disappears.

Church: Boss Fight

You make your way back up to the main hall, which is unlocked, and walk back in. When you do, many of the individuals in the pews look back to you. The Pastor points to you and says that you can still be saved. The door locks behind her, that intense trapped feeling happens again and your heart starts to beat rapidly.

People get up from the pews and start to head towards you. As your anxiety and heart beat pick up, you’re able to go deeper into reality to escape it. If the player does, the fog world reveals that the pastor is now replaced by a disgusting bird-like being locked in a cage and the people in the pews are replaced with mannequins. The bird screams “Kill” and many of them lift up as though by invisible string and with jerky motions head towards you.

At first it is just one, but you can see others rattling awake as the fight progresses. While Mannequins have been long used within the series, the difference with these is their faces are completely featureless and they have exposed hearts in their chest. You can tell which ones are coming alive as their hearts start to beat. This results in blood splattering all over them. This is a cool gameplay design, because it’s immediately clear which ones are most active by which ones are most bloody.

The only weapon you have is a knife and the interesting mechanic of this fight is that you can’t kill the mannequins. They barge into you, try to grab you, and bite you. If you attack them from the front, you can sometimes damage the heart, which will cause them to spasm on the ground. But this is only a temporary effect and often means you’re at risk of being grappled. The Pews also make the environment very tight and hard to navigate around.

One advantage Ashley has is that she is small and nimble, with a dark souls style roll. She is definitely the most mobile of any of the characters we’ve had so far. While you’d expect this to be a huge advantage, everything seems to be designed to compensate for and only provide harder challenges to you because of it.

Your goal in the fight is to damage the Bird by stabbing it in the cage, but you’ll be quickly overwhelmed if you just go up and auto swing. So, you need to constantly shift between Fog World and Otherworld. While you’re in the Otherworld, the bird isn’t caged anymore and exists as a terrifyingly massive bird creature in a large open arena, where it chases you around and tries to swallow you or peck at you. Since the mannequins are not very fast and will be constantly moving towards where you are, the goal in the fight is to lure them away from the cage in the Otherworld, while surviving against the Big Bird, and then darting in to do as much damage to the caged bird as possible.

I think perfect execution of this fight could be done in just two cycles, but I think the average player will probably take four or five. It’s hard to judge when it’s safe to attack or not and the large bird is terrifying and probably the cause of several game overs for players.

I think it’s kind of funny that the game is relatively relaxed until this point. I suspect most Silent Hill players would even be upset that the girl was apparently friendly with a monster. And likely got this impression, at least if they hadn’t seen reviews yet, that it was going to be a tamer game. And I think one of the biggest values in SH5 is how it plays with those expectations.

I also think that it is interesting that it’s possible to kill the large bird as well, instead of focusing on the caged bird. I think the new game weapons allow an entirely new experience, where you can opt into the more difficult version of the bosses you fight and give yourself much more of a challenge than in previous entries. Like, I’m not sure another Silent Hill game feels so fresh and interesting on its second playthrough given the different capacity of approaching the fights. Also worth pointing out that just a week after the game’s release, there were already confirmed knife kills on every boss by some challenge runners on YouTube. Some people’s kids, sheesh.

Anyways, the Bird dies with a horrible death wail and the mannequins drop motionless after that. Ashley takes the moment to curl up into a ball and gently shake back and forth while the camera zooms in on her and then goes dark.

One last thing to note is that you can shift into the Regular World in this fight. The sequence is that you’re held down and the pastor places a hand on your head to presumably perform an exorcism on you. Ironically, this leads to getting cursed. All of which just builds on the continuing theme that for Ashley it is the Regular World you should be afraid of.

Church: Aftermath

You’re back in first person perspective. You’re in your parents’ car. You’re heading home. They’re scolding you. Your heart starts beating quickly and you’re able to change worlds if you want. When you go into the Fog World or Otherworld you’re in third person perspective and you see yourself as though outside of the car. From there you can’t hear your parents.

In the fog world the car is being driven by mannequins with hearts, blood covering a large portion of their front. In the Otherworld, your parents are replaced by distorted humanoid creatures. There is a chain of bone and organ wrapping around Ashley and connected to the mother in the front seat. It is worth noting that a pretty common understanding of Silent Hill monsters is that they say more about you, than anything else. I don’t think you’re supposed to get the impression that Ashley’s parents are monsters, but that she sees them as monsters.

Anyways, you eventually get home. If you’re in the other realities, the doors to the car are locked and you can’t get out. So, regardless you do need to shift back to the Regular World, at which point your father pulls you out of your car and drags you to your room. He shoves you in, closes the door, and you hear a locking sound.

“You really embarrassed me in there, you know. I wish you thought about my feelings for once. I know you don’t agree with Pastor Stone, but is it so hard to just politely listen? That’s what the real world is…child. We have disagreements, but we work together. We had a deal — ”

The heartbeat goes wide. You don’t control the world change this time, you go straight to Otherworld. Ashley’s room is now covered in child’s toys and drawings. While it is still the bloody skinned walls with tiny fine cuts, it looks like a young child really did a go at making the room look nice and decorated. The immediate impression is that Ashley spent a lot of time playing in here alone as a child.

SH5: The School

Ashley wakes up in her regular bed. You see her blinking and staring at the ceiling, as though she’s dazed. You then hear knocking on the door, the sound of unlocking, and the mother comes in. She tells you it’s time to get ready for school, then closes the door behind her, and she leaves.

You’re still in the black formal dress, but a dresser nearby allows change of outfits. If you try to leave, Ashley will comment that she wouldn’t be caught dead at school in the stuffy black thing. Ashley’s able to wear jeans, a long skirt, or tan capris for leg options and a blouse or t-shirt for top, with red flannel jacket. The clothes themselves look rather plain, with the top being black either way. You also have the option to apply make-up. If you interact with the comb or hair dryer, Ashley will lament that her hair isn’t long enough to do fun things anymore and she wishes she could still braid it. As costumes are added, Ashley is able to change into them with her dresser.

If you try to go into a deeper layer, Ashley will comment she doesn’t need to at the moment. The room you’re in is clean and well organized. The walls have a number of horror posters from video games and movies. The dressers have books from Stephen King and there are some action figures around that look like references to Pinhead. There is a TV with a PS5 hooked up to it and all the highest selling PS5 games on clear display. Real subtle stuff Konami.

You can also find an action figure of a mannequin with a bleeding heart that looks exactly like those ones you saw in the church. Your character comments that they don’t remember buying that one. You are able to eventually locate an action figure of every monster/boss in the game. Each action figure has its own stand and on the stand is a tradeable card revealing monster’s stats, signature moves, and weaknesses if any.

You have free reign of the house at this point and can try exploring the various rooms. Many of the doors will be locked, but there is breakfast served in the living room. It looks like eggs and sausage. The mother is absentmindedly smoking in the kitchen. If you sit down to breakfast you get a cut scene between mother and daughter.

One interesting feature of this environment is you only have twenty total minutes to explore it. At which point your mom will drag you to school. If you didn’t do anything, even pick clothes, you will be put in the car wearing jeans, black t-shirt, and red flannel jacket.

Alternatively, if you sit down to breakfast at any point before twenty minutes in the regular world, you will have a conversation with your mom. The first thing she’ll talk about is your clothes and make-up. She will either say “you look great” if in a t-shirt and jeans or “Why do you have to try so hard?” if wearing anything else. I personally think this comment is the funniest when you’re wearing a Cthulhu kigurumi.

This conversation plays out in a lot of different ways. But it’s a relatively short exchange where you gather from context clues what your parents do. Your father works as a mechanic and leaves early to a shop he works at. Your mother works for the health department’s tobacco cessation department, which mostly involves conferencing from home.

You can also learn that from their perspective, everyone thought you were overreacting in the church. You are told that you started screaming and thrashing, so people weren’t holding you down for the pastor, but rather everyone was making sure you weren’t going to hurt yourself. This dialogue features several blocked and locked dialogue options, indicating Ashley has a tough time talking to her mother.

School Prologue

You’re driven to school and much like before you’re in first person perspective in the backseat. Similar to the church, your mother gets out and if you don’t walk into the school front door fast enough, she will eventually drag you. When you get to the door, she tells you to call her if anything comes up and gives you a phone that you put into your large purse.

