SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES Review

The very first Silent Hill was the most frightening video game I’ve ever played, and it stands as one of the scariest forms of entertainment that I’ve ever experienced. It didn’t shock you with jump-out-of-your-seat moments; instead it pulled you into its fog choked streets into a twisted, yet artful, psychological nightmare. When Konami announced this “reimagining” of the original Silent Hill, I was excited and eager to once again enter into its bone chilling embrace.

“Reimagining’ in this case is an accurate term. The gameplay is indeed a radical departure from what SH vets are used to. It is divided into three distinct parts: interaction, exploration, and Nightmare. The interaction portion is where the protagonist, Harry Mason, engages in conversations with other characters during cutscenes, examines puzzles, and undergoes psychological profiles with a psychiatrist. The psych profiles are cut between different portions of the game, giving the feeling that the story is told as a flashback. These therapy sessions have a direct affect on gameplay settings and story elements, since different choices will change the appearance and behavior of other characters and locations you have access to. For example, an electronics store playing the first time through could be a clothing store the second time through. Although playing through the story is fairly short, different choices during these sessions will change certain details and affect the ending; just more incentive to replay the game a few more times.

During exploration, you wander through the snowy streets and abandoned buildings of Silent Hill, trying to find the next area to advance the story. It’s a-behind-the-shoulder-view, with the Wii Remote handled as a flashlight. The flashlight effects are done exceptionally well, casting fleeting shadows all over the place and enhancing the darkness around you. Coupled with the usual ambient sound effects, white noise, visual static, and melancholy music, the developers did a great job establishing mood. You are also equipped with an iPhone-like cell phone which has features like a GPS and camera. It even cleverly indicates how much battery power you have in your Wii Remote. It is also used to contact other characters and get clues to solve the pretty easy puzzles. But the most glaring flaw of the exploration portion? There is absolutely no danger. No twitching, faceless stalkers lurking in the shadows, no “what could be in the next room?” tension. It’s basically like an episode of Ghost Hunters: aside from the creepy locations and mysterious sound effects, you’re ultimately safe. And what’s so scary about that?

The monsters come to get you in the Nightmare portions. When crucial plot elements are revealed or  are about to be revealed, the world around you becomes encased in ice. The transformation into the frozen Nightmare world is a nice effect, as if you just descended into the frigid Ninth Circle of Hell. To put it simply, this is the “chase” sequence. Faceless humanoid things start running after you, and all you can do is evade them. Combat is completely absent. You can only run, hide, and shake them off if they grab you. The game analyzes how you play through these sequences and then adjusts accordingly, and in some cases will anticipate your next move. Occasionally, you’ll come across a flare that can keep the creatures at bay temporarily. These sequences are based on the common nightmare of being chased and not really knowing where the exit is. Unfortunately, what is supposed to be the scariest part of the game is instead its weakest point. I understand the intention the developers had: instilling fear by not being able to fight back as you run through a seemingly endless labyrinth. But in practice it is more frustrating than frightening. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk is not as responsive as it should be at shaking off the monsters resulting in wild flailing as they gang up on you. On top of that it’s really easy to run around in circles because there is no way to run while looking at your GPS, you can only walk. Stopping to check on your bearings can get you killed. After multiple tries, frustration kills fear and you just want to leave the Nightmare section because it had become so tedious. Strike three is that there is only ONE type of monster. What happened to the other disturbing monstrosities that I came to love?

The other aspect of the reimagining is the game’s story. If M. Night Shyamalan directed a Silent Hill film, it would unfold much like the way it does in Shattered Memories. Familiar locations and characters return, with a major character completely changed. It begins the same way, though, with Harry Mason crashing his car in town, regaining consciousness and realizing his daughter is missing. Other than that the story deviates in a way that will be surprising and thought provoking to players who are familiar with Silent Hills 1 and 3, but a little confusing to newcomers to the series. I strongly recommend playing through previous titles before tackling Shattered Memories, mainly because you’ll appreciate the story more if you do.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an original, interesting experiment with the horror series. The story and its themes of family and damaged psyches are handled maturely, complimented by good voice acting. Unfortunately, the gameplay in the exploration sections is devoid of tension due to its lack of danger and the chase sequences become tedious quickly. I dreaded the transitions to the Nightmare world for the wrong reasons: frustration. It’s worth looking into for series vets who want to see the Silent Hill mythos turned on its head, but it will disappoint in the actual horror department. Though it had the right intentions, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories fails in its primary purpose: to truly scare you on a psychological level.

Pros:

  • Details change depending on psych profiles and play style
  • Mature, well written story
  • Music, atmosphere, flashlight effects

Cons:

  • Chase sequences change from terrifying to frustrating in minutes
  • No danger in exploration sequences is relaxing, not frightening
  • Only one kind of monster?

Final Verdict: Play It

Also on: PS2, PSP

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