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Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review: Daddy Issues

Illustration for article titled Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review: Daddy Issues

It is the tenth anniversary of Konami's Silent Hill series, a franchise that has focused more on the psychological side of horror than its peers. The latest, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, delves further into the psyche than ever before.


Silent Hill: Shattered Memories tells a very different version of the first Silent Hill game, chronicling writer and father Harry Mason's horrific search for his missing daughter Cheryl. Having unfortunately lost her in the town of Silent Hill after a car crash, Harry takes to the streets, sewers and dilapidated haunts of the accursed town to recover her. In Shattered Memories, Harry is equipped with some new tricks, including a multi-functional cell phone that acts as his map, camera and a source for many of the clues that flesh out the re-imagining's story. Developers Climax Studios also have a new trick up their sleeves, the psychological profiling of the player throughout the game, offering a personalized experience during each playthrough.

And in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Harry is more lover than fighter. The game features none of the traditionally awkward combat for which the series is somewhat infamous, favoring frantic escapes over clunky confrontations. Including Cheryl, there are plenty of things missing from this Silent Hill. Will longtime fans miss the series' trademarks? Or is Shattered Memories a cool, refreshing update to a franchise in need of a new perspective?


A Retelling, Not A Remake: Shattered Memories is thankfully more than just a warmed over version of Silent Hill, tacking on Wii Remote controls and updated graphics. It is a very different account of the events following Cheryl Mason's disappearance. Trying to fit the game's storyline within the canon of the rest of the Silent Hill universe is an exercise in futility, an exercise that will likely cease at the game's conclusion. Climax Studios was smart not to offer an obvious, cleaned up rehash, giving the Silent Hill fan something to pick apart and appreciate as a side story to the series.

Profiling: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is peppered with interactive intermissions in the form of therapy sessions with the unusual Dr. K, a psychologist who has the player perform a battery of tests. You know, the kind where there are no right answers. The player's responses to each test will substantially change the characters, the settings, and the flow of the adventure, even the screeching beasts that hunt Harry Mason in Silent Hill's otherworld. The options for changing one's Silent Hill experience and its endings are less cryptic than in previous games, making the story worth revisiting, worth experimenting with. While this Silent Hill may be the shortest of the bunch—my first playthrough lasted somewhere around six hours—it is designed with replays in mind, chances to change the world while having one's head examined. Oh, and did I mention that Shattered Memories spins one of the more interesting yarns of the series, capably delivered with smart symbolism? Because it does that too.

Silent Hill On Ice: As much as I enjoy the rusty, bloodstained, throbbing otherworld of Silent Hills past, it's well worn territory. Shattered Memories doesn't recycle those familiar nightmarish environments, instead choosing to establish its own alternate world, one claustrophobic and frozen. Granted, it's nowhere near as frightening or visually stunning, but Shattered Memories deserves credit for doing its own thing.

Smart Use Of Wii Controls: The Wii Remote acts as a pretty good flashlight, a fact not lost on most Wii developers, including Climax. Illuminating one's way around the town of Silent Hill is satisfying, as is the act of using the remote as your disembodied hand while searching for clues. With shooting and hand-to-hand combat abstracted from the Shattered Memories experience, the games simplified control scheme makes one appreciate not having to deal with previously awkward mechanics.


Running Down A Dream: As interesting as Silent Hill: Shattered Memories' chase scenes—Nightmares, the game calls them—would have been as a complement to more traditional monster encounters, the game unfortunately relies on them as the only action sequences you'll experience throughout the game. It's fairly repetitive, expectation setting stuff. Normally, you'll explore, find keys, hunt down messages, open doors, but when the town of Silent Hill freezes over, just... run! The Silent Hill series' combat has never been that much "fun," mind you, but replacing all of it with running toward blue markers and shaking off leathery demons with Wii Remote thrusts isn't any more enjoyable. Worse, the sense of tension elsewhere in the game is practically non-existent, thanks to the clear division between action moments and exploration moments.

Losing My Bearings: The game may feature solid use of Wii Remote controls, but the motion controlled camera-flashlight combo can be disorienting, especially when hopping down from ledges during Nightmares. The GPS-style map system on Harry's phone is less useful than any previous Silent Hill in-game map and painful to manipulate during portions of the game. Finally, one moment in the game drops the player into a nearly pure black abyss, an exasperating search for radio static.


Quality Assurance: A pair of bugs, one involving falling through the world and into blackness, the other turning Harry into a disembodied arm holding a cell phone, less than a complete human—making the game unplayable and forcing a reload—happened to me during my first playthrough. Not outlandishly frustrating, since the game lets the player save at any point on Harry's cell phone, but bothersome nonetheless. The game also experiences some slowdown when Harry opens doors, which is more frustrating, especially during panic-filled chase scenes.

Perhaps appropriately, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories left me torn. On the one hand, I was appreciative of Climax Studios' effort to bring something new to the series, blazing a potential new path for future Silent Hill adventures, where the same environments and aged mechanics needn't be revisited. And, better, Shattered Memories doles out a well-told, fairly blunt story, somewhat atypical for the series. Straightforward though the tale may be, sequences and allusions throughout that may seem like storytelling stumbles gel later on, giving the player something to ponder after the game's surprising conclusion.


But as with pretty much every Silent Hill game beyond Silent Hill 3, I was left somewhat disappointed. I personally enjoy the horrific creations that populate the rustier, bloodier underbelly of Silent Hill. And I like confounding, abstract puzzles. And I like bizarre boss fights, disturbing monster design, mood-setting music and hallucinogenic fear. Shattered Memories doesn't have any of that; the scares are few, the monsters nearly nonexistent and the Akira Yamaoka composed soundtrack... well, I barely remember any of it.

It may not appeal to the Silent Hill fan in me, one who's been regularly disappointed since 2003, but at least this re-imagining shatters expectations.


Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was developed by Climax Studios and published by Konami for the Wii on December 8. Retails for $49.99 USD. PlayStation 2 and PSP versions are due later for $29.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played game to completion on Wii. Experienced a second, different playthrough until about the halfway mark.

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Shattered Memories is easily the most contraversial Silent Hill game ever produced. Unlike the previous two games where there was a more or less general consensus among reviews, this game is the definition of "mixed reviews." For every 8 or 9 this game seems to get, there's a 5 or 6 to balance it out.

I personally love this game. Though I will admit, the compartmentalizing of the danger may work against it somewhat, but the town itself, safe as it may be, still has an aura about it.

I personally wouldn't hesitate to recommend this game to anyone since I think it has an excellent story and the presentation is simply amazing, even without the "for a wii game" qualifier. I love the fact that most anything in the world can be read without collecting it and viewing it an an inventory or something and the fact that you can call any phone number you see in-game and you'll get a response.

While the nightmare sequences may be confusing at first, they're not impossible to navigate. You're usually given a moment after the world freezes over before the chase begins, its there that I bring up my map and draw a path towards the exit Phantom Hourglass-style (I've yet to read a review that mentions the feature, though the crappy manual certainly doesn't help) and though the game funnels you down certain paths, I can usually check my relationship to my original path and figure it out.

To a degree, I feel that losing your way is part of the point of those chase sequences. The first time I went through the nightmares, it was more panic that caused me to lose myself than really level design and that's why I felt it made sense.

I also haven't really had any problems with the motion controls, though I notice that as a whole I seem to have less problems with them in general than most people and reviewers. Throughout the chase sequences, throwing monsters off became almost a reflex action, as was throwing obstacles in their way.

I personally enjoyed the story. I'm sure purists will be turned away because it doesn't present everything exactly the way the first game did. The thing is, the game isn't doing that simply to be different or because they're not respecting the first game. There's more to the story than has been revealed through news outlets and by playing the game you'll see that there is a reason for everything to be different.

Even so, the departure from the established universe is somewhat refreshing. I found the story in this game to be much more human and relatable then the other games. This was mostly because the game is about you and the way you fit into this world as opposed to previous games where you're stuck in some 'other' place. This game is about Harry and his life and family. You may not be combating some mysterious 'other' evil. Instead you're coming to grips with your own human failings.

The game isn't perfect, especially not under the scruitiny of what is generally accepted as a mainstream "great game," but I feel the game has more of an artistic lean than most games. The game isn't so much about checking off the list of what makes a blockbuster. Instead the whole game seems to be made in support of an idea and does so even though it takes it through some commercially questionable territory.

Even the ice world, though different it may be, makes sense in the context of this game. The game isn't meant to replace the first game in the canon, it has its own place in the series. Whether or not it becomes widely accepted is yet to be seen but it shouldn't be overlooked just because its nightmare world is different than the previous games. One commenter said that it was supposed to be hell and that may be true in the other games, but like I said, this game stands on its own and the ice world makes sense for it. The ice world is also not something I can see making a return if there is a follow up. Not because it wasn't successful, but because the way it works into the story makes it almost unique to this game. It just wouldn't make sense to repeat it in a different context.

I personally think this is a great starting point for more games. Climax has done an amazing job with the technical aspects of the game (save some glitches here and there), it has told a meaningful, human story, and it has some compelling gameplay mechanics. I personally hope this game does well enough that it will garner a sequel or follow-up. Climax has a great game on their hands and with some further polishing, another game would be amazing. Maybe mixing up the exploration and the chase scenes more. Simple things like including chases in the normal world and puzzles in the nightmare world will make the scares feel less predictable and hopefully keep tensions higher throughout the game.

One last thing. I really don't understand why so many reviews are complaining that the profiling doesn't change the game enough. It seems that they expected entirely different games to be made. I find this entirely unreasonable since most games with morality systems or other similar system never changes all that much. Like Shattered Memories, games like Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic still have you visiting the same places and fighting the same bosses, and saving the world regarldess of whether you play as Jesus Christ reborn or as Satan and Hitler's love child.

I'm only partway through my second playthrough and I'm personally amazed at the influence you can have on the game. Things you do in game will change how characters treat you, characters will look and act differently, and locations will look different. And then there's the over-the-credits doctor's summary that, if played through honestly, is a frighteningly accurate representation of your personality.