Your heartbeat quickens as you are dragged to or head into school. Not unlike the church, you can get the impression other students are looking at you. The floor is tiled in a checker black and white pattern and you’re standing in a large entry hall. There is a giant statue of a golden woman that is over two stories tall, with a fountain at her base. The scene only lingers enough for you to really take it in before you go into another cut scene.

This time you get a sequence of Ashley’s school day, with moments of her in the classroom looking out the window while teachers talk about math or science. You hear other kids give answers, but you seem to just blend in. You see her with three other boys at a lunch room table eating food. There are little figures on the table and a lot of hand gestures, but you can’t make out dialogue as you just hear all of the noise. But she looks relatively happy and engaged. You see her in another class looking down at a textbook.

This sequence lasts a few minutes and it’s also somewhat annoying, because you’re nearly two hours into the game at this point and it feels like they just keep throwing you into more cutscenes. At this point I was getting antsy and just wanted to actually play the game someone else spent $60 on. I was offended on behalf of the lady I met in the gas station. That’s my point here.

Anyways, the final sequence of the cutscene is Ashley grabbing a shirt and shorts from her locker and putting it into her purse. The camera has panned out to let us really see the life happening around her. We get the impression of this smallness and void in the space she occupies. While the other students are bright, loud, and animated. She moves with calculation and within her own world.

She closes the locker, then starts heading to the stairs. She walks down three flights of stairs to the main hall you entered the building. She walks down a hallway here and by this point the environment has become empty. No sign of fog, just the eerie quiet of everyone in class already. You can see she’s heading to the basketball court and just before it is two bathrooms. She enters the girls bathroom and you see four other girls in there. Standing around like they’re waiting. Ashley tries to leave, but a fifth girl blocks the door.

“You’re not supposed to be here, sinner.” One of the girls says. At this point you get control of Ashley again. You’re in first person perspective and the girl who speaks walks up ready to strike. In this moment your heart is nearly exploding and you can shift to the fog world. If you don’t, a punch knocks you to the ground and the girls in the restroom start stomping on you.

If you don’t change worlds, your character passes out and wakes up in the Fog World bathroom. The immediate thing a player will notice is the door is locked and on the walls are several negative messages, including all manner of hate speech and calls for you to harm yourself.

If you try going back to the Regular World, Ashley will say she can’t go back there. There isn’t much else in the bathroom and if you switch to the Otherworld the door is still locked. And this leads us to our other extremely obfuscated part of the game, that was annoying to figure out.

Because, what you’re supposed to do is pull your phone out of your purse. You have a few names on it, but none of the calls go through. You can also check your texts and there is a lot of lore you can gather about Ashley here, but one of the last things someone on your phone texts you is a number to a teen crisis line you can call. Surprisingly, this call goes through.

You’re connected to an operator who tells you her name is Cheryl. Ashley struggles with this conversation and almost everything you say is blocked or locked. Half the time you aren’t even able to get a response in, unless you really button mash. And these lack of responses make Cheryl more worried about you.

I honestly love the way they designed these conversations. I loved hearing all the things Ashley thought about saying, the ones that were more or less difficult for her to say, and the ones that she just refused to admit to someone else.

It helps that the voice acting in the game is just phenomenal and the voice actresses perfectly capture the trembling anxiety and trepidation behind Ashley’s lines and the soft caring tone of Cheryl. Eventually Ashley talks about being bullied and not feeling safe at home and thinking about running away again.

Cheryl tries to calm Ashley down and talk about ways she can help, but asks about Ashley’s current location. Ashley tells her it’s Silent Hill High and there is an audible pause. Cheryl had been gently leading the conversation but at this point there is just silence for a few seconds. Ashley asks if Cheryl is still there. Cheryl says that they don’t get calls out from Silent Hill and asks if you’ve noticed anything strange going on lately, where things look different than normal. Maybe metal chain fences where you normally don’t see them.

Ashley sounds thrilled and asks if Cheryl can see them too. This causes Cheryl concern and she starts to tell you something, but the line goes dead. When this happens, the door opens outside, but they open into darkness. While there isn’t any direct indication why this happens, after playing the game to 100% completion and having a strong understanding of Ashley, I think connecting to another person who believed her about the Otherworld and understood it, made her feel connected to someone else in a more important and profound way than anything else in her life. She, at that moment, stopped feeling so trapped and alone. And instead of shutting herself inside and blocking herself from the rest of the world, she opened the door again.

A big criticism of SH5 is that it isn’t as cryptic as previous games, but I don’t think that’s a mistake or flaw in design either. I think they’ve made a dozen cryptic games and it’s nice to see a mature, honest, and full exploration of a character in their world. And I don’t mean this game sits you down and expositions an entire lifetime of a person’s diary to you, I think it’s still very subtle and nuanced. There are things this game leaves up in the air, but there really isn’t any question about the most important elements of this game or Ashley. At the very least, nobody is going to think this game is about circumcision.

Anyways, we can now leave and use the flashlight on our phone to see!

School: Fog/Otherworld

This is where the game really starts to shine as Silent Hill. Leaving the bathroom here into the dark coordinator of a school hallway gave me the same vibes as Harry Mason exploring the elementary school in the first game. And I don’t mean it was 18 polygons in the shape of a human, I mean it was that same awe I had as a 12 year old girl getting unreasonably scared playing video games.

I don’t know, there is something about an empty school that is inherently creepy, surreal, and terrifying. As you explore the level you learn the school was built seven years ago and with some controversy. It seemed to be the mayor’s pet project and resulted in a huge increase in tax and some backlash from local residents. When you get back to the main hall, you learn the lady in red is the school mascot and your team is the Red Queens. When you view it within the Otherworld it becomes the Red Goddess and looks similar to paintings of God found in previous games.

As you transverse the school, there are monsters that resemble chess pieces stitched together with flesh. They move with hands that come out their sides and lift themselves or drag themselves across the ground. They patrol the hallways and occasionally the classrooms. They also have exposed hearts you can see beating. They move in a pattern indicated by their corresponding chess piece along the black and white checkered floor, but if they notice you, they will violently jerk towards or jump to slam into you.

If you go into the Otherworld, they’re gone, but most of the rooms and hallways are disconnected or chained up. This becomes another struggle of traversing between both worlds to dodge monsters and figure out how you can progress by studying your environment. While in the Otherworld you can also hear the sound of scraping metal and on occasion see something that looks like White Pyramid Head (WPH) in the distance. Veteran fans are just as likely to be thrilled at that, as they would be disgusted PH is being used again, even though it’s James’ specific demon. Little do they know.

It should be noted that Ashley doesn’t have a weapon for a lot of the first section, so there is no choice but to evade monsters. You do eventually find a bat, but they don’t give you a gun. I think this was an intentional and limited design choice, because they really did not want to have a teenage protagonist shooting things in a school at any cost.

The only real context clue for what you are doing here is if you look at the doorway leading out of the school there is a handwritten note, “Ashley, Meet me on the Roof”.

There are several little puzzles throughout the level, often relating to specific subjects in school, including revisiting a Shakespeare style puzzle on MacBeth that took me over an hour to solve and an even harder bird-silent-key-piano thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the school level was designed first, as it had so much attention to detail that it felt like it would’ve been the demo level to showcase. Putting it another way, if this level was sold by itself for five dollars on steam, I think people would’ve thought it was a great game.

In addition to those little puzzles and tricks with changing the world to progress, you see signs of Ashley being bullied or infer that with her comments. As mentioned previously, your locker has the word sinner written on it, which could make you think of Alessa original experiences in Silent Hill. And to reiterate, I do think the impression most players are getting here is that you’re doing a soft reboot. That Ashley is going to be tortured into further expanding Silent Hill, where instead of the original cult, it’s “The Order” operating more directly and openly under a kind of catholicism. The Order, but now it’s a mainstream religion.

Eventually you get to the door leading to the roof and it has the same Halo of the Sun on it that the Church door did. The answer to this is going to be a frog’s heart, a steel padlock, and a lighter. This is where I should tell you that the phone light you use has a battery and if you don’t find the lighter fast enough, you will have to navigate in very dark spaces. It isn’t impossible and there are some sources of light that exist, the lighter is pretty easy to find early, but one of the most intense experiences I had was accidentally running into a chess knight monster in the dark, having it make terrible noises and come after me while I could barely see it and trying to run to find safety, but lost track of where the door was.

The door opens into a large open roof and a chess board. It’s pretty clear that you’ll be playing a game of chess, the enemy has every piece, except the queen. You have no pieces, but are allowed to move like a queen. This is a curious fight for a few reasons. It does operate like a chess game. You can move like a queen and when you enter a space on attack, you can get a button prompt where you will instantly destroy the pieces with your bat.

