Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Video Game)
Reviewed by Ryan "Plagiarize" Acheson
Available for the Nintendo Wii (reviewed), PlayStation 2, PSP
Rated M for Mature
Published by Konami
This winter Silent Hill: Shattered Memories rolled out across the country fittingly accompanied by the first snow storms of the season. For those that haven’t been following closely, Shattered Memories is a ‘reimagining’ of the original Silent Hill game, brought to us by Climax Studios and Konami.
That first Silent Hill game was set during a snow shower, this one is set during a white out, and that’s but one of the many far reaching changes you’ll find here. Given that Climax were behind Silent Hill: 0rigins on PSP which many felt was overly traditional and played it too close to the formula, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Shattered Memories strays so far away from not only the plot of the original game, but indeed the gameplay traditions and series hallmarks we’ve gotten used to over the last decade.
Gone is the cult and all of their religious symbols. Gone are the industrial themes. Gone are the health drinks and ampoules. Gone is Alessa. Gone completely is the combat. So what remains? Well first and foremost Harry and Cheryl Mason begin their journey much as before. Harry loses control of his car on an icy road just outside of Silent Hill (which is now in upstate NY). The car crashes and on reawakening Harry finds his daughter Cheryl missing. A father’s desperate search for that daughter follows, and the revelations that come out of that are equally as surprising as the ones in the original game, if not more so.
Another thing that hasn’t changed, the constant for the series, namely composer, producer and occasional director Akira Yamaoka provides what may prove to be his last soundtrack for the series. It’s sad to think that this might be the last Silent Hill soundtrack as he’s left Konami since finishing up this one, but I’m happy to say that this is up there with his best work on the series. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn lends her vocal talents to a few of the tracks, and as ever the combination is haunting. Surprisingly a cover version of ‘Always on My Mind’ is a particular stand out.
Climax brings something else you expect from a Silent Hill game. Technical brilliance. Just as they did amazing things on the PSP, they’ve done amazing things here showing just what a talented developer can squeeze out of the Wii when they put their heart into it. It’s not as good looking as an Xbox 360 or PS3 game, but honestly, I doubt you’ll get much closer than this. Incredible lighting effects. Detailed environments. High res textures. It’s an amazing job.
With your trusty flash light in hand, which beautifully illuminates the snowy night and dark interiors, you’ll try and pick up and then follow Cheryl’s trail. Long time fans may expect to know their way around Silent Hill, and may indeed recognize some of the street names and general layout, but Climax have definitely built their own Silent Hill here.
Though the town has changed, Harry’s journey is a very similar one. He’ll search the streets, the hospital, the school and many other types of locations you’ll remember from the first game in the series. I say ‘types of locations’ because while the names of many places are the same as they were in the original, these are not the same locations.
One trusty tool that has been taken away from you is the radio that used to crackle as weirdness approached. In its place is Harry’s phone, which comes complete with a camera and GPS. You’ll use all of its functions as you explore and investigate the weird goings on, and it comes into use regularly. You’ll meet a lot of people with familiar names too, and some of them may even look familiar depending on how the choices you make play out.
Shattered Memories is a game that tries to work out who you are and what makes you tick. It does this in both overt and subtle ways. The chapters of the game are bookended with time spent in a psychiatrist’s office. Your responses to the questions and tests of the psychiatrist will change both obvious and subtle things.
You’ll be very aware at times that these ‘sessions’ have had a direct impact on the game, but there are many other ways the game keeps tabs on you that are not going to be so obvious in a single play through. Spend too long staring at sexual imagery and the characters you’ll meet will be dressed more provocatively, for example. Given the choice of going into two different buildings, the door you attempt to open first will sometimes decide which of the two buildings is accessible. The game takes these choices and uses them to build a psychological profile of the player. They’ve tried to guess what scares and disturbs you, without ever directly asking you. Sometimes it’s going to take what it thinks your values are and then smash them in front of you.
Monsters which start out as featureless mannequins will turn into something else based on which type of person the game pegs you as. I can only speak for myself here when I say that in my case the game certainly had me pegged. The forms that the monsters began to take as the game went on were definitely more disturbing to me than the ones they had at the beginning. Unlike other games in the series Harry has no way of defending himself. Fortunately the monsters only come out when the snow stops and the ice encroaches, engulfing buildings, people, doors … freezing everything. It is these moments where Harry finds himself truly alone, being hunted in the dark.
While the environments are usually quite linear, in these moments when everything freezes over, they turn into disorienting mazes that loop back on themselves and seem designed to be as confusing as possible. You’ll usually know where the way out is thanks to a GPS application on Harry’s trusty cell phone, but you’ll have little more than a vague idea of how to get there, and precious little time to pull out the phone in order to check whether you’re heading in the right direction because the monsters will be right on your tail.
