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SummaryIt may not be "scary" in the long run, but its eerie story is genuinely tragic, haunting, and creepy.
- Emotional, beautifully written and ingenious story
- A unique combo of traditional adventuring and survival horror
- Some neat special effects
- While not particularly scary - the game is creepy.
- Akira Yamaoka's music still kicks ass.
- Well written characters and great voice acting
- Nightmares are sometimes intense
- Expecting the same terror from past titles will leave you disappointed
- Shorter than one might hope
- Psychological analysis can be faulty
- Shadowing effects often look blocky and awkward
- Only 1 type of monster (3 skins though.)
- Wii-mote flailing is poorly implemented and annoying
- Some puzzles are far too easy
The Bottom LineSilent Hill is a game that is very close to my heart. I picked up a copy of the game back around its release out of sheer compulsion and the fact I wanted to try a survival horror game that wasn't Resident Evil or one of its many knock offs. Once I entered Silent Hill, I had a long, intense, and horrific night where I consumed the game in one sitting. This proved unhealthy for my sleep patterns.
Needless to say - when I heard that an American studio was remaking the game, I was not happy. I ignored Shattered Memories existence for quite awhile now, and that proved to be a mistake. Last week, I was browsing for ANYTHING that sounded interesting for my Wii and I finally gave in and picked up a copy. I sat down that night, and while I may not have had any trouble sleeping in the dark after that night, I felt emotionally drained and yet... satisfied. Shattered Memories may not invoke the fear, terror, and disgust of its ancestor - but it contains what is easily the most emotional, haunting, and inventive stories told in a video game since... well, Silent Hill 2. Go Figure.
In truth - it is not fair to call Shattered Memories a "remake" of Silent Hill 1. While it DOES feature a similar set up, telling the story of a writer named Harry Mason chasing his lost daughter Cheryl in the town of Silent Hill, this is a completely new take on the story, genre, and pretty much everything else. Yet it doesn't butcher the original nor does it kiss its ass and feel like a lame pretender. The nods to the original are subtle and you do not need to have played SH1 to enjoy Shattered Memories, although fans will likely be in for a treat when they notice the clever, subtle nods to the original games locales and characters.
Some of the many differences include the fact that there is no "Order" (The evil cult from previous games.), no gods or demons, and Silent Hill is not truly and completely abandoned - but rather snowed in and suffering from one of the worst blizzards it has seen. Harry is actually a resident of Silent Hill, and not just an unlucky guy who takes his daughter there not knowing that its evil. Regardless - while not "Evil," Silent Hill is still a town filled with dark secrets, and while I'll get to that in a bit - I need to point out the fact that most of the dark secrets and evil beings are all in your head.
That won't shock those familiar with the series mythos, all the monsters from the REAL Silent Hill games (If anyone mentions 0rigins or Homecoming, a prompt castration or hysterectomy will occur.) are beings born from some poor souls psyche, but in Shattered Memories; it is even more personal, and while not as subtle as before - it makes up for it by being somewhat unique in the way it presents it.
At the games beginning, you are given a short psychological exam. Inbetween each set-piece, you will see your psychiatric therapist and answer a few questions and perform a few game-like tests. The initial exam will have the largest effect, whereas the effects of other tests will be much more subtle. The initial test will determine what kind of monster you see, how Harry reacts to certain things, and how some characters are portrayed. I got the "Abstracted" result, where monsters were far more abstract, Harry was interested in irrelevant and strange things and Cybil appeared as a sweet, brown-haired but determined officer. Out of curiosity, I asked my wife about her results - and her game was "Sexualized," she guessed because of her pursuit of being sex/relationships therapist (It was funny seeing her trying to argue psychology with the game.) and Cybil appeared in an "Idealized" way with a large bust and temptress resolve, Harry often liked pictures of women lying around and the monsters were feminine in shape. Oh, and her Harry was a drunkard whereas mine wasn't and hers liked friends over family. It is genuinely interesting to see how the results are tailored, even if the system isn't perfect.
The main flaw of the system is that it isn't broad enough, and that it is easily cheated. I actually did restart the game because I deliberately lied a little at the beginning, and later on wondered if I was missing something when the therapists babbling didn't fit me at all. I was more honest at the beginning, and the game adjusted to me properly - and the experience was enhanced a bit. The other fault is that it simply isn't as broad as it can be. The questions asked at the beginning are somewhat small and it seems my wife's "Sexualized" style was partially determined just because she admitted to the role-playing question, yet at the same time she told the therapist the truth regarding having never cheated on me. Not sure how that makes her a pervert in the games eye.
I also found it odd that the game never asked what my character was afraid of. Sure, that would be blatant - but wouldn't it make sense to try and deduce the players fear? They could be subtle about how they asked it, they could maybe ask the player "You are trapped in a small room, the light blew. The door is directly in front of you - do you approach it calmly, or do you panic?" and if you suggest that you would panic, the game might determine that you are claustrophobic and have the player face many tight corridors. That might have broadened and enhanced this system a bit.
Yet when the psych system works, it works, and I did a little research into other players experiences as well as the games inner workings - and was pleased at how clever some of the changes were, no matter how subtle.
Gameplay wise, the game is fairly different from its predecessors. It's still a third person camera with absolutely no hud, but you hold a flashlight with one hand and the majority of the game is spent exploring, drinking in atmosphere, and learning of dark secrets around Silent Hill. Even when the monsters aren't around, it is a spooky place and there are memorable "Echos," impacts left behind by previous people that unravel several different dark stories of the towns past. Most of them are irrelevant to the games overarching plot, but they add to the atmosphere and make Silent Hill feel like a more believable town. One of the most memorable, and disturbing areas with echoes is the forest.
The forest has two main sub-plots in the echoes, "Babes in the woods" and "Stranded." Babes in the Woods tells the tale of a pair of children (Brothers?) who play around in the woods, get into trouble, and eventually one of them drowns while goofing around in a pump station. Listening to the audio-echo of one of the boys calling 9-11 and sobbing as his brother is consumed by the waves is certainly haunting, and made creepier by the fact that you took a photo of his 'echo' with his hands clasped around the bars of a sewer grating as his head is dunked under water. "Stranded" is even more insidious, a poor young woman heads out to a party and stumbles upon some rednecks and is murdered - and as suggested by an echo with a text stating that a pair of innocents witnessed her running naked through the woods crying and you find her blood stained clothes near the rednecks garage, something far worse probably happened too.
It all gets under your skin and makes for a great atmospheric trip, which really enhances the mood when you head to the games new Otherworld; a frozen wasteland of confusing, frozen and altered corridors. The Otherworld always changes whenever Harry learns about a plot point he simply can't handle - possibly signifying an overwhelming, mental breakdown amongst other implications. When in the otherworld, you are chased by Raw Shocks - monsters that have 1 of 3 skins based on your profile (The ones I got, the "Abstracts" were humanoid figures with empty voids carved into their midriffs, giving them a look like that of a fleshy mannequin cut up into ribbons and held together by strange, magnetic force. The sexualized ones, as mentioned above, appeared as female figures with vulva like mouths.) that shriek, twitch, and chase you down the confusing corridors.
Unlike past games, you cannot fight back. There are no rusty pipes, no handguns and cleverly hidden bullets, nothing. The only way to survive is to use your own two legs to run like hell. The Raw Shocks are fast and will cling to you, at which point you must shrug them off with the wii-mote based on the direction they are attacking. You almost are never allowed to stop moving in the Otherworld, which adds a hectic nature to the chases as you must rely on instinct alone to find your way to the exit and frequently try anything you can to delay the monsters, knocking over dressers to block their path, crawling through spaces, or if you must - hiding in closets and hoping they don't catch on. The only sure-fire protection item are precious, oh so precious but rare emergency flares which ward them off.
A puzzle often obstructs your path at the end of each otherworld segment, and while many of them are clever - they are all somewhat easy. I can forgive those puzzles though due to their clever nature. However, on the topic of puzzles - many of the other ones are underwhelming. There are a million key-hunts, and while it IS nice of the developers not to force us to run back and forth between 30 locales to find the key, it is still disappointing to find out that 90% of the time the key is only five feet away from the door and it really makes you feel like you are wasting your time. Some of the more clever puzzles are even given away by the very hints that are meant to set you on the path; but thankfully, not all are so blatantly easy.
The highlight of the whole game though is the overall story. This is a brilliant, beautifully told story. It is VERY hard for me to avoid spoilers here, because the twist is just so clever and haunting. There are many great shock moments and the suspense the story builds up is palpable. The characters are all memorable and unique, and for once - a Silent Hill game has good voice actors. Your therapist, Kaufmann, becomes more and more intense further in the examination and is both soothing and yet at the same time contemptible and frightening when he gets on your case. Dahlia (Who is not a witch here, though she is a bitch according to Mira the dog. =3 Yes SH fans, Mira appears in a secret ending.) is a memorable and bizarre mix of temptress and cruel traitor, Cybil is a quirky, sweet, but determined and intelligent cop. Lisa is in the game briefly, but offers some interesting insight into the personal life of a nurse. There is also a new character named Michelle who serves as the opposite of Dahlia and is also a figure meant to represent the fragility of marriage much like Dahlia, but from a less biased and more level-headed perspective.
Yet it is truly the interweaving story that all comes together in the end that is so brilliant. Once again, spoilers mean I cannot truly express how ingenious it is - but it is one of the most intelligent and heart-breaking twists I have seen in awhile. It all makes sense, and your actions in the game affect the way it turns out, and it is genuine, tragic, psychological, human drama.
Wrapping things up - the presentation. As mentioned above, the voice acting is great. The sound does a good job of setting up mood, the shrieks of the Raw Shocks are unnerving and there are many creepy and weird sounds to be heard. The music by Akira Yamaoka is always kick-ass. So on the whole, sound is one of this games strengths. Graphically, the game is OK - but has rough edges. Please note that I am not going to riff on the Wii's hardware, the improvements that could have been made are ones that I KNOW the Wii can pull off as I have seen it do it. Probably the biggest one would be transparent shadowing. The shadowing itself isn't bad, like in past games, your flashlight casts a shadow off of every object and it is a moody effect - but here the shadows casted have no transparency, and are either straight black or straight grey - making them appear blocky, misshapen, and unnatural - more like solid objects that bend too much than actual shadows. They are also glitchy, often Harry's hand or a stray doornob will appear in the shadowing even if they aren't in front of the flashlight. The game also has a habit of slowing down when you open a door or at random moments when at other times, the game runs at a beautiful 60 frames per second.
Graphically though, it isn't bad if you ignore those flaws - the character models are well animated and detailed, the environments are gorgeously constructed, and there are some neat effects in the otherworld. When the world shifts, the colour will tone blue and inch by inch, you will see frost and ice corrupt the world, often twisting and bending objects in impressive real time as stalactites and stalagmites consume objects by pushing them around, and when your light is cast through large blocks of ice there is a very good fractal effect. Seeing everything bend and twist when you enter or leave the Otherworld is neat, I actually remember kinda going "Oh Cool" when I left the Otherworld forest, and saw a completely torn and twisted bridge slowly mend itself in a neato stop motion like animation as buildings in the background followed suit, melting and then bending back into shape.
Overall - Shattered Memories won't terrify or disgust you like its esteemed ancestors will, but it will still haunt you and provide many chills - but most importantly, the story will engross you, keep you guessing, then tug at your emotions violently. This is worth a look whether you are a Silent Hill fan or not.