The enemies won’t attack you like they did in the hallways, but they will try to come after you. You go, then they go, then you go, etc. While this may seem simple, if an enemy is able to attack you, it triggers all of them to try to kill you. So, you can’t just rush the king to win. If you move outside what is possible as the queen or attack them outside of the button prompt, they swarm you to death as well. And yes, challenger runners have completed this boss swarm the unintended way.

You can go into the Otherworld, but waiting there is WPH, making massive swings with his sword. The king is there, but as large as the statue in the main hall. It also moves in jump/stomp attacks. The challenge in the hard version of the fight is WPH will kill you in one attack. He is relatively slow and easy to respond to, but one mistake and you’re done. The king doesn’t do lethal damage, but his attacks can knock you over, making WPH likely to get a hit off. This makes this optional boss both one of the most simple and one of the hardest in the game. Also this is more free for all and WPH does fight and can do damage to the king piece.

When you defeat the king, a man opens the door to the roof. He has mid length gray hair and the kind of sturdy frame that you get working hard labor most of your life.

“We need to talk.”

Before I get into the next section, I’d like to just say that I really like the chess pieces representing school life. It also does a great job representing the calculating way Ashley attempts to navigate safely through the hallways. I’d guess the general theme is the hierarchy you see within school, as popular people have pawns that follow them. At least that’s how Ashley saw it.

One benefit of this game is you don’t need to wonder too much about what is creating these monsters. We saw just hours ago Ashley getting bullied and beat up by students. We saw what made Ashley manifest mannequins in the church. The interesting undertones of this game is that Ashley does come with years of trauma, her trauma is getting created in the events of the game, and materializing in real time. It seems like just a few years ago, her Otherworld was tame and friendly compared to what we see now.

Part Two: The Aftermath

You ask the man on the roof how he is here and if he can shift reality too. He tells you that he can’t, that most people can’t. He made a deal with the devil a very long time ago to revive someone he loved, but ever since he is stuck in repeating lops of fog and blood. Occasionally he sees or meets other people lost or stuck. He tries to help them when he can.

He wanted to tell you that there is a cult operating in the town and they’re up to something big. He overheard a meeting and they were talking about you specifically. They had pictures of you up and that they knew you could shift reality. They were planning to use you in a ritual that The Heartless Man was orchestrating, but he didn’t know anything beyond that. He says he thinks they’re trying to revive their God.

Ashley rejects this off hand as being extremely stupid and asks why she could even trust a strange old man hanging out at a school. While this exchange happens, a large sword impales the man you were talking to through the stomach. Ashley gasps, but the man just says, “Don’t worry, for me it’s always like this…but you should run!”

The door you came in is locked. The person who impaled the man is a red pyramid head. He starts to come after you. If you change to the Otherworld, it’ll be a white pyramid head. The only escape in this fight is going back to the Regular World. Except when you do, a cutscene happens, because you’re no longer being pummeled on the ground of the girls rest room. You’re bandaged up in a hospital bed and your mom is sitting next to you.

The logic of space in this game seems to borrow from Silent Hill 4. It isn’t explicitly stated, but it seems like sometimes your mind or soul is in the Fog or Otherworld and sometimes your physical body is too. This may mean deeper things within the world or it may just be because it’s a video game and everything doesn’t need to make sense. So, keep in mind the game does use fuzzy logic sometimes.

SH5 Hospital

Blinking your eyes you see your mother from a first person perspective. You can’t move or do anything other than look around the room. Your mom explains that she doesn’t know what will happen to you. The story is that you attacked several of the girls in the bathroom with a knife and they fought back in self defense.

You were unconscious and delivered to the hospital to treat a number of lacerations and they think you may have some broken bones. Your face is covered in bandages and you look nearly inhuman. You’re not able to respond to your mother nor are you given prompts to do so.

After she explains the situation, she says she has to get back to work. At the very end of all of the news she tells you, ‘I don’t want to say I told you so…but look…you’re young. You made a mistake. You can still turn your life around. Just stop this nonsense. I’m sure the town would cool down if you just stop pretending to be something you aren’t.”

She leaves. A curious thing in this part of the game is your heart doesn’t start beating like you might expect it to. You’d expect you’d be able to escape, but you can’t. You can’t move. You can wiggle around, but nothing comes of it. And the game design choice here is bold. You have to wait five minutes. We have to sit helpless for five minutes.

I think this direction can be either taken as incredibly powerful or extremely annoying. Many players want to just push forward, explore content, and dull whatever noise is in their life. They want the game to just be fun for them and this scene does not do that. What you’re forced to sit with is helplessness. It is hopelessness. And to me, playing this part, the absolute isolation and dread of this scene…the smallness of it…hit me really hard.

I feel like this is where I really connected with Ashley in a way that I didn’t with Heather or any other Silent Hill protagonist. While Silent Hill often wants to give you rather ordinary people who have no right fighting monsters, you typically see men who seem like they could still handle themselves. It’s scary to have to navigate the shifting reality and monsters, but it seems possible.

But with Ashley, for these five minutes we spend with her, what I feel like is that she is just a kid, alone in the hospital, with the world against her for the crime of just being. I don’t know. I think for the first minute of the scene I was kind of bored and annoyed, because I didn’t know what to do next. But once I was invested in what this scene meant, I think it could have lasted an hour and I might still praise it.

And it feels kind of ironic that with all of the horror and darkness in the franchise, it is a brightly lit scene in the real world, inside a hospital room with plain walls, that made me feel the most isolation and dread. Real horror isn’t just the dark, blood, or inhuman shrieking — sometimes it is just sitting alone with yourself. But it is a game. It is designed for us to play it, so it makes some quality of life concessions. It only forces us to be in that room for five minutes, instead of five hours.

At which point the room starts to warp. It becomes drenched in decay and time. It feels like you’ve been abandoned. It is worth pointing out that even though Ashley can control the reality bending, it doesn’t mean she dictacts it. It still works like before, it can still happen and suck you in.

A cutscene starts. There is knocking on the door once you enter the fog realm. The knocking becomes banging and it feels terrifying. Then it stops. I got the feeling it was The Heartless Man here to finish me off. There is silence for the length of time necessary to feel that terror abate and from there a loud band. The door has been kicked open. A woman with blond hair and wearing something like a sailor scout uniform comes in. What?

“Oh thank god, I’m not too late.” She says and walks up to you and hugs you. It’s hard to tell your character’s reaction given the bandages, but the scene focuses on Ashley’s eyes. They go from frightened, to confused, to watery, to closed with tears running down them.

And it’s such a sharp narrative turn, from that isolation to warm comfort. I was having fun with the game until the beginning of the hospital scene and then I was invested. And then right when I was invested with how cool of an experience this was, this scene made me actually cry. More than anything this scene is why I wanted to write this review and go in depth with it.

Silent Hill has always been on the edgy side with its content and always had the themes of redemptions and connections with others as buried subtext, while they chased you with psychological monsters, horrors, and cults. And I think the important part of Silent Hill isn’t the horror, it is the message of redemption. Every game is a trial for characters to become better, face demons, and get a good ending. But all of that effort is maybe a five minute cutscene and neat bow tied to a bright happy ending you don’t really get to live in.

This game just feels so much more mature and balances the connections you make with the horror that chases you in a way that makes both the comfort and terror feel more real. And I don’t think Ashley is intended to be seen as a particularly weak character. She fights all of the time, she tries to find her place in the world, and rarely asks for help. But, we see all the times she doesn’t ask for help, we see all the silent pain she takes, and I feel like the narrative really makes keeping her safe something you do want to do. And I think a lot more people playing this game are compelled to care about and protect her than they may have with Maria in Silent Hill 2 or Eileen in Silent Hill 4.

And beyond that, I think it also shows players they can reach out for help in subtle ways. It doesn’t feel like an afterschool special, but we do talk about smoking, cutting, depression, and suicide in the game. And they’re scenes designed to give hope and options to people who may struggle with it. The scenes aren’t judgmental, scolding, or righteous — they acknowledge kids suffer with this and honestly explore it. They do sometimes miss their mark or read as cringe, but I think it’s a net positive overall.