When they catch you, they’ll grab a hold of you, and hold you in place while attacking you. This allows numerous enemies to latch onto you at once, unless you can throw them off by throwing the Wii remote and Nunchuck in the appropriate direction for whichever side you’ve been grabbed.
For the most part you’re going to want to run for your life. Charging through doors, scrambling through tight spaces, clambering over walls and hoisting yourself up onto rooftops. There are a few other things you can do in those moments other than run. There are hiding places where you can catch your breath. If an enemy is blocking the path you want to take, you can use one of these hiding places sometimes to wait until the enemy has moved aside before continuing your mad dash, but if you stay hidden too long the enemies will sniff you out eventually. You’ll pass various objects that you can topple as you go past in order to slow the monsters behind you. You’ll want to topple them just as you pass to ensure that you don’t create an obstacle for yourself in the process.
Most usefully you may stumble upon a flare, and the burning light keeps back the monsters for as long as it burns. While you’re holding it, you can’t check your phone to see if you’re heading in the right direction, so if you don’t know that you’re going the right way, you can always drop the flare and take refuge next to its red glow while you pull out your phone to figure out where the hell you are and where the hell you need go. You can also drop the flare in a corridor to hold the enemies back as you press on.
If you do take the time to check your phone, you’ll see it shows a trail of where you’ve been, and also highlights the monsters as little dots so you can see how close they are to bearing down on you. Don’t expect to just be able to always run for the exit though. Sometimes there are going to be puzzles you have to solve in order to get there. Once you do reach the exit though, you can breathe a sigh of relief because you’ll know that you are safe, and that it’ll be a little while before the ice world comes creeping back.
Progress in the regular world is done through character interaction and puzzle solving. The puzzles in the regular world don’t involve any back tracking and most make great use of the Wii remote’s motion control. It’s all very intuitive, as you slide and rotate and shake things usually to find a key for a door in the same room. There’s nothing here that’s going to tax your brain on the same level as the puzzles in the original Silent Hill but there are a lot more of them, and they generally make a lot more sense than some of the abstract puzzles the series used to be known for.
All in all whether or not you come away from Shattered Memories feeling that it’s a proper Silent Hill game is going to be down to what you think makes a proper Silent Hill game. For me, it’s a combination of haunting atmosphere with plunges into nightmarish twisted otherworldy versions of the areas you’ve just been exploring, so for me it’s definitely a Silent Hill game. For others the changes to the plot and gameplay may be too much to still think of the game as Silent Hill.
One thing that is definitely going to be divisive is the chase sequences. They work just fine, and while I’ve heard some complaints of them feeling trial and error I experienced no such issues, generally able to just survive on my wits each time without any foreknowledge of where to go. Throwing off the enemies doesn’t always work, and it’s a bit odd that you can’t check your phone and carry a flare. Given that you can only walk while checking your phone, it wouldn’t really give you a huge advantage to be able to do both at the same time.
As cool as the morphing monsters are, it’s also a shame that the changes are just cosmetic, and that there is only one type to worry about. It feels like a fairly solid proof on concept, but the stealth elements could be enhanced. I definitely didn’t miss the combat, and what’s here works, it could just be a lot better.
One thing that definitely works well is the psychological profiling. You won’t know until purposefully replaying and making different choices just how much the game is changing, and really it’s just altering details along the same story until the ending, but it’s still altering a lot, and while the characters may end up at the same places, you’ll meet very different versions of those characters on subsequent replays.
And you will want to replay to see all those changes and to get your money’s worth. First time through the game is about six or seven hours long, but on subsequent plays you can probably get through in less than three hours when you know exactly what to do and where to go. To be honest, if the game was any longer it’d feel like a bit of a waste since who’d both replaying a twenty hour game numerous times?
As for the ending … well, there is more than one, and it would be remiss for me to spoil any of them, but the ending I got about blew my mind.
Shattered Memories may have some flaws, the frame rate mightn’t be stable, the chase sequences perhaps could be improved, and a bit better integrated, something to fear while creeping around in the regular world wouldn’t hurt either… but even given all that it’s really stands testimony to what interactive fiction can aspire to.
Because really, that’s what Shattered Memories is. It’s an interactive story. It’s a story that works hard to get under your skin and inside your sub consciousness, and at that it succeeds. The chase sequences may be weaker than the rest of the game, but they’re still probably better than the combat they replace. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a wonderfully realized experiment that Climax and Konami should be proud of. They aimed for something original in a series that was growing tired, and they succeeded.
If you own a Wii and are looking for something to play to ride out the next snow storm ... I can’t think of anything better to do with your time than cuddle up with the lights out and the volume up loud. Then make your friends play it and watch to see their version of the story.
Then play it again.
4 1/2 out of 5
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