The lights are on
It's become a recent trend in horror games to either take power away
from players or give them the ability to empower them through meaningful
choices. Penumbra gave us nothing but a weak hammer to take down
hellish nightmares. Dead Space started us off with a small inventory, a
single gun, and enemies coming out of every corner, but let us become
almost god-like powerful by the end. Is it possible for a game to both
let you be empowered yet also be scared and constantly in danger? The
answer lies in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
This review is for the Wii version of the game. Certain gameplay features will differ on other platforms.
Shattered Memories is a reimagining of the events of the first Silent Hill game by Climax Studios for the Wii, Playstation 2, and Playstation Portable. It centers on Harry Mason, who was in a car accident, trying to find his daughter, Cheryl, in the New England town of Silent Hill. It's a familiar start to one of the most popular Japanese horror franchises to grace the Playstation, but from that point on, things take a change.
The first thing Silent Hill fans will notice is that the game is no longer played in isometric perspective, nor does it have a single playable protagonist. The game is divided between three modes of play, which change at scripted points in the game. Two modes of play are played in an over the shoulder mode as Harry Mason, and the third is a first person perspective therapy session as a nameless patient. You'll make choices and even passive actions that will impact how your story plays out in all of the modes.
There's a Hilary Duff song that starts kind of like that...
For the most part, you'll be playing as Harry in both Silent Hill and an alternate, horrific dimension known as the Otherworld. In these sections, you'll have a surprising amount of freedom, especially in the controls. The attention to detail is amazing, and the controls are all built to be as immersive as possible. Every action is well tuned on the game, from pressing a button and pushing forward with the nunchuck's stick to open a door slowly to holding down Z to look behind you as you're running to see what's behind you. The A button is your context sensitive interaction, and the Wiimote's pointer on screen is devoted to camera control outside of the aforementioned ability to glance behind yourself. Normally you'd expect the camera to be sluggish or inaccurate, but it holds up surprisingly well and gave me no trouble. You can also zoom in on what you're looking at, turn the flashlight off to be more stealthy, and use a flare if you find it lying around. In the opening moments, the A button is even temporarily dedicated to calling out for Cheryl as you skulk around in Silent Hill. There are also several motion control specific actions you must do for a puzzle or sequence, and almost all of them work fantastically.
The standout mechanic in the game remains Harry's phone, which can be accessed with a press of a button, and is often necessary for puzzles, navigation, and adds another layer of immersion. You can call any number you find in the game, even 911, and you will get a variety of answers. And in tune with the radio static of the early Silent Hill games, the phone will emit static as you near danger or a flashback sequence. It can even take pictures for you to keep notes or if a particular sight in the game suits your fancy. You have to hold the Wiimote up to your ear while making a call, but unlike in the GI review, I never found this intrusive, difficult, or silly. It works properly, and the Wiimote's speakers probably get the most use they've ever experienced. There was a glitch in my first few playthroughs that had the phone audio played on the TV though, but this resolved itself back to normal just as randomly as it started, and in no way hindered me from playing the game.
Trapped in a town surrounded by demonic monsters? There's an app for that.
The majority of gameplay in the non-horrific Silent Hill is either exploration or puzzle solving, often mixing the two for a story related flashback sequence right before you enter Otherworld. You'll walk around the town, finding it seemingly deserted save for a few people hiding from a freak blizzard that has stricken the town. There will be several familiar names and even a few familiar faces, but some will be quite different from their original forms. Dahlia in particular will either be hated or loved by Silent Hill fans. Most of them have their own on-going stories and have ties to Harry that at first seem subtle, but grow to become more and more clearly tied. The only real weakpoint in the cast is Lisa, who merely seems to be added as a red herring and fan service. It may annoy some players that none of the cast besides Harry is present during Otherworld sequences, leaving you constantly to fend for yourself -- but once you've seen one of the game's five endings, it becomes very clear why this couldn't happen.
Otherworld also differs from regular Silent Hill in that there are genuine threats to your life. The infamous almost-human monsters of Silent Hill pursue you through twisted, frozen, hellish nightmare versions of environments you have been exploring. Instead of being a backtracking affair, it often is only through these nightmare sequences that you can proceed beyond a certain point, and each one is a battle where your only tools are stealth and evasion. You can toss large objects behind you as you run to slow the monsters, you can throw the beasts off of you with a swing of the nunchuk + wiimote, and you can hide inside lockers and watch through the grating.