I’m sorry to take so many words with this review, I’m not intentionally trying to inflate my word count, but I think this game is really cool. Honestly, I’m trying to be as brief as possible and have shaved thousands of words from this essay to make it more approachable. I know people like reading tweets and anything over even five hundred words just gets a meme to acknowledge you sure did “effort post”. But, what can I do? This is a hundred hour game that ties an entire franchise together and touches on so many real human experiences.

Anyways, the woman hugs us and we cry. She keeps telling us she is so happy we’re safe, it’s okay to cry, and that we’ll get through this. After you regain your composure, you’re put into an interactive dialogue sequence.

You learn that this is the woman from the crisis hotline. You ask her if she can bend reality too and I think it’s a cute thing to see Ashley asking another person in a relatively short amount of time. I think it just communicates this really desperate need for her to connect with someone. For most of her life she has had this secret world that keeps her safe, but also keeps her isolated. And now that this world that was her support has become hostile, she just wants to find someone to feel safe.

You’re given a brief synopsis of the events of the first and third Silent Hill game, but if you actually know the stories you can tell what she’s holding back, thinking it’s maybe too big to explain to a kid about murder, fetuses, and reborn gods. If you don’t know by now, this is Heather from Silent Hill 3. Keep in mind that she does change her name to Cheryl, so that’s how we’ll refer to her.

Ashley ends up explaining that she can shift reality and has been able to do so since a kid. She mentions she has seen strange beasts, but since she grew up with them she never knew other kids didn’t or to be afraid of them. She did have to go to therapy for it and ultimately just learned to shut-up about the experiences or pretend she didn’t have them anymore.

Cheryl says the safest thing to do is leave the place. That it sounds like Ashley is being primed for a sacrifice and that Cheryl can save you. Ashley asks why she cares and Cheryl explains that she never wants someone to go through it alone. She would rather die than have Ashley experience what she did.

Ashley takes some time to respond to this. It’s clearly a difficult thing to decide, but ultimately says that she was born here. It is her town. She isn’t going to give up on it. Cheryl pats Ashley on the head and calls her dumb, but says okay. Cheryl explains to you a few things to help you survive.

She says there are no underlying constants to place, except that it will always give you the chance to make it through. Each person experiences a different Silent Hill, but at times people can be drawn into each other’s worlds. There is typically only a limited experience and two realities being smashed together actively try to separate. You probably don’t have much more time right now, so Cheryl gives you a golden pipe. She tells you it’s a magic pipe given to her by a sewer fairy and Ashley looks at her like she’s crazy. She says it’ll keep you linked and make it easier for her to support you. As she says this the word fades into the Otherworld.

Ashley is ready to get up from bed, but as she does, the word fades again. It’s like a sprinkler system of liquid darkness goes off and drenches this room in a grayscale reality. What is left is what fans will recognize as Alessa’s room in Alchemilla Hospital. Except the walls fade away into infinity and out into the infinite void you can see thousands of free floating rooms. An easter egg is seen in 302, but most of the rooms look like places in either this game or previous Silent Hill games.

And out in that infinite void is massive yellow arms. There is no origin or logic to them, but you can see them crushing the rooms you do see or merging rooms together or throwing rooms into other ones. It’s incredibly impressive for visuals and a hint towards the true nature of the villain you’re fighting in the game.

I honestly was just awestruck by how difficult this would be to design. It really didn’t seem like what I was seeing on the screen was something capable of being made in real life. That for just a second, what I saw, felt like looking into a window and not a television set. That at any moment the hands in this space would come out of the screen and into my room. Freaking myself out, I quickly got out of there.

Hospital: Nowhere

The sequence in the hospital is going to be as polarizing as being forced to wait in bed for players. It reminds me of the time in FFXV where your character must limp through an entire level, which was so badly received that they actually patched a lot of it out. It’s artistically compelling, but gameplay wise it’s the swamps of Dark Souls if you get what I mean.

I already said I was invested in this game, because of the sequences that came before, so I also found this part compelling. This is the last bit of the game before it becomes open world, so the last thing the developers want to leave you with while they have some linear control over your action. They want you to get a deep sense of just how scary, confusing, and big the world is for this kid — but that she fights anyways.

So, you don’t have your purse, which means you don’t have your inventory. Your character also is limping and has a half second delay before moving. While moving she’ll keep moving, but if you stop, there is a two second delay where she winces and holds her side before she’ll take another action. It is amazing how two seconds in real life is nothing, but in a video game feels like an eon.

You’re only holding onto the golden pipe, which provides a few benefits. It gives you a slight auto-heal, it serves as a light source, it resists haunting, and it’s an effective weapon. I consider it similar to the EZ gun in Metal Gear Solid and using the pipe makes a lot of the game pretty trivial. It won’t give you an auto-win against bosses, using it can impact the ending, but it is completely op and there isn’t much reason to use other melee weapons, until you get an ending to the game and unlock the chainsaw.

As you transverse through the hospital you’ll find patient notes about Ashley being a depressed and reserved child. You will sometimes be referred to as candidate five. Depending on which doctor the notes come from, you can see sympathy or disgust in the notes. Ashley will react to this, saying that she’s always known that the doctor hated her.

The physics of this place are clearly unreal and the doors and how they connect aren’t governed by logic. The only light is that which comes from the golden pipe you’re holding. You hear different noises, like crying or screaming as you move through the environment. Sometimes there are windows looking into the infinite space and golden arms. Sometimes you hear bits of dialogue between patients and doctors. Sometimes voices come on over the intercoms. You see bodies in hospital beds that start to glitch and jerk violently when you get near them.

The primary element of damage in this level is haunting damage. The more you interact with the psychic elements or ghosts of the environments, the more your character takes on curse marks. I think in this regard, it also serves to make sure you know about curse damage and how to handle it before they let you go explore the open world.

While there are little puzzles in the traditional Silent Hill manner of obfuscated poems, the big thing to take away from this the hospital basement of nowhere is you can find a medical cabinet with a false wall behind it.

If you go in there you learn one of the prescriptions that was given to Ashley was Albuflotine. It was prescribed for depression when she was eight years old. What you learn is that Albuflotine is just White Clauda extract and you learn several kids were given this and that each one was called a candidate. You learn you’re the last living candidate and the final note reading that everything has been set. (If you’re paying attention to names here, you can make a connection to a later dialogue sequence before it’s revealed.)

At the end of this level is a massive gate blocking a hole in the wall that looks similar to what you see in Silent Hill 4. There is a monster in front of the gate. They have a regular human face connected to a massive humanoid body that looks vaguely similar to Leomon from Digimon. They have wing-like appendages of bone and flesh that at best mocked the wings of a bird. They are wearing a white coat and hold a steel mace where the round metal ball is embedded with broken syringes and needles. There are two beating hearts on the left and right side of their chest, attached by a metal chain in the shape of an eight.

It looks like it could be a boss in a dark souls game and feels overwhelming. I think the average player would have some apprehension about even approaching it. And that hesitation is required for the atmosphere to work. I think some of the negative reviews the game received were from players who treated this as just a game to beat. Who wanted some great atmosphere given to them, a distorted power fantasy, or a game that they could passively enjoy instead of an atmosphere created by their participation in the logic of the world.

I also think some of the appeal for Silent Hill for some players is the suffering of the protagonist. And while it’s cruel to imagine, realistically I have to guess that’s why some people play these games. They like to see bad stuff happening to someone else. And I think when a game tries to connect you more directly to the character and their suffering, the player gets offended at this, because it usurps the control fantasy they were playing out.

Anyways, for me, it all felt overwhelming and impossible. My character was wounded and moving slowly. It was painful to walk. I was covered in curses. What could I do? Having nothing else to do, I pressed forward. A cut scene plays when you’re about twenty feet away. It shows Ashley dragging herself towards it.

She says, “At least I’m going to die in a cool way.”

It speaks in a guttural and distorted voice, “On Mount Cyllene a Prophet struck two snakes as they mated, who was that profit?”

Ashley responded in a pained wince, “How the hell would I know that…how do you know that? Do I get a hint? Maybe a freebie? Can I call a friend, you fuck?”

The head spins a complete 180 degrees and you see a different face. Something demonic and distorted, with more of a snout and sharp long teeth. It growls at you and leaps forward with the mace slamming it into the ground as your character dives away. She hits the ground and nearly curls into a ball, before forcing herself up. You return to third person perspective and are given control of your character while the monster tries to unbury the mace from the ground.

The goal in this fight is to attack it on its left side three times, which will knock the keys off its belt. You can then pick them up, unlock the gate, and leave. The monster’s attacks are extremely powerful, but they tend to be slow leaps at you that result in buried maces and a few seconds to get in an attack.

