Silent Hill: Ascension Mid-Season Review
10 mins read

Silent Hill: Ascension Mid-Season Review


Interesting, isn’t it, that the first new Silent Hill project for a decade isn’t even set in Silent Hill. More interestingly still, it’s not even a game – at least, not in the traditional sense. It’s a curious decision, and kind of gutsy, too, given the clamor for the neglected horror series. There are loads of things we recognize from that spooky little resort town – there’s the signature fog, monsters, a weird cult, and a whole cast of people with haunted pasts – but if you were hoping that Silent Hill: Ascension was ringing in the next generation of great Silent Hill adventures, you may have a little longer to wait.

To be fair, the animated interactive series – available via a mobile app, a website, and as a non-interactive series on streaming services like Sony Pictures Core – has just wrapped up for the holidays, but there are still several months to go, so we’ve yet to discover its final twists. We don’t yet know if the titular town is going to make an appearance, or how – or even if – the seemingly unconnected storylines will converge.

We don’t know much at all, really, for although Ascension has been broadcast almost daily since its launch on Halloween 2023 (for a month, new episodes ran seven days a week; it now runs Monday through Friday), the clips have been astonishingly brief, usually no more than a minute or two in length. In totality, that gives us around 30 minutes of footage each week, all of which can be viewed in daily or weekly installments. It’s a great format if you like bite-sized media; it’s not so hot if you’d prefer to spend time getting to know the characters… or perhaps have poor short-term memory.

The story kicks off as two towns thousands of miles apart experience a shared fate: a death at the hands of something otherworldly. For one town, where humanoid shapes shuffle in the shadows of the local farm, it’s a mystery; for the other, it’s a consequence of a religious ritual gone wrong. For both, the death kicks off a chain of spooky happenings.

The way it’s delivered in seconds-long snippets makes it a little disjointed and difficult to follow.

Although many of the themes – revenge, guilt, a religious cult that may or may not be evil – will feel familiar to Silent Hill fans, with so much of Ascension still to run, it’s hard to give a definitive opinion on the story, not least because the way it’s delivered in seconds-long snippets makes it a little disjointed and difficult to follow. (I prefer the weekly recaps to the daily broadcasts because it’s a little easier to track the plot.) The focus is on the lives of five key characters: Toby, Eric, Rachel, Karl, and Astrid. The last two are a Norwegian father-and-daughter duo introduced just as the family’s delightful matriarch meets an untimely end. The first three dwell in the all-American town of Hope Junction, where they’re the town drunk, launderette proprietor, and religious acolyte, respectively.

Astrid is cold, explosive, and perpetually on a knife’s edge. Her father’s a milder, kinder soul, but does things that seem very much out of step with the man we thought he was. Rachel, too, is a little all over the place, endlessly staggering from serenity to rage and back again, sometimes within a single scene. It’s not that I can’t accept that characters can change, but when you spend just a few minutes with them each week, it’s hard to appreciate why they’re changing. Without understanding who they really are, nothing these folks do really makes sense, which sometimes means little of the story makes sense, either.

It’s hard to know who I’m supposed to be rooting for.

Even now, seven weeks on, I don’t know how I feel about them. The time we’ve spent together is so fleeting, and understanding of their motivations so shallow, it’s hard to know who I’m supposed to be rooting for… which is a problem, given that rooting for people sits at the very heart of Ascension’s appeal. After all, it’s up to us to decide on the fate of the main characters.

So far, Silent Hill: Ascension is a curious choose-your-own-adventure story. We’ve been given a set of characters, and it’s up to the audience to decide what happens to them by voting on preferred outcomes and whether or not we want them to follow the path to “redemption, suffering, or damnation”. Sometimes, we can affect very small, inconsequential events. Sometimes, these decisions can mean life or death. As I’ve been continually reminded as the weeks tick past, it’s clear that my choices are often at odds with the rest of the audience, and sometimes what I think is the “best” decision inexplicably leads the character into “damnation” – say, destroying a bloody glove, in defiance of 77 percent of the votes – making me second-guess myself.

The studio responsible for Ascension, Genvid, insists it has no idea which characters will survive because there are thousands of incremental choices that can affect how the story progresses, which is possibly why Toby, Eric, Rachel, Karl, and Astrid lurch from one extreme reaction to the next. At one point, Karl is desperately helping Astrid locate a missing family member; a couple of scenes later, he’s calling the authorities to get her committed. And I have no idea how we got from point A to point B.

Even the acting and voice work feel wonky at times; the animation and motion-capture work can feel a little clumsy, too. Sometimes, characters are utterly dismissive of the people and world around them. Other times, they overreact at the slightest provocation. No one seems to be talking about the creatures they’ve seen, or why their world has suddenly turned upside down. Children are missing, but their mothers aren’t telling anyone else about the disembodied voices calling out of the forest, or reporting that they heard their missing offspring on the phone. And once you start noticing the characters’ lack of consistency, it’s hard to unsee it.

Once you start noticing the characters’ lack of consistency, it’s hard to unsee it. 

Even though Silent Hill: Ascension isn’t a game per se (the debate over what is and isn’t will never end, but for the sake of brevity, let’s call this interactive fiction), it has a battle pass – because of course it does – and, just to confuse us a little more, it has games, too. It’s through these that you can earn two types of currency: standard XP, which levels up said pass to unlock “rewards” and influencer points (IP) which you use to vote for key plot decisions or enter a lottery to have your weird-looking avatar get an in-game cameo and be enshrined in Silent Hill canon forever. The cameos don’t ever feel anything other than forced and wildly out of place.

This small array of casual puzzle games are Ascension’s least offensive aspect. They’re grouped into two categories: Arcane, which you play to unlock currency for yourself, and Mindfulness, through which the audience’s efforts are combined to make an average score that then affects individual characters’ Hope. It’s this Hope that helps keep characters alive when they star in Endure, the interactive quick-time event sequence included at the end of each episode. Contributors will get IP as a thank-you for their participation, which is pretty galling for those of us in Europe; there’s no way to replay this sequence at a later date, which means European players will be continually disadvantaged and earn less IP… unless they want to stay up past 2 a.m. five nights a week.

Trouble is, everything designed to make Ascension unique is what ultimately weighs it down. The ability to vote and change outcomes is a novel one, but the multiple choices make the story feel choppy and unstable. I have the $20 battle pass and max out the amount of XP/IP I can earn each day, and right now, I have 39.4K saved up. There’s a leaderboard that monitors the highest-spending voters of each choice, though, and the leaders of the two options deciding how Rachel will exploit Xavier’s absence have spent 64.7K and 55.3K, respectively. No one in the Top 5 of the leaderboard has spent less than 25K. So what’s the point of throwing in one or two hundred of my points if someone can trump my miserable contribution thousands of times over? For it to feel meaningful, player votes should be equal and democratic, not always slanted in favor of those prepared to pay for more power. It makes the vote feel vastly inequitable.