Genre: Thriller / Survival Horror
Reviewer: Marcus Way
Overall: 8 = Excellent
(Originally published on January 27, 2010)
It’s difficult to reinvent a beloved series. It’s especially difficult to reinvent a series that is beloved despite its obvious flaws. In many ways, Resident Evil faced the same challenges as Silent Hill does now, becoming an aging franchise that has lost much of its luster due to increasingly dated mechanics and a lack of focus. Capcom took a chance with Resident Evil 4 by shifting the dynamic from slow-plodding horror to fast-paced action, and found great success. To reinvigorate their series, Konami tapped England-based Climax Group to develop a reimagined Silent Hill. While Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn’t quite the series’ Resident Evil 4, it is a thoroughly engaging and often superb psychological thriller.
True to the original release, you play Harry Mason, a bewildered father who is searching for his daughter, Cheryl, after an automobile accident. Upon waking up at the crash site, Harry finds that Cheryl has gone missing, and all clues point towards her finding her way to the mysterious town of Silent Hill. Sound familiar? Well, if you’re a fan of the original, then it should. But once you get past the basic storyline, Shattered Memories is a wildly different experience.
The game doesn’t open up on the car accident—not right away. Your first moments are actually spent in a therapist’s office. After a creepy introduction, the doctor has you answer a questionnaire so that he can better evaluate your needs. Through a series of true-or-false questions that cover a wide range of topics, from your preferences of friends or family to role-play during sex, as well as a handful of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ follow-ups where you mimic the motions with the remote, your in-game personality type begins to form. Your actions here, and those of subsequent activities during later visits, result in the game tailoring itself—environments, enemies, etc. —to your perceived type. It’s an interesting approach, and is similar to how Silent Hill 2 factored in your actions to determine which ending would play. It’s tough to know just how intricate the system is, because of the numerous opportunities to give contradictory answers making it difficult to follow specific personality-gameplay alignments, but Harry did make offhand remarks in line with my answers and there was an appropriate ending.
What the therapy session breaks do really well is add to the mystery—Where am I? Why am I here? Who is this guy? Is this real? And that speaks to what makes Shattered Memories so intriguing: the mystery. I cannot recall the last game that had me genuinely curious as to what was going on and excited about uncovering seemingly mundane clues.
The game is largely about searching for such clues. Played in third-person, the remote controls Harry’s hands, the analog stick on the nunchuk his legs, and directional pad accesses his cell phone (for taking pictures, checking the current location, etc.). As you look around, the remote is often used to move the flashlight, but you can zoom up to focus on items to cause Harry to take notice and make a comment, which further cements your personality type. Similar to the PC adventure games of old, the on-screen icon will change, and remote rumble, whenever an item can be handled. Sometimes items can be collected (mementoes) and other times interacted with, such as moving the remote in such a way to lift a handle or turn a dial. Aside from a few quirks with the motion detection here and there, and the cell phone adding an unnecessary layer to access functions, the control scheme is a sensible and largely successful method of enhancing the experience.
I decided at the outset that I wanted my Harry to be a somewhat lecherous man. Not necessarily Silent Hill’s Tiberius, but a troubled soul that has a wandering eye to go along with a strong sense of curiosity and desire to make things right. To that end, I zoomed up on various suggestive movie posters and paintings—nothing too racy—and waited for Harry to acknowledge the goods. I even dialed a phone number scrawled on a wall in the local high school, which resulted in a very awkward conversation with a confused female. Having the questions in the therapy sessions shift to topics of my interest, along with hearing Harry make some weird comments, really felt as if my bit of role-playing was paying off. It was all actually kind of exciting, and I hope the series utilizes a similar approach in the future.
As successful as the adventure element is, the nightmare sequences are not as successful. While Capcom refined Resident Evil’s combat, making it faster and more responsive, Climax did the opposite with Silent Hill’s—by removing it altogether. That’s right: there is no combat. In a sense, that approach actually makes sense, and not just because the series had been dinged for its sloppy execution in the past with its sluggish animation, imprecise hit detection, and stiff controls. After all, Harry is a normal man, not a trained soldier. So, what does Harry do when confronted with crazed monsters? He runs. He runs awkwardly and somewhat sluggishly, but he runs.
Throughout his search, Harry will randomly receive calls, text messages, photos, and visits from apparitions that gradually fill in the puzzle as to what is going on. After a while, his discoveries will overwhelm him, and the ensuing nightmare will cause the world to become covered over with ice and populated by strange creatures. To regain his sanity, Harry must run a gauntlet, dodging attacks and shaking off attackers, following a fairly linear path marked out bright blue highlights to reach an exit. If need be, he can even hide until his pursuers move along; however, if he waits too long, he will be sniffed out and attacked. Flares can also be used to scare the creatures away, but they only last for a few minutes. It is all very thrilling, at first.
Initially, you feel so helpless in the nightmares that all you want to do is make it out, doing whatever it takes. That intense tension gives way to frustration, and eventually boredom. There are a lot of things that trip up the sections, one of which is that the linear paths are often confusing due to the chaos of trying to dodge attacks and objects in darkness while following multiple highlighted paths, making it easy to become turned around and lost. Your phone’s GPS function displays the next waypoint, and also allows you to draw on its screen, but the lurking enemies are a check against using it too much while structures and blocked paths aren’t detailed on the map. Once caught, an icon appears on the screen to demonstrate how to shake enemies off, but for a long time, and even sometimes afterwards, I couldn’t get Harry to toss them aside. It turns out that, despite the incredible sense of danger, you have to almost lethargically perform the motions—often difficult to do with your adrenaline going. I found myself increasingly antsy for the segments to end because, aside from wanting Harry to just knock the crap out of the creatures, I wanted to get on with the search for Cheryl.
I applaud Climax for attempting something new. The series can’t take the Resident Evil approach, as it simply wouldn’t work as well, which would put any developer in a tricky situation. What do you do with an everyman character that is faced with hordes of monsters? It’s hard to say what a normal person would do in such a situation, but I hope they would eventually grab something—anything—and defend themselves. Of course, the nightmares tie in deeper than just being a way to insert scary creatures, but that is lost in the execution. Into the second nightmare run, I was pretty much done with the concept, and they went from being tense diversions to simply diversions. Instead of piquing my curiosity like the therapy session breakaways, I couldn’t wait to get through them and back to the search.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an interesting and often fantastic reimagining of the original Silent Hill. The controls can be a little finicky, but they also allow a greater sense of interactivity with the environment. The shift in focus from creepy freak-out horror to a more psychological thriller approach may turn some off; I found the new approach incredibly interesting and had a great time unraveling the mystery. What I did not have a great time with, however, were the nightmare sequences, which frequently broke any sense of immersion and added little more than trials of frustration. Still, Climax has done some truly wonderful things with Shattered Memories, and it should please those out there looking for something a little different.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)