The original Silent Hill was a bit of a Resident Evil clone. What made it stand out was not the gameplay or plot, but the creepy atmosphere. Instead of the creepy cultists from the original game, the sequel, Silent Hill 2, built upon the town of Silent Hill and the effect it had on the characters and players. It even studied the player's actions and reactions and changed the plot and conclusion accordingly. The later games in the series, and even the movie, were more in the vein of the first game, focusing on cultists and monsters instead of the town, but Silent Hill 2 still remains the high point for a lot of gamers, in large part due to the way it used the game world against you. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a game made in the vein of Silent Hill 2, and yet it's completely different from every other Silent Hill title to date.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is technically a remake of the first game. Players are put in control of Harry Mason, a struggling writer and single father. While driving with his daughter Cheryl, Harry gets into a nasty car accident and passes out. When he awakens, Cheryl is gone, and Harry finds himself in the town of Silent Hill, searching for his lost daughter. Functionally, that is where the similarities to the first game end.
Aside from the names of characters and locations, the plot of Shattered Memories veers so far away from the original that it might as well be a different game. Very little of the original Silent Hill remains unaltered, and the world that Harry explores is very different from the town that he visited on the PS1. It borrows a lot more from David Lynch than Stephen King, and the entire adventure comes to a very strange end. Players who are fond of the Silent Hill mythos may be disappointed in how little the game has to do with the other titles in the franchise. It is more of a stand-alone title, although there are a plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the franchise, including a hilarious UFO ending.
Shattered Memories has a rather unique framing device. The player is telling the story to his psychiatrist, Dr. K, sometime after the events of the game so the story jumps back and forth between Dr. K's office and Harry's adventure in Silent Hill. This doesn't mean that the segments with Dr. K don't have any influence on Harry's adventure, though. Dr. K will question the player and submit him to psychological tests from time to time. These questions and tests alter the game world in different ways. If you tell Dr. K that you have a problem with drinking, Harry may encounter a bar instead of a diner. When you're asked to color in a picture of a happy family, that family will later appear, exactly as you drew them. A character may be cheerful in one path and suicidal in another. The more the game progresses, the more the world changes based on your answers and actions in the game world. If you spend too much time staring at pictures of scantily clad women, Dr. K may suspect you're a bit of a pervert. Even the monsters in the town change depending on your answers, and Harry's ultimate personality is shaped by the player.
To be fair, being asked to color in a house, only to have the house show up later, is a neat bit of programming but doesn't really add much to the psychological horror aspect. Other elements are more subtle, and the game has a wide variety of changes and alterations depending on what you do. There are even entire subplots that you may not encounter on your first playthrough. Mostly, it is interesting to see what the game does and does not read about you and your actions. It isn't exactly scary, but it is certainly fascinating to see how your choices reflect upon the world. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the Insanity Effects in Eternal Darkness. It screws with the player more than it interferes with the character you're controlling.
Shattered Memories takes great advantage of the Wii controls. Players move Harry with the Nunchuk's analog stick, while the Wii Remote points the flashlight around. You can investigate objects by pressing the B button on the Wiimote, which zooms in at whatever Harry is looking at. Harry will usually comment aloud on anything unusual, but there is no pause in the gameplay when he does so. Moving around feels incredibly natural, and it's difficult to imagine how the game will fare on the PlayStation 2 or PSP, considering how incredibly fitting the controls feel on the Wii. Climax did a great job of keeping in mind the limitations of the Wii and implemented all of the basic mechanics accordingly. It is, however, a bit annoying to have Harry in the middle of the screen, as his body tends to block something directly in front of you, and turning quickly can sometimes be a pain. Still, Shattered Memories does a great job of immersing the players in the game world, and this is one of the few games where the Wii controls don't feel completely tacked on.