The fight here is rather simple and easy if you know exactly what you’re doing. The problem is that since there is a delay between all of your actions, you can’t mash buttons. If you panic, you will die. If you confidently determine your attacks and take the fight slow, it’s hard to lose.

Also during this fight, Cheryl will occasionally pop in to shoot beams, cast a heal spell on you, or stand in the way of an attack. The beams will stagger it, often giving you a free attack window. This monster is not something you can kill here and escape is the only option, but you can return here to fight it later on, as part of an optional quest.

The tunnel you get into is a long crawl. Music starts to play. It’s basically their Metal Gear Solid 3 ladder climb moment. I can’t do the song justice, but it’s a sad violin that turns into something that sounds inspiring. I think the goal of it was to give you a feeling of rebirth. At the end of the tunnel is a valve in the blue Halo of the Sun. Turning this valve increases the brightness of the world, until it’s entirely bright light. You wake up back in the hospital bed.

There is a doctor next to us holding a needle and two cops in the room. One of the cops scolds the doctor saying the girl was supposed to be out cold. The doctor looks scared for a second and then grabs your arm, but before he can put a needle into you, you change the world back into the fog and the three men disappear. You can still hear their conversation, but it sounds like it is coming from a faded echo.

“Shit, where did she go? It’s like she just sank into the bed and disappeared.”

“Pastor is going to be pissed.”

“Paster maybe, but the Mayor will have our asses. This is Officer Reynolds, we have a runner. Put all eyes out for the Smith kid. And let Mayor Olson know. They escaped before we got here.”

SH5: Open World

It’s hard to talk about the game from this point, because it effectively becomes a Silent Hill: Breath of the Wild. You have the largest free range option of going to practically all parts of Silent Hill. There are legacy dungeons where different locations allow you to descend into them to uncover more story, find artifacts, or defeat bosses. There isn’t anything necessarily governing what you do or how you do it from here.

The main difference is that while you can travel in the Regular World, police officers and random people will start shooting you with tranquilizer guns. The really eerie part of it is there is no telling when it will happen. While the police officers will be clearly marked, you never know when a random teenager, old lady, or child will pull out a gun and start firing on you.

And at first you don’t know this, so the first time a child starts to take shots, it’s really jarring and freaky. After that you start to suspect anyone could be a threat. I really enjoy these design elements, because it makes you the player feel as scared of these people as Ashley probably already is. Keep in mind that all times you’re in the Regular World, you’re in first person perspective. This really limits your visual range, meaning you might just get hit from behind at any point.

You also never get a weapon in the Regular World. There is a part where Ashley is able to pick up a pistol. She holds it and does a few action movie moves with it, but while you’re doing it your heart beat picks up and she drops it. You can examine it while it’s on the ground and Ashley says, “The thought of shooting someone makes me want to vomit.”

If you get hit with a tranquilizer, you have a little bit of time to escape into the Fog World. Typically, your best bet is to find some cover while you try to reality shift. If you get hit with three darts your character passes out. Typically, if you’re playing cautiously this isn’t a problem. You can also drink an energy drink to give yourself immunity for five minutes. But if you do fall asleep in the Regular World, that triggers the end of the game. So, tragically, any percent speedruns of the game all rush into dooming the poor girl.

To briefly describe the open world elements, you will find terrifying monsters in the Otherworld. City Hall is entirely enclosed in ice. There are mini kaijus wandering the streets in some locations. Most of the Otherworld functions as stealth and evading, but a unique feature of it is that while things do need to locate you to attack you, the WPH always spawns a few blocks away from you and always walks directly to where you are.

The Fog World is much more forgiving, but features these roaming masses of deformed people that likely represent the mobs Ashley feels like are chasing her. While you do control going between worlds, sometimes you get locked into spaces, where you need to find and turn a valve to get out. Also being cursed can shift you back and forth unexpectedly.

There are a lot of items that you eventually get that makes traversing all worlds much easier, many of which are unlocked through Ashley specific sidequests. I’ll get into all of that, but the way the game manages an organic exploration element, without making you completely lost, is that Ashley has a notebook on her phone where she writes down ideas and goals. One of the first ones being that her older brother has a moped she could steal to help move around the game. The other one is that she wonders if exploring the police station or mayor office would help learn more about what’s going on.

Aside from that, at any point you can get knocked out by a tranquilizer and wake up to the bad ending, so let me describe that first!

Silent Hill 5: Bad Ending

Ashley is strapped onto a stone table, wearing a white dress exposing her stomach. There is chanting that you can’t quite make out. A man wearing a red triangle hooded ornamental robe prepares some substances in a black chalice. He marks your forehead with it, then draws on your stomach a rudimentary Halo of the Sun.

“From Life to dust our God rested. From dust back to life our God will rise.” Your character seems to shout, but the sound is muffled. There is chanting heard as you hear this line spoken by faceless robed people there. The man in the red grabs a large spear. There is a cage over your table, you see arms dangling from it. The man in red plunges the spear into the cage and you hear a shriek followed by blood funneling down from the cage and dripping onto your stomach.

“I offer a sacrifice and a worthy vessel” the man in red mask says.The blood then starts to pour unnaturally fast and as though gallons are coming out of the person above you. The white clothes you were wearing become drenched and stained red and the world takes on the appearance of the blood and rust. The cult that is around this room has distorted into monstrous entities with no eyes and supernaturally large mouths that look to be perpetually smiling. Their garb is now flayed flesh and they’re making soft discordant laughing sounds.

The red robed man has been replaced by The Heartless Man in the Pallid Mask, themed in yellow. Valtiel breaks through the floor and walks towards Ashley. The Heartless Man holds up a controller and clicks it, lights turn on from above and change the Halo of the Sun blue. This causes Valtiel great pain, as he falls to his knees and claws at his head. Next we see The Heartless Man holding Flauros, the pyramid object we saw with the power to seal demons in Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill One. He walks up to Valtiel, the pyramid glowing brightly and this seems to freeze Valtiel’s movements. He then takes a dagger he was holding and stabs Valtiel where we’d assume a heart would be.

The pyramid stops glowing, Valtiel slumps over. The Heartless Man says, “No gods, only man.”

A very long moment occurs where nothing happens at all, then Valtiel’s body takes on a frosted appearance. Then the world goes to chaos and the reality around you takes on the appearance of composites of Fog, Regular, Blood, and now Ice. Humans scream as the monsters next to them start attacking. Some appear frozen with terror on their face. The walls disappear and you can see pandamonium on the streets.

The Heartless man comes up to you, with a knife raised. While there is no prompting, the only option you have now is to ascend. If you don’t, the game ends. If you do, you go to Timeless World.

SH5: Timeless World

This world is in first person perspective in an environment of pure whiteness and a stonehenge like structure in front of you.

If you walk forward into the center of it, the archways project images to denote different parts of the game between the Church, School, Hospital, Open World, Sacrificial Table, and your grave. At the center you get Fate’s Key of Redemption, which unlocks your ability to come back at any moment in the game. Ascending from the Regular World does take at minimum a full minute, so it’s not something you’ll accidently do.

This may seem otherwise confusing if you haven’t explored the buried content in the game, but what The Heartless Man did when he killed Valtiel was disconnect God’s influence from the land. One of the things God introduced was linear time.

This is the main way you can keep replaying the game. This game doesn’t have a traditional new game plus mode, which is just going through the content again. Instead it builds in a more organic theme of redemption, where you can keep working at getting different or better endings. The Fate’s Key of Redemption is one of five keys of redemption that are required to unlock the best ending.

Each key is a reward at the end of a long questline featuring the main characters within the game and each key serves a few different purposes. I’ve mentioned the locked dialogue options throughout the game, well these keys are how you unlock them and open up new conversations. This often presents Ashley as more confident, open, honest, and receptive with the people in her life. These deeper connections and moments of vulnerability open up greater opportunities and options for saving the day at the end.

One of the pillars represents your grave, which is your future if you don’t change anything. This lets you know what ending you’re currently on track to get and it changes to a few different things depending on your actions. The best ending for Ashley…graduating highschool. Which I find kind of hilariously mundane. We’re fighting to survive a supernatural horrorscape against gods and demons for the joy of a…diploma. The whole idea likely being similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and representing school and growing as basically being a nightmare.

So, let’s go through the major questlines that result in a better ending.

