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Silent Hill an immersion in horror

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Konami's disturbingly spooky universe makes its gaming debut on Sony's hand-held system in Silent Hill Origins (Konami, for PSP, rated M for mature, $29.99), causing nearly the same anxiety level and creep factor as found in its PlayStation console releases.

The single player will not be disappointed in this third-person survival horror miniepic. This fright franchise set as a well-produced B-movie, including the obligatory dumb protagonist, thrives on the dreams of Clive Barker and things that go bump in the night.

The not-too-bright star here is Travis Grady, a truck driver who fears he has struck a child (familiar to Silent Hill devotees) during a nighttime run but discovers she has disappeared from in front of his massive rig.

Instead of immediately calling the authorities, this brainiac wanders around the deserted road and side terrain with his little pocket protector light to find her.

The scene offers one of the cooler interactives for the player as Travis' movement leads to the opening credits and musical score of the game playing seamlessly during the random exploration. I really felt part of a classic horror film.

Travis eventually retrieves the burned body of a girl from a mansion in flames and wakes up on a bench in the heart of the fog-encased town of Silent Hill. He spends lots of time investigating almost every room of the nearly deserted buildings in town, running into gory monstrosities.

His ultimate mission is to resolve some serious mother issues and escape Silent Hill with his life and sanity. His battle is complicated by occasional hallucinations and the need to solve environmental puzzles to collect keys.

A clever part of the experience enables Travis to use mirrors found in the various rooms to enter the supernatural dimension of Silent Hill, a world the production design team from "Saw" might create.

Travis is not in tiptop shape, making stamina an issue. As the character runs or is taxed by fighting, he tires, and his reactions slow. He needs to stop and catch his breath or find an energy drink.

During violent encounters, the player can equip him with a short list of weapons to pound, shoot, stab, slice and even throw at enemies, which include beasts sporting glossy mutated skin, high-heeled faceless nurses, maniacal mannequins and straitjacketed creatures in need of a good stomping.

The striking design, including haunted-house sound effects and a scratched-film effect on the action, begs for the game to be played with headphones on and in the darkest of corners.

Silent Hill Origins is presented on a 4-inch-wide screen, but it is more than unsettling enough to give the squeamish plenty of nightmares.

While on the topic of shocking presentations, Sony offered a redesigned PlayStation Portable late last year dubbed the PSP-2000, and I was able to enjoy the latest Silent Hill entry on the slightly upgraded hand-held entertainment system.

Boasting to be 33 percent lighter, 19 percent slimmer and with twice as much onboard memory, the device feels much more cheaply made than its predecessor. Lighter and slimmer is not better for this big-handed player — it felt as if the PSP might snap in half during a frenzied moment with the game.

Also, the big selling point in this release is a port to connect the PSP to a television. Cables are not included and cost about $20. This is a pretty miserable upgrade for the gamer as the port is at the bottom of the unit, making it awkward to enjoy a game while struggling with a giant cord. Also, on the high-definition-compatible television I was using, the screen action is surrounded by a large black box that takes up more room than the action.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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