Review: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
I’ve played every game in the series and a few years ago you might even have caught me defending the Silent Hill movie. When I first heard that Climax was re-imagining the first game in the Silent Hill series, and putting it on the Wii, I was a bit nervous. When the company revealed the logo and announced that the rust laden, nightmarish Otherworld was being brushed aside for an ice world, I was downright scared. After gathering some more info and trying the game at E3, all fears were assuaged. This was to be the great white (black?) hope of the Silent Hill series.
Having spent two evenings with the game and completing the story for the first time, I’m conflicted. Was it good? Yes. I’m just not sure it’s Silent Hill.
Setting aside the trappings of the Silent Hill series for the moment, Shattered Memories is mechanically very impressive. Moving Harry Mason, the main character, with the Nunchuk and pointing his flashlight with the remote feels great. Sure, it could be accomplished with an analog stick (and likely will be in the PS2 version), but it’s really a perfect fit for the Wii. Manipulating objects to solve puzzles is also very pleasing. It’s hard not to smile the first time you pop the pin out of a door lock and then slide the bolt back. The puzzles are simple for the most part, but very satisfying. One puzzle in particular made a rather brilliant use of object manipulation combined with light and shadow. I won’t spoil it, but it was one of the real "aha" moments in the game.
Another well implemented mechanic is Harry’s mobile phone. It’s a multifunctional device, used for navigation, occasional spirit photography, solving puzzles and, appropriately enough, making calls. Phone numbers are littered throughout the town, written on signs or scrawled on walls, and almost all of them can be dialed (I encountered three that didn’t work). Most numbers result in useless answering machine messages, while others provide necessary assistance. All of them, however, add to the reality of the situation.
Which brings up a good point. The control scheme combined with Harry’s phone adds up to a distinct sense of realism. In many ways, Silent Hill feels much more "lived in" than in previous games. Adding to the realism is the number of notes and signs found throughout the game. Almost all of them can be read on screen. In other words, you never approach a note and "Press A to Read." All text is clearly visible in the game world. Most of it is optional, though interesting — I enjoyed reading the historical plaques — while some puzzles can only be solved by gathering clues from the environment.
You’ll notice I haven’t really mentioned how Shattered Memories stacks up against the rest of the series yet. Honestly, I’m conflicted. The icy nightmare world actually doesn’t bother me the way I thought it might. It trades the psychologically oppressive, oxidized hell of the previous games for icy, claustrophobic isolation (an effect that became much more potent when I first saw another character freeze solid in the middle of a conversation). It’s pretty damned lonely … until you get tackled by a horde of monsters.
Shattered Memories eschews combat entirely, opting instead to have Harry run from monsters. It works well most of the time and makes for a few tense moments. My only gripe is that the motion control doesn’t always work, causing Harry to die as I desperately flail both arms in the direction of an attacking monster.
What really bothers me, though, is the Silent Hill name attached to the project. Climax has said from the beginning that Shattered Memories isn’t a remake of the original Silent Hill, but a "re-imagining." I think a more accurate description might be "almost entirely different." Apart from characters with the same names, the game has next to nothing to do with the first Silent Hill.
Some of the settings and plot points are shared, but the relationships, characters and story are as different as can be. In fact, the characters are so different that I’m actually a bit baffled that Climax chose to give them the same names. I kept expecting certain characters to somehow tie into their original counterparts, but it never happened. Beyond that, the town of Silent Hill doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story. Sure, lots of creepy things occur, but I was never given the impression that the town itself was responsible for any of it. There are no hints of Silent Hill’s dark history (at least none that I found). It’s just a dude with some weird stuff happening to him.
Don’t mistake that for a condemnation. Shattered Memories simply has its own story to tell, many elements of which will change depending on the choices you make. As a psychological horror game, it really shines. One moment in particular absolutely chilled me to the bone (you’ll know it when you get there). It’s just different, and maybe that’s the point. Climax set out to re-imagine Silent Hill and it succeeded, though it may not be what fans were expecting.
In a world where even the bizarre, psycho-sexual traditions of Silent Hill could (and arguably have) become stale, change is welcome. Personally, I hope Climax is given the chance to iterate its new formula again.