SH5: The Cheryl Questline

You can locate Cheryl when your golden pipe starts to glow and then you enter the Fog World there or you’ll see her from a distance if you’re already in the Fog World. This serves to give you a kind of hot/cold element to locating her. The first place you find her is the burned remains of Dahlia Gillespie house. She talks about her mother being crazy and believing pain and suffering would make the world better. The wild thing is a random trucker ultimately intervened and saved the day by stopping the resurrection of God nearly twenty years ago.

Cheryl tells you that whatever rituals they were enacting to birth God, whatever came out of Alessa, and whatever demon was inside of her, it wasn’t God. It was all the pain and suffering the cult inflicted on dozens of young girls for the decade.

The second time is the far edge of the map, where her adoptive father crashed his car. She talks about how a lot of this really started at this moment. You can tell Cheryl is close to crying, but holds it back because of you.

The third place is Lakeside Amusement Park. Where she says as Alessa she tried to poison the place as much as possible and unleash her pain into the world. And while she did exert some control over the place, it was a drop in the bucket to the pain already embedded in the land. As Alessa, she wanted to destroy it all, but as Cheryl, the love of her father made her change her mind. She pauses and says, that isn’t quite right. Alessa, even after all of the torture, just prayed for her happiness. She gets this look like she just thought of something, but she turns to you and says there’s always hope Ashley.

These three cutscenes are required to open up a door in the Lakeside Amusement Park that is covered with three chains. Etched into the door is the title “Mother of God”, which is the only hint it connects to Cheryl. Opening this door brings you into the church, where at the end of it, Cheryl talks about giving birth to God in the first game and the feeling of the fetus inside her in the second. But given that she vomited it out, she says it wasn’t inside her womb, it was inside her soul. (Or SH3 developers don’t get how a uterus works, similar to some legislators, and they made this up to retroactively justify this.)

Cheryl says in some ways she always felt like a monster and that she was born of monsters, so giving birth to a monster God just made sense. At this point you get the impression she’s grown distant and is speaking much more monotone than before. The hole opens up here, similar to the ending of Silent Hill 3 and she jumps into it. If you jump into it, you see a boss arena that’s the same as the third game. Except the boss is the backside of a chair, with a haunting coming through it with massive arms that slam and grab.

This fight is interesting in that both you and Cheryl are in it. If one of you gets grabbed, the other one needs to attack the arm until they let you go. Periodically the monster turns around and you see a rotten corpse sitting on the other side of it. During these moments Cheryl falls to the ground and can’t move. If you stand next to her, you get the prompt to grab her and shift her.

At the end of this, Cheryl says she’s been running away from her father’s death. As she cries, you are given the option to hug her, but you have to work at it. You’re given a Cheryl’s Key of Redemption after this. This will unlock previous dialogue options, a door in the hospitals nowhere, and make Cheryl show up at the end of the game. Cheryl is also much more likely to show up and help you while you have the golden pipe equipped.

SH5: The James Questline

Before I get into these quests, I have to say that James being in this game is very strange. I think PH always felt a little crammed into games ever since Silent Hill 2 and I wonder if the strife between Konami and Kojima didn’t have something to do with trying to force James or PH into Silent Hills?

James also doesn’t really tie into the overall plot and theme of the game in interesting or compelling ways. He is just kind of there. I mention elsewhere in this review that I think this game was a few games mashed together and I feel like James inclusion here is just that. Ultimately these quests just felt weird and out of place. The only real justification I can think of is they wanted to wrap up the games that came before it.

Anyways, to you can start them by following the Red Pyramid Head (RPH), who is not hostile to you, unlike the other ones. The first encounter takes place in the rest stop outside of town. James is in the bathroom, looking at the mirror. He tells you that he tried to change once, but he never stopped feeling guilty. Sometimes it would be a long time and he’d be fine, but always, eventually he’d hold onto regret. Until it became too much and then RPH would kill him. And this has been his existence for as long as he can remember.

You find him in Pete’s Bowl-O-Rama next. He talks about occasionally meeting people like you, but just briefly. But if he is around, that means RPH isn’t too far behind. He struggles between feeling alone and bringing danger into the lives of people he meets.

Next is Heaven’s Night, where he says he doesn’t know if he even made the right choice in going through with the resurrection. But he wanted to make up for taking a life. At this point the three chains on the door in the historical society building open up and allow you to revisit the Toluca Prison. The markings on this door say “The Drowned Man”.

At the end of it you find James standing in front of three graves, with the name James, Eddie, and Angela. In this room is a grave for Walter Sulivan which is dug up. When you interact with him, he shifts into a drowned corpse. He says he knows he is dead. He is now the manifestation of guilt in this world after the ritual he completed ascended him into the prime fabric of this reality. His body decays into water and seeps through the floorboards.

Stairs now lead down and out into a frozen red lake. The lake has hundreds of arms and bodies frozen in it. There are gallows, noses, and executioner axes also throughout. The door behind you disappears when you get here. The sky is covered in cherub theme demons. An island is visible in the distance with a church on it. Walking towards this island reveals the White pyramid head. There are many dead creatures around it. On a Ceremonial stable is the Red Pyramid Head, a spear through its chest.

As you approach them James appears next to you. He says the land of Silent Hill was covered in the blood of executioners, but also their guilt. James fulfilled the role of an executioner when he killed his wife and he was drawn to this world to create that monster. He was never here for redemption, he couldn’t be redeemed, but he was here to ascend into the echelons of this place’s dark gods. When he sacrificed RPH as part of the ritual to save Mary, it gave birth to that white thing.

He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but suspects it is what is left of an executioner when you take away all humanity or guilt. When a monster or presence is strong enough it has a way of rippling out to other worlds. He says there was also a nurse, sometime before him, who also ascended and whose presence can be felt rippling through the land.

This fight is insanely challenging. You will die in a single hit and WPH is unnaturally fast here. I think I had an easier time fighting Malenia in Elden Ring than this cheap bastard. You can’t shift realities in this fight, as you’re occupying someone else’s reality entirely and are trapped in it.

There isn’t a gimmick to the fight, you just need to “git gud”. It’s kind of weird to see a fight like this in a Silent Hill game, but given the open world elements of it and their attempt to kind of do everything in one game, I guess I understand. After hours of attempts, I manage to do enough damage to trigger the end cutscene. This involves WPH falling to a knee, now largely draped in the red of his own blood. RPH comes up behind him and slams a hand into its chest, pulls its heart from its body, and pops it like a balloon.*

(Edit: Someone emailed me and told me you’re supposed to lure him to attack specific areas which will make corpses come to life and help you, making the fight significantly easier. I stand by my original criticism, because this was never made clear or evident to me during the fight. Like wiggy arms are not the context clue I need to understand that’s a friend I haven’t met yet. I do think this is supposed to symbolize the revenge of the damned against their executioner)

RPH, still a spear in his chest, drags himself back to the ritual table. He grabs the spear in him with two arms and pulls it out. He becomes limp and his body distorts into the drowned man. You’re now able to examine the table and get James’ Key of Redemption and the Beating Heart. Most of this sequence kind of knocked me out of the narrative and made me think, “This sure is a video game.”

Silent Hill 5: Ashley’s Questline

Ashley has contact information of her friends in her phone, including their addresses. Physically going to each location will give you a cutscene and typically reward you a key item. These scenes play out in the Regular World, but you can get into people’s rooms or explore their house in Fog World or Otherworld.

Brent — Key of Charity — Moped

You have Brent, who is your other brother and he is where you get the moped from. The game really tries to nudge you into going here, because of the utility of the vehicle. It does require filling up with gas, which is slightly annoying, but you can either do that at a station directly or with gas cans. This requires going into the real work and is one of the ways they prevent you from just avoiding it entirely.

Brent is kind to you, but still distant, asks how things are with the parents and apologizes for them. If you visit this place in the Fogworld after the cutscene you get a Key of Charity. There is no order to do these technically, so I’ll just follow what I did in my playthrough.

Michael — Key of Gratitude — Portable Hole

I went to Michael’s place next, his room is full of miniatures and maps. You learn he is your Dungeon Master and that he has heard the news. He tells you that you can tell him anything and after some struggle you come clean about the Otherworld. You expect him not to believe you, but he tells you he never told anyone this, but his younger sister used to say the same thing. She had to go to a doctor a lot and died when they were both very young.

Looking around the place you can find out his sister was the third candidate. He tells you she used to be able to hide things and pull them out of nowhere. He asks you to try and you make your purse disappear. From this point on you can access anything you put in the portable hole at any point in the game. He expresses thanks that finally someone will believe him that his sister wasn’t crazy. You get the Key of Gratitude from him.