There are actually no pauses or breaks in the gameplay. Harry doesn't have an inventory system or health bar. There are collectible items, but they're stored in a special inventory and don't really come into play. He has access to his iPhone, which he can use in a variety of ways. He can use the built-in GPS to find his way around Silent Hill, and he can make notations on the map to show where he wants to go next or highlight items of interest. The phone can be used to receive messages and calls from other characters, and Harry can even call numbers he finds around the city. The built-in camera can be used to take pictures of puzzle clues for later use, which is a handy way to prevent backtracking. In Silent Hill tradition, the iPhone also functions as a warning about supernatural activity. When Harry approaches something in the real world that has a hint of the supernatural, his phone will emit a high-pitched whine and his flashlight will flicker. Investigating these objects will transmit voice and text messages to Harry's iPhone, which can reveal interesting clues or subplots.
Unlike the other Silent Hill titles, Shattered Memories features no direct combat. For most of the game, Harry doesn't encounter any enemies at all. Most of the areas of Silent Hill are completely devoid of anything, friend or foe. The danger only starts when Silent Hill transforms into the horrific nightmare world. Unlike the other games in the franchise, Shattered Memories' nightmare world is a land of ice, rather than blood and metal. Everything becomes twisted and frozen, opening some areas and closing off others. In this nightmare world are The Creatures, which are completely invincible and can't be harmed, so Harry's only choice is to run from them. As such, every nightmare segment turns into an extended chase scene, where Harry is forced to run from The Creatures until he can find a safe area.
Any path that Harry can take is highlighted by a blue light, but there is no linear path to follow. The player has complete control during these chase segments and must remember the direction they have to go and find a way to get there. There are multiple paths one can take through these twisted nightmares, which is useful since The Creatures are relentless and don't always follow the same path. If a creature catches Harry, it'll latch onto him, draining some of his health and slowing him down. Since the creatures are already faster than Harry, repeated grabs will quickly seal his doom. Each time a creature grabs Harry, he has to shake them off with the Wiimote by quickly following an on-screen motion. This is a surprisingly intense and well-done method of control, and it feels perfectly natural. The motions registered perfectly for me, and it was rare that I felt Harry wasn't reacting properly. This did occur a few times, but never in a way that led to my untimely death.
The Creatures are invincible, but they can be slowed down in a few different ways. Harry can find hiding places to duck into for a moment, but these locations are iffy at best. If The Creatures see Harry, the location is useless, and if he remains in one spot for too long, they'll drag him out, regardless of how well he is hidden. Hiding places are best used to throw off the creatures for a moment, allowing you to backtrack toward a door you missed or take a look at your GPS. Harry can also knock over objects while he's running, which is done with a flick of the Nunchuk. This slows down The Creatures slightly and lets Harry get an all-important head start. Like knocking The Creatures away from Harry, this is easy to do and feels very natural, which keeps the chases feeling intense without the Wiimote feature getting in the way.
In certain areas, Harry can also find flares, which are single-use items that can be deployed to temporarily ward off The Creatures. They're incredibly useful but very rare, so they're best saved for moments when you took a wrong turn and ended up completely surrounded. Harry's iPhone also serves as a warning to The Creatures' proximity. The amount of phone static increases as The Creatures approach, and aiming your flashlight around allows you to figure out exactly what direction the monsters are in, so you can alter your path without stopping to look around.
The nightmare sequence is a lot more satisfying as a horror mechanic than any combat system in the previous Silent Hill games. It gives a real sense of being in danger and facing things that you have no idea how to deal with. You are utterly powerless, which makes the simple creatures a lot more frightening than even the nastiest foe in previous Silent Hills. The mechanics are well-implemented and interesting, and being chased from room to room is very intense. With that said, it can be very easy to get lost while doing this. While that is the part of the challenge, it can also end up frustrating when you're running through icy rooms, trying to find a path that leads to salvation instead of more Creatures, especially if you lose your sense of direction easily. The GPS can be accessed during these segments, but it is incredibly slow to pull up. If you check it, you're almost certain to get grabbed at least once before Harry can put away