A friend of mine and I have a recurring
argument out-and-out-brawl polite discussion about the survival horror genre. The crux of the topic is that he likes to beat things to death with a lead pipe in Silent Hill, and I don’t. Now don’t get me wrong, bashing a thing with a lead pipe is one of life’s greatest joys – videogames or otherwise – but whenever he talks about how cathartic it is to vent some steam (get it? Steam? Pipes? I crack me up) on the penis monsters roaming the streets of Silent Hill, I can’t help but think that’s missing the point. (Not to mention, the combat mechanics tend to straddle the line between “boring’ and “actively bad”.)
Luckily, it seems someone at Konami agreed with me, and thus the great experiment known as Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was unleashed upon the world. A “reimagining” of Silent Hill 1, Shattered Memories’ single biggest tweak to the series’ formula is an unceremonial stripping of all combat whatsoever. Protagonist Harry Mason is equipped with a flashlight, a map, a cellphone, and…that’s it. When confronted with enemies, he must run for his life or be killed and subsequently touched inappropriately.
Unfortunately, enemy encounters still present the most problematic moments of the game, chiefly due to the mere existence of these chase sequences. Sequestering enemies into self-contained chase segments means you know you’ve got nothing to fear during the (thoroughly excellent) exploration portions. You can stride fearlessly through any door, confident nothing’s waiting to stab you on the other side. Worse still, there’s little material incentive to explore every nook and cranny, as there are no health items or ammunition to scrounge for in the first place.
It speaks volumes about the game’s design, then, that you will still seek out those nooks and crannies. Simply put, exploration is a joy. The movement feels far more fluid than other series entries, and using the Wii Remote (if you play the wii version, and why wouldn’t you?) as a flashlight is one of the most engaging uses of the controller, period. Above all, though, the atmosphere is what sets Shattered Memories apart. I can think of few games period that exude the same isolated atmosphere as the cold, abandoned version of the town of Silent Hill found here. (Did I forget to mention this game swaps Silent Hill’s usual sleepy, foggy setting for one that’s frozen over for winter? How silly of me, because it’s a fantastic choice and a bold statement about what is and is not necessary to make it feel like “Silent Hill”.)
And in case it needs mentioning, rest assured, this game is creepy. This isn’t a happy frolick through a Christmas wonderland; this is the story of a man desperately searching a frozen town, filled with the same brand of psychological horror you’ve come to expect from the Silent Hill name.
Of course, while it’s distressing enough to get otherworldly phone calls and be pursued by monsters (whose appearance, by the way, seem to reflect your own actions throughout the game), some of the best moments Shattered Memories has to offer are those rooted in reality. Hands-down the best sequence in the entire game – skip to the next sentence if you don’t want it spoiled! – is being trapped inside a car that’s sinking underwater, watching the water rise as you desperately search for a way out. Even the puzzles are a great mix of these two elements; while tapping into the surrounding paranormal activity is often the key, there are great puzzles that require nothing more than real-world knowledge. One particularly great puzzle, for example, simply has you breaking into a computer account, drawing on the visuals around you for password clues. It’s actually a shame the videogames industry is so franchise-dependent, as a new reality-based horror game comprised of these sequences alone would be completely amazing. (And would put Heavy Rain to shame, too, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Really, with the awful combat removed, Shattered Memories seemed free to explore several avenues previously ignored by the series, all to great effect. In fact, it resembles nothing so much as a very good adventure game…or, rather, what adventure games should have evolved into. The nature of progression and puzzle-solving is largely the same, but without the stiff, segmented feeling even modern adventures games often have. More importantly, though, the nature of the game has shifted slightly but ever-so-importantly without combat. Gone are those moments when you’ve slaughtered a room and can take a breath, and in their place is a game that’s unsettling from start to finish. I’m a big believer in games concentrating on doing what they do best, and there’s no better example than what Shattered Memories does with the Silent Hill formula.
- Released: 2009
- System: Wii, PS2, PSP
- Publisher: konami