Greg — Key of Chastity — External Phone Battery (Infinite Charge)

After this, I went to Greg’s place. He says he was really worried about you. Your character is surprised by this. He confesses that he’s always had feelings for you, but never knew how to say it and now the entire town was after you. This leads to a cute scene where your heart beats as intense as it ever does in the game and you escape to the Otherworld to have a little talk with yourself.

You come back and he’s sitting on his bed. You ask him why he isn’t more freaked out that you disappeared and he asks if you’re serious, everyone knows this town is fucked. You accuse him that he doesn’t really know you. And he tells you that you’re right, but he likes what he does know and he’s worried you won’t see you again. You’re given the option of kissing him here and it’s a pretty long and intense kiss. You leave with a Key of Chastity.

Susan — Key of Temperance — Headphones (all game music + monster static)

This is a person you haven’t talked to in a while. The last text you have is them saying you need to pick up the wireless earbuds you left at their place or she’ll throw them away. You can find both them and the Key of Temperance in the trash. Curiously, you can theoretically get these items while digging through trash and have no idea why. If you’re one to just dig through trash. Linus doesn’t judge. (Stardew Valley reference)

Dad — Key of Diligence — Health Watch (Basically a Fitbit)

You meet your dad at a mechanic place he works. Another automatic cutscene plays if you’re near the shop in the Regular World. You hear a heated exchange where your father is defending you against the allegations of assault with his coworkers. They tell him that you’ve been in trouble before, that you’ve brought a knife to school, and that you’re crazy.

He throws a wrench on the ground, this gets everyone to look at him. And he says, “The only person my kid has ever hurt is herself. If you stand there and say another bad thing about my daughter, we have a problem. Do you want a problem with me?” He then storms off into his office.

You can visit him there and he asks what you’re doing out of the hospital. Your character just starts crying and hugs him. He tells you it’ll be okay. He knows you didn’t do anything wrong. He says he knows your birthday is coming up and with everything going on, may as well give it to you now. You get a birthday present with a Health Watch and a Key of Diligence in it.

Mom — Key of Patience — Access to Home

This is an encounter you get when you try going home. Your character stands in front of the door. They don’t know if they should knock or just go in. Ashley goes to leave, but finds Cheryl is with her. She asks whose house it is and Ashley says it’s hers and her mom is home, but she’s afraid to go in.

What plays out is a surprisingly honest conversation between a mother and daughter’s worry. Cheryl says she works with teen crisis and runaways and helps mediate the rougher side of the conversation. The conversation ends with the mother saying, “I don’t get you, I don’t really understand you half the time, but whoever you are, I love you and you’re always welcome here.”

Ashley — Key of Humility — Half-Elf Archer

This one you get in Ashley’s room. Examining the mirror brings you into a different world. You walk down hallways of messages in blood and fine cuts on the wall. It doesn’t look like the usual bloody font of Silent Hill, but more like handwriting. And if you’ve paid any attention, these are messages Ashley has written about herself in the margins of every notebook. Many of them directly shamed her for cutting.

While this is a fairly nuanced element in the game, when you know what you’re looking for, you can really find it everywhere, including faint scars. The end of the hallway is a room where you see a mirror image of yourself. She’s equipped with the knife weapon and is a hostile npc. She plays like you do, is fast, and can jump around reality. While this should be extremely obvious, you share a health pool with her. Winning involves not attacking for two minutes. A cut scene plays where Ashley hugs herself. She says, ‘I’m done being hard on myself.”

I think a lot of players would find this scene on the nose and cringe and honestly it was a bit much for even me. I’m not sure how else they could’ve realistically done it. The result of the fight is to get the Key of Humility and the Archer custom that gives you access to the bow and unlimited ammo.

So, what do you do with all of these keys? Why you take them to school of course! And you remember the red queen statue in the hall of the school. That is alive now and a very difficult boss. It has high health, has ranged fire spells that explode, spears come up from the ground chasing you, and as it jumps around to crush you, blood waves tidal out from underneath it. It will frequently charge from one side of the room to another, because it’s also a chess piece. Fun stuff.

Its only weak spot is a large exposed heart in its back that you have to hit with your bow. Killing this reveals that beneath it is a place for seven keys and when you open the locks, the fountain drains and a staircase leads down into infinity.

At the very bottom is Ashley’s Key of Redemption. This has a ton of different impacts on the game, mostly involving unlocking a lot of different and new dialogue with everyone except James or Cheryl. Many of these dialogue options can skip through parts of the game pretty quickly. You also get relic earrings, which item description suggests each piece contains an original part of the snake and reed given to awaken the God.

SH5: Heartless Man’s Key of Redemption

This starts with visiting the police station and finding trace elements of the cult. You then find notes to progress to the Pachinko arcade in town, where top prize is the mayor’s house key. Yup, this is a video game. This leads you to a dungeon where you effectively invade the Mayor’s version of Silent Hill and learn what he has been doing in his life.

How this works is you touch his Book of Memories and get warped to different chapters in his life. If you’re not familiar with Book of Memories, effectively they’re dairies that you can change what’s written in them and it will change what happens in real life. So your diary could say that you tried to marry a woman and she turned you down, so you erase that and say she loves you. The result is you’re now married to that woman!

One key difference is the book you interact with is not one you’re able to change, because its text is written in blood, but by exploring these chapters you learn how the mayor was manipulated by The Heartless Man. Specifically, there are parts where the handwriting changes and these are the parts of the dungeon you explore. As you go through them, you’re chased by The Heartless Man, but they look more smoky or ethereal in nature, indicating it isn’t really them but just a phantom of their memory or influence.

This sequence ends with a key to the Pastor’s house and you find another Book of Memories here and learn more about the cult and get a refresher on the mythology of the Order. You can tie messages here to the ones you found in the hospital to figure out the plan is the same as before to rebirth god and bring about paradise. This will give you a key to the Forbidden Library, which is located in the main Library in town.

Here you learn the answer to the sphinx’s question and a ton of research notes from The Heartless Man. While the answers aren’t necessarily clear, they tie together some guesses one may have of the world. You find another Book of Memories here and it becomes clear this one belongs to The Heartless Man himself.

As you travel back through the memories of The Heartless Man, you find a memory of Vincent and Claudia yelling at each other in the church. And this is where you realize the Heartless Man is Vincent and his death in this church by a true believer was just a catalyst in a ritual to disconnect him from death, Silent Hill, and bring him in service to a different God.

It is through these dungeons you also learn the weakness to the Book of Memories. While it seems like an omnipotent artifact that can change reality, it serves two primary functions. The first is that by contract if you change your own fate even once, anyone can edit your book. You effectively open yourself up to control by anyone who steals your book and that is what Vincent has done to gain control of the mayor, the priest, the police station, and revive the cult.

The second is that using the book increases madness in the world, specifically it eats sanity in a kind of Faustian bargain. This is more just conjecture on my part, but each of the characters you see interacting with these books becomes more unhinged and deranged. If I had to guess, I think the change in reality is fueled by a person’s own psyche. And making changes puts enormous pressure on a person’s mind.

Anyways, the final memory is Vincent being approached by the Mailman Howard Blackwood and given several Books of Memory. This suggests that even the Heartless Man is working for or being controlled by someone else. But it’s unclear what role Blackwood has beyond just delivering these books. I suspect he’ll be revealed as a major player in some future games plot.

What you learn through this quest is that Vincent has been tricking the Order into believing everything they’re doing is to revive god, just like before. But instead, it is all a ruse to summon Valtiel into a trap and kill him. And with it to permanently destroy God’s influence on the world. You’re also given a hint on the ritual Vincent used for immortality and the clue that returning a beating heart to him will render him mortal/killable again.

At the end of the dungeon you get Vincent’s Key of Redemption and Aglaophotis bottle. It’s implied he has this bottle as a backup plan in case anything goes wrong. Using this bottle at any point, Ashley will drink some and then start coughing. She’ll just say that was disgusting. This confirms there isn’t a demonic fetus inside of her, so that’s great news!

The true purpose of the bottle is that you can combine the item with the Archer costume and create Aglaophotis dipped arrows. I’m not even going to get into how complicated it is to understand you can do this and why. It involves the Unknown hospital space and a dozen cryptic clues and sometimes I wish the game was maybe just a little more clear.

I don’t think any player would reasonably know to do this or the interaction is possible. When I finally figured it out, it wasn’t a moment of euphoria, but of annoyance. It was like, “Really? That’s what I was supposed to do?”

SH5: True Ending

With all of these elements together, we can now get the true ending of SH5. Everything stays the same up until the moment Valtiel dies. Except if you completed Cheryl’s playthrough, she shows up, blasts The Heartless Man, and unties you. The Heartless Man stands up, unphased by this attack, and Cheryl says, “We need to run.” By itself this leads to an ending where Cheryl and Ashley are surviving together in a frozen distorted wasteland of a world. I think in some ways this is suppose to be a reference to Shattered Memories and what Silent Hill would look like without God’s influence on the land.

If you have the heart, Ashley says she has an idea and combat starts. You can use the heart on him, which will make him mortal and it plays out like a boss fight. If you have the heart, the boss fight will happen, but Ashley will escape some other way.

If you use Aglaophotis dipped arrows for this fight, once you beat him, you’re prompted to use the arrows and if you do you get a new cutscene. A golden ethereal arm comes out of the Pallid Mask and rips the arrow out. Then dozens of more arms come out of the body in various places, ripping through flesh. The creature appears to glitch and distort through the land like it’s moving through dimensions, rather than through space.

The fight changes to a space covered in these yellow arms and a strange worm or snake like body slithers across the world. There doesn’t appear to be any head, the only thing you interact with is the strange segmented body and human-like arms. They don’t do much physical damage, but they do massive haunting damage when they hit you. When your invisible haunt gauge becomes high enough a death cutscene occurs where your character becomes possessed and yellow arms come out from her.

The way to win this fight you need to pray two times. You’re given the option to pray to four different things out of a list of a few dozen things. The right answer is redemption and joy. Praying takes a few seconds and you need to time and dodge the yellow monster in space to do it. You can get knocked away and around during this.

If you are successful and have the two earrings from Ashley’s sidequest, a bright light takes over the scene and the sound of a beating heart gets higher and higher to the point of madness before flatlining. Then you hear panicked noises and muffled sounds. You wake up in a hospital, with long orange hair and the world looks normal. You look out the window to what looks like normal life and then it zooms out and says six months later.

It shows us with Ashley, still with orange hair, shoving food into Greg’s mouth, while laughing. One of her friends appears to be trying to eat as many hotdogs as possible as another one looks on in concern. You hear shouting for Ashley a few times, until she screams back, WHAT? Her mom grabs her by the arm, she rolls her eyes, but she drags you to a stand that says Class of 2021.

She looks annoyed at this, but not in the way that indicates being really that mad, instead she eventually just gets into it and starts waving people over.

It turns out the perspective we’re given is from a camcorder and Ashley tells her that he needs to be in it too. So, the Camcorder is handed over to another person and her parents and friends come to do dorky poses. This ends and they’re about to leave, but Ashley insists they need one with Cheryl. Ashley points over and the camcorder looks at an awkward woman eating cake. She joins Ashley and Ashley hugs her while looking at the Camera. We see the world fading behind them into Fog, then Otherworld, and to Nowhere. Cheryl rolls her eyes at this, chops Ashley’s head, and they’re back to the party. Credits roll again, with little still shots of the party, the after party celebration, and their life moving on.

SH5: UFO Ending

The final thing to talk about is the UFO Ending. After you get the true ending, if you go back to the open world section of the game, you’re given a new text message from a person named Mira. She asks if you’ve ever seen Bigfoot and gives you coordinates to find him.

This quest leads you to finding a series of cryptids, a bonus UFO dungeon, and a confrontation with the aliens and Mira at the end of it. They tell you before Alessa, Silent Hill was about alien abductions and Alessa made it all spooky. They say they will offer you an alien blaster in exchange for returning Silent Hill back to Mira’s control.

Instead of praying for God in the final cutscene, the alien blaster will cause a UFO to abduct the strange yellow creature and the next cut scene will be the comic drawing. It involves several aliens being served the yellow hand as food doing a banquet and Mira wearing a “Best Dog” sash walking up to a royal seat to be crowned. Many of the characters of Silent Hill are here and they’re all bowing to hail Mira.

Secret True Bad Ending

I never got this and I don’t want to get it, but I was told you can get a bonus secret ending if you unlock the True Ending in the game and then undo all of your work. Since you can go back in time and repeat events, you can leave everything as bad as possible.

This ending results in your camera turning on and showing you if it isn’t already. It will then modify the image to make it seem like yellow arms are coming out of you and the walls. At this point the game will shut off and delete all of the data on the disk. It will brick your copy. I didn’t even know the PS5 was capable of doing any of this.

Also, since I’ve seen the game going for thousands of dollars on Ebay a few years ago, I’d caution nobody to try to get this ending. I can’t even find it on Ebay anymore.

SH5 Final Comments

While it is as cryptic as any game in the series, this game seems to be about Lobsel Vith attempting to usurp dominion over the Otherworld from God. While the game first seems to be another attempt to rebirth God, we understand that was just a ruse to kill Valtiel and end God’s rebirth cycle.

We know that Valtiel’s death results in the shattering of the Otherworld. Beyond this, it is never directly mentioned that the final boss is Lobsel Vith and we can only really infer that with the yellow motif and design. It’s likely this boss was supposed to also represent the King in Yellow or at least its iteration within the world and speak more towards the cosmic horror of the universe.

This may also indicate that God did not create other beings under her, so much as subjugated them. While the ending heavily implies God’s direct interference, we don’t know if Ashley truly ascended to being God, if she merely borrowed the power, or if it was power she innately had. A curious thing about the sequence is they performed the original ritual to create God, which may be why the transformation was successful.

The original ritual doesn’t mention God being birthed by humans, but rather created by an answered prayer. This could indicate all previous games’ attempts at rebirthing God were all inherently flawed and what they brought to life was something entirely different.

One could also infer the Yellow Demon you fight as the final boss was just an extremely powerful otherworldly being locked up by God in the past. It is also possible that some other human did something similar to Ashley to achieve this feat before. So, while it seems like the game is providing us conclusive answers, they are anything but.

I think like I mentioned throughout this review, the game is about closure, joy, and hope. It is a mature look at topics that were really only explored at superficial levels before. It has some incredibly powerful moments that will probably stay with me for a long time.

The biggest criticism is that the game tries too much and ironically just feels too much like a video game sometimes. I think some fans will be absolutely lost in this world and never notice the time while they play. And while many moments did that for me, eventually going through the dungeons felt more like a completionist chore than something I was really invested in doing.

There are many players who read Ashley as a transgender character, but I’m not sure I completely buy that reading. You would expect at least one scene where she looks at the camera and says, “I’m a transgender,” but this never happens. I definitely get why folks would think this, but I’d need more concrete evidence personally. And maybe there is something I missed? This game does not have a lot of strategy guides out there, so hell, maybe there is an entirely different ending I don’t know about? If you know, feel free to leave in the comments!

And while this game has many serious moments, they clearly take a lot of liberties with the story and we see a lot of weakness with the open world design elements. Basically they had to limit and reuses monsters and it shows. They spent a lot of time trying to answer questions nobody actually was asking and I’m not sure it made it a better experience overall. The entire section with James could’ve probably been cut. Making Heather’s golden pipe and magical girl powers canon was a strange choice.

I hate to say it, but I think Silent Hill is just better as a non-open world game. And I wish they didn’t spend so much time trying to explain things.

My favorite moment in this game was actually silence. Five minutes of sitting alone in a hospital bed with an atmosphere of silence and feelings of isolation and fear. I still love the game, but I think it’ll be a long time before I can play it again.

If nothing else, this game does make me really excited for the new releases. If you do the ARG elements of Townfall, you get a hidden message talking about the beating heart of Silent Hill. Given the heart themes and motifs of this game, I can’t help but feel they may be revisiting Ashley or this world building in some capacity.

While I have some complaints about this game, I mostly see how many elements of previous games they were able to expand on and refine. I think if this game was continually refined, it would be just an absolute masterpiece. I think they can still get there and maybe the new games coming out will be the magnum opus this series deserves.

Thank you for reading and as always, let me know what you thought of the game! I would love to hear from you, even if you think I’m wrong! The best part of Silent Hill games is just how open they are and how diverse our experiences can be while playing the same game!



Faye Seidler

I write essays on literature, pop culture, video games, and reality. A throughline of my work is metanarrative horror and defining what it is to be human.