The lights are on
(The following is a review for the Playstation 2 version of Silent Hill Shattered Memories)
It's been made very clear over the past few years that the original Team Silent is done with the famed horror franchise, leaving Western developers to continue where they left off. Unfortunately, the last two games did not fare well to spark the fire back in the hearts of fans and the series itself. Relying more on jump-outs and gore to scare, instead of psychological twists and pounding the fear of loneliness into gamers, was far less effective and helped highlight the cultural differences in scare tactics altogether. Flash forward to 2010 and enter Silent Hill Shattered Memories and you'll see that there is hope for the franchise to live on in western hands.
Harry Mason is out searching for his daughter, Cheryl, during an awful snowstorm to a town that is slowly showing itself to be his home. For those who played the original game will find the opposite effect. As you wander the streets and back alleys, you may find the dreaded Schools and Hospitals but they are far from what you've seen before. That goes for how you play the game as well. Instead of arming yourself with a rusty pipe and weak combat skills, this Harry Mason has only a flashlight, cell phone, and a penchant for running from danger in the new Nightmare Scenarios. In this events, the world is covered in ice and monsters bang down doors eager for the hunt. There is no fighting here, just running. While these sections are meant to replace the intense encounters with enemies, they do very little to instill fear or any emotion for that matter. The monsters that are supposed to terrify are never really seen unless you look over Harry's shoulder, otherwise you just sit and listen annoying high-pitched screams. Not to mention that the game never make it clear where you should go to end these sequences. You could look at the map on Harry's cellphone, but given how much it slows you down to become monster bait, you'd be better off making a mental map. You'll end up groaning when the world goes to ice and interrupts the game's best aspect: the story.
This isn't the same quest players embarked upon years ago, everything has changed and for the better. There is no more evil cult silliness, just pure suspense that will keep you guessing until the shocking ending. The characters are more fleshed out and you become invested in their lives like any good film or novel. (Except for Lisa, but we still love you.) Where previous games dug into your skull to get you on the edge of your seat, the relationships between these people and their motivations are what will knock you on your rear-end. The puzzles you solve with the aid of Harry's cellphone help dive into the rich back story with text and voice messages delivered straight to your hands that will help piece together what is really going on.
I haven't mentioned the Profiling Mechanic that probes you and changes the landscape of the game. While it does have an effect on certain aspects of the game play, and the finale's coda, I felt that far too often my sessions with "Dr. K" did nothing more than stir me up a little with the amount of personal questions and the brashness with which the game asks for your answers.
Shattered Memories may not deliver on what it has been promising, but is excelled in ways I never thought it would. The Nightmare Sequences are dull and uninspiring, the Dr. K sessions are okay, but the game's story, characters and puzzles are what should really draw you back into the town of Silent Hill. Tread cautiously.
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