Forgive the girly metaphor but a good makeover is what every game ported, remade or otherwise "re-imagined" on the Wii should be; and with any luck, it's what Silent Hill: Shattered Memories will be.
A good makeover doesn't slap a layer of polish on an already finished product; it doesn't cram a bunch of new features onto an already complete face. Instead, it enhances what's already there while inspiring reinvention of the inner self (or whatever it was I read on that bottle of liquid foundation).
Even if that metaphor is lame, "enhancement" and "reinvention" seem to be the tactic developer Climax and publisher Konami are taking toward Shattered Memories, based on what journalists saw at the Konami Gamers Night event.
The demo opened with a familiar scene: Harry Mason crashing into a ditch in the middle of the night and waking up to find his daughter, Cheryl, gone. The next scene we know: policewoman Cybil Bennett encounters and tries to talk sense into a confused Harry. Only this Cybil looks very different from the more buttoned-up blonde in the original.
The demo jumped then to several different sections of gameplay footage where Harry wandered through the snowy Silent Hill armed with only a flashlight and a cell phone. The flashlight serves as the classic mood-setting tool of the series – light and the lack thereof was and still is a very big component of survival horror entertainment. The cell phone, on the other hand, serves as an immersion too by replacing all heads-up displays and menus you'd otherwise see in a video game.
The goal, said producer Tom Hulett, is to "destroy the barrier between living room and game" by removing things that would take you out of the experience. To that end, there are no loading screens in the game and both the flashlight and the cell phone are mapped to the Wii Remote in ways that make the controller feel like the object it's representing.
"We learned a lot of what not to do [with flashlights on the Wii] from Alone in the Dark," Lead Designer Sam Barlow said. "They took a lot of gamey functions and just replaced them with kind of excessively complicated gestures. What we've done here is the opposite. This flashlight control scheme we have is this really beautiful, seamless."
The Wii Remote also transmits many audio cues the game will rely on during puzzle solving – including the old, scary radio static Silent Hill gamers are all too familiar with.
Take for example, a key-in-a-can puzzle, which takes place in what looks like an abandoned carnival. Harry comes to a locked door; instead of pop-up text telling him to go find a key, Harry actually says to himself, "I should look for a key." Whoever was steering the demo turned Harry around and walked past a truck that appeared to have three soda cans in the truck bed. Once Harry was close to the cans, the camera zoomed in on the cans and changed the Wii Remote mapping from flashlight to hand-shaped targeting reticule. Using the Wii Remote, the demo master appears to grab the cans and shake them. When one made a jingling noise, the reticule hand appeared to lift up and turn over the can up and out came a key. Puzzle solved.
Hulett says that gamers can expect more puzzles like the can puzzle from Shattered Memories.
"What other games may have done less effectively is replace that button press with a nunchuk shake," he said. "In our game, not only is there no HUD, nothing to distract you or remind you that you're playing a game, but you're reaching in as you saw in the demo… You're not highlighting the can and clicking a button and having the game go 'Oops! didn't have the key in it!' You're picking those cans up, you're shaking them around. When you find the one, your Wii remote jingles like there's a key inside of it, you turn it upside down - you're doing all the actions. It's not just ‘I figured out what the puzzle is, so I'm going to highlight this.' You figure out what the puzzle is and then you do that thing."
The Wii Remote will also be part of grasping and turning doorknobs and part of a back-story collection method that's pretty spooky. In the demo, Harry came to a broken swing set. The player activated the cell phone function of the Wii Remote and selected "camera" from the phone's menu. Snapping a shot of the swing set activated a short scene where the ghost of a girl (maybe Cheryl?) appeared on the swing. An accompanying audio snippet played with the image (also through the Wii Remote), adding the plaintive whine of "Daddy, where are you?" to the haunting image.
It all looked very spiffy, except for a series of clips where Harry was running away from monsters. I'm sure it would have been more scary and exciting in context – but the way it was juxtaposed with the puzzle solving gameplay made it look like players get to spend a significant portion of Shattered Memories fleeing.
"This is a game that's 50% action," said Barlow. He didn't say how much of that action was fleeing. But Hulett felt the need to address concerns he'd seen on the Internet about combat in general:
"We didn't take a normal Silent Hill game, pick up combat and throw it away, and then expect you to play the exact same game but without combat. This has been designed the way this is from the ground up. So the nightmare world [of Shattered Memories] is designed around the way the fleeing works."
Even if that doesn't sit well with Silent Hill purists, it is still the right direction for a Wii game to go. And – back to that girly metaphor of the makeover – the bottom line for reinventing an experience and making it truly beauty is having a high level of accessibility. Shattered Memories will prove itself in how well it does both with fans of the original and with gamers not at all familiar with Silent Hill beyond that bothersome movie version.
"[Shattered Memories] really illustrates the difference between a remake and a re-imagining," Hulett said. "Because it's a re-imagining, it's a brand new story. If you have played it, we know you have – we've changed things and we know you're going to react to that." But, "whether or not you played the original, Shattered Memories has something for you."
That would be a great tagline for a perfume. Just saying.