Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a re-imagining of the classic survival-horror game, Silent Hill. Rather than simply regurgitating an older title with new visuals and more modern mechanics, Konami decided to completely rebuild the series by using nearly every aspect of the Wii system.
It was a proposal that has me very skeptical when I first heard it. Silent Hill with no combat that was supposed to psychologically analyze you? Sure, combat was never exactly the series strong suit, but it was always a key facet of playing a Silent Hill title. And who really feels 100% comfortable talking to a psychiatrist?
What materialized is a game that not only ended up re-investing me into the entire Silent Hill series, it also completely reinvigorated my feelings about the motion control aspects of the Wii system.
Shattered Memories finds Harry Mason once again looking for his lost daughter in the creepy town of Silent Hill. This time, rather than having a mysterious fog surrounding the town, there is an oppressive snow storm which is burying the town alive. In older Silent Hill titles, everything turned corrupt and hellish when the shit hit the fan. In this title the whole world freezes over.
In a way this aesthetic choice is an apples to oranges scenario where some may prefer the ‘fire and brimstone’ idea of hell, but, at least for myself, the move to ice and snow added layers and layers to the feelings of isolation and emptiness that are such important tenants of the Silent Hill series.
Strangely, the two biggest aspects talked about before the game released- the lack of combat and the psychoanalysis- both kind of falter to a degree.
The only times that you run into enemies are when the world freezes over. At this point you find yourself running through a maze of rooms, trying to find the right one to move the story forward as enemies run toward you. You can hide, push over furniture to slow them down or light flares to scare them away temporarily. You have no defensive moves other than to shrug these enemies off with motion control which is touchy and only sometimes likes to work.
These sections are not nearly as terrifying as they could be, and when you die over and over again trying to look at your map while simultaneously running and trying to shake off enemies…. Well, lets just say that there is a good chance you will come closer to throwing your Remote than you have in a long time.
The funny thing about this is that even though this main aspect of game play is slightly broken and fully frustrating, the rest is so interesting that it makes slogging through the rougher bits worth while.
Two of these extremely interesting bits were using the Remote as a flashlight and as a cell phone.
While the visual prowess is not a strong selling point with the Wii, for Shattered Memories they prove more than adequate. Once you totally forget that you are holding a Remote and not an actual flashlight, you start to realize that you are seeing accurate reflections of how shadows would form off in game objects. This is when you start to see just how powerful motion control can be in terms of added immersion.
This immersion factor is boosted even further when using your cell phone. This catch-all device acts as both your menus, map, and camera, but none of these options are anywhere as cool as when you use the Remote as an actual phone.
You will often receive calls and text messages that move the plot forward as you play the game. After a while the whole act becomes so second nature that, once again, you forget you are even using a Wii Remote.
I enjoyed using the Remote as a phone so much that I wandered around every environment searching for posters or scraps of paper that would offer up another number to dial. The conversations and voice messages you hear are creepy, well scripted and well acted. While some seem totally needless, they are at least entertaining and many offer up interesting bits of information that make you feel even more like a part of Silent Hill.
The much discussed in-game psychologist is a cool idea, but it seems like the developers had a bit of a conflict when deciding whether to use it as a fourth-wall breaking device, or simply to move the plot forward. Overall I was always extremely interested in what he would say or have me do, but I did not feel like he was used to make the game a reflection of my own personality and fears like was pitched by the PR for the game.
Shattered Memories is a much more straight forward game that the other Silent Hills. While they older titles often had an element of linearity, I actually felt even more constricted exploring in this title than I have in any of the previous games. Most of the time what you need or where you are going is right in front of you… which is a bit of a bummer.
This linearity also extends to the puzzles, which all seemed to be confined to the room you are in, rather than spanning a larger area and adding to the cohesion like they did in the older titles. This also has the negative effect of making the puzzles feel much easier than they have been in the older Silent Hill games.
This, as well as many other flaws I discussed, lead Shattered Memories to feel a little unfinished, which is a bit of a shame because there are so many solid ideas that could have stood out even more if you were not often being distracted by all the pieces that were a bit less than perfect.
Despite feeling a bit half-baked, I highly recommend a rental or purchase from anyone who is a fan of the Wii, the Silent Hill series, or survival horror titles in general. The game may have needed an extra few passes with the polishing cloth and the whole world might have benefited from some added depth and complexity, but it is also the first title that would come out of my mouth if you asked me which game I played this year most deserves a sequel.
In the very least I can say that there is a good chance I would end up buying three copies of this title if Konami would put out an improved version for both Natal and Sony’s motion control device once they ship.
Before playing Shattered Memories my faith in motion control had taken a big hit. Most games that used it seemed to use it as a bullet point, and felt like they would work fine even without the motion functionality. Shattered Memories feels like it could have only worked as a motion control game. It may not get every aspect of the control right, but it does renew my faith in the merit of games using real motion.
Now that is a success!