Silent Hill: Shattered Memories ReviewBy Matt Keil - Posted Dec 08, 2009
While it started strong with a trifecta of three of the best horror games ever made, the Silent Hill series has struggled to find its footing in recent years. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is not that game, but at the very least is an interesting use of the series concept in conjunction with the gimmicks offered by the Wiimote.
- Flashlight mechanic works well
- Psychoanalysis framing device cleverly implemented
- Changing locations/characters offers replayability
- Chase sequences repetitive and pointless
- Very short playtime
- Wonky shadows in places
- Really no reason to be called a "reimagining" of the original
- Extremely simplistic puzzles
While it started strong with a trifecta of three of the best horror games ever made, the Silent Hill series has struggled to find its footing in recent years. The abysmal Silent Hill 4: The Room gave way to the better-but-still-sub-par Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Homecoming, and fans have patiently waited for the true return to form the series needs so badly. I am sorry to report that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is not that game, but at the very least it’s an interesting use of the series concept in conjunction with the gimmicks provided by the Wiimote.
Shattered Memories is touted as a “reimagining” of the original game, and inasmuch as it follows a guy named Harry Mason looking for his daughter Cheryl in the town of Silent Hill, it is. Beyond that, the story bears very little resemblance to the first Silent Hill, aside from some characters with the same names and occupations milling about. A cop named Cybil Bennett makes an appearance, but you’d never confuse her with the leather-clad hardass of the first game. A nurse named Lisa has an entirely different personality and character arc than the confused -- and possibly long-dead -- character with the same name in Silent Hill.
Tell Me About Your Mother
The characters are the same, but different...or are they? The most notable hook in Shattered Memories is the psychologist who confronts you in the first-person framing device. The action of the game involving Harry seems to be the recollections of a patient sitting in a shrink’s office, played by you. Over the course of the story, the psychologist has you complete simple personality tests that conform to the Briggs-Meyers model, the outcomes of which can alter the course of the game in minor ways. You may run into drastically different versions of Cybil, or maybe you’ll end up going through a greeting card shop instead of a fashion boutique. Perhaps a certain combination of answers and behaviors in the game would result in a Lisa very similar to her counterpart in the first game.
It’s an interesting way to change up the action, and adds a compelling reason to play the game a second time, if only to see what someone who gives answers opposite of yours would have encountered. Replay value is also very important due to the fact that the game can be finished in five to six hours. It wasn’t especially how answers given related to changes in the game and a few replays of certain sections resulted in dissimilar paths even without different input from the psych tests. Still, it’s unique, and keeps you guessing as to the nature of the events in Harry’s portion of the game. To Shattered Memories’s credit, the psych profile it drew up at the end credits for me was strikingly accurate.
So My Only Option Is “Or Flight”?
The other major change to the usual formula is the complete elimination of combat. Harry has no weapons, no health items and no way to defend himself outside of running away and lighting the occasional flare. He has his flashlight and his cell phone and that’s it. The phone serves as a handy map device as well as a story conduit, as finding certain locations and taking pictures of phantom people on the phone will unlock messages that fill in parts of the story. The only enemies in the game are weird skinless child-creatures that shriek and gibber as they pursue Harry through the Dark World, this time rendered as an icebound wasteland rather than the usual rust-covered industrial hell. If they catch Harry, they’ll jump on him, and you’ll have to shake the controller in the correct direction to throw them off. Get snagged enough times and Harry will go down, forcing you to redo the section.
These chase sequences offer very little in the way of compelling gameplay. You’re mostly just trying to run to a predetermined location on the map before you get hit with too many skinless children. It’s not particularly scary or tense, and your primary foe is actually the maze-like map design coupled with the fact that Harry walks like he’s out for a Sunday stroll as soon as he pulls out his cell phone to check the map. The reset after death means there’s no real penalty for running around to scout the area, dying, then beelining to the exit on your second try. It’s hard to feel any terror when there’s nothing at stake.
Sponsored by MagLite
To make the game more enjoyable, it may have been a wiser idea to eliminate combat and the chase sequences completely, because the exploration elements of the game are much more successful. The path through Harry’s troubles is linear, but the use of the Wiimote to directly control the movement of his flashlight is an inspired touch. The main character’s light source has always been a key element of Silent Hill, and turning it into the primary game tool makes for a satisfying way of interacting with the world. The Wii isn’t quite powerful enough to fully render shadows particularly well, as many freestanding objects project weird floating shadows that seem to hang in midair in a very unnatural manner. It could be argued that the town of Silent Hill is just weird like that, but it definitely looks more like a mistake or a technical limitation more than an artistic choice.
Puzzles, long considered he hallmark of Silent Hill’s cerebral side, have been horribly neutered in Shattered Memories. A surprising number of them consist of finding the key to a locked door, and often the key is less than ten feet from the door. In one instance the location of the key is actually written on a note posted on the locked door. It runs the gamut from silly to insulting and every one of them involves some kind of gimmicky Wii remote motion. There are one or two clever ones, mostly incorporating the cell phone, but anyone hoping to be challenged by Shattered Memories’s puzzles will be sorely disappointed.
It’s curious that Konami felt compelled to make Silent Hill: Shattered Memories a “reimagining” of the original game. So little of it is connected to the first title in the series that it seems like it would have been far more creatively liberating to simply tell a story about brand new characters. This would have freed the game from the need to pay homage to the original 1999 characters instead of having them enter and exit the narrative with nothing to relate them to their predecessors but nomenclature.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn’t a disaster so much as a disappointment, mainly in the “lost potential” sense. There’s the kernel of a interesting story here, and one much more psychologically-focused than most of the other games in the series. This could have been the most interesting character study in a Silent Hill game since the masterpiece that was Silent Hill 2, but it just never gets there and is constantly dragged down by gimmickry in the same way Harry is harangued by the shrieking skinless children in so many filler chase sequences.