"THIS WAS NOT IN THE TRAVEL BROCHURE!"
This is also where the flares and turning off the flashlight come into play. The flashlight helps you navigate the environment, but also alert enemies to your presence. If you can navigate by purely the paltry light of night, you can sneak past enemies. Flares on the other hand are the most offensive approach you can take, as the monsters fear the flares and will stay back so long as a flare is near you. Flares are in limited supply and are placed at fixed points on the map though, so you are forced to use them wisely. They are presently more in the middle of the game, and towards the end, you start to wish flares would be more frequent as a few levels can very easily get you turned around. Nightmare sequences first start out rather linear but as you progress they become more and more non-linear, with some end-game sections being outright mazes. Depending on whether or not you can handle replaying a section several times to try to find the right way out will seriously impact how much you enjoy the game. Certain levels will have entirely new routes and puzzles in both Otherworld and Silent Hill based on choices in therapy and passive decisions.
Speaking of which, you may be wondering what these "passive" decisions are. I'm glad you asked, as they tie directly into the game's psychological profiling. Basically, what you look at and what you read will impact your story so long as you stare at something long enough. Like staring at the busty cheerleaders in a poster? Monsters will begin to look more feminine and certain characters will, well, *cough* look "different" than they would otherwise...
"Whaddaya mean "aren't you cold"? This is standard police uniform I'll have you know!"
This isn't meant to be pandering though, although at first glance you might have the knee jerk reaction to say so. Instead, it's the game trying to bend to the player, trying to build itself around your personality. So if you've got a thing for staring, the game accounts for that. In fact, Cybil has three different versions of herself that all have different character arcs. See below:
The same goes for several other members of the cast. They'll have tweaked personalities, dialogue, and character arcs based on your actions. I've played through a number of times just to see how things could change up, and while some changes feel a but superficial, others have drastic impact on the coloring of the backstory for Cheryl and Harry. By the finale, the story really does become as much your own as Climax could manage what with the limited disc space and linear nature of the game. Some endings are more pointed than others, but they still manage to sufficiently tie up any loose ends or nagging questions.
One thing about the game worth mentioning is something that will matter more to Wii users in particular than it will to regular gamers -- the game looks amazing, considering the hardware it is working on. The graphics are stellar but come at the cost of sometimes shorter levels when high detail is necessary, character animations are some of the best I've seen on consoles period (Harry's facial animation in particular is stellar), and the environments look authentic, making Silent Hill feel like a real place. Every building has a personality, a little hint of its own story to tell. The aesthetics do feel more American than Japanese, as does the writing, but in the end it seems to actually benefit the story since the setting is in New England. The voice acting is passable to great, with certain characters carrying their lines better in one form rather than another. The therapist, Kauffman (yes, that Kauffman), steals the show with every scene, featuring some of the best dialogue of the bunch.
The biggest complaint I can leverage at the game is that for some players it will seem far too short, and also that some of the combat motions to rip monsters off of you lack detection unless you really exert yourself (I nearly hit something at one point just to get a monster off my left side). The latter of these isn't a problem in the PS2/PSP versions of the game, as you simple press a button to throw off the monsters, although I've heard reports that controlling the flashlight is far less practical without the Wiimote. The length is the same across the board, and all levels are apparently the same, including all permutations that can occur. Hardcore Silent Hill fans will be glad to hear though that Pyramid Head does NOT appear in this game, not even in a cameo or easter egg. There is a hidden reference to Silent Hill 2, but it has nothing to do with Pyramid Head, and it will take a great deal of effort to succeed.
"Which will it be? I tell you what, I'll let you decide!"
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a fantastic game and one of the best exclusives the Wii, PS2, and PSP have. It's worth the price of entry, and the replayability with the narrative and levels well outweighs some minor control gripes and a shorter campaign than the average Silent Hill game. Like Dead Space: Extraction and Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, Shattered Memories is a must buy for horror fans who own a Wii. The game is presently retailing anywhere between 13.99 to 39.99 for the Wii, PS2, and PSP. It is available in most regions, as well as on PSN for the PSP version.
Final Score: 9.50/10. For every little thing it gets wrong, it gets half a dozen more right, and is still one of the most compelling games in my collection.
Cheers,Paradigm the Fallen
Those who hide from their memories want not to forget, but to have never even experienced what they have felt. Those who want to forget have accepted what must have happened, and move to grow past it.
Trivia -- This was my first Silent Hill game