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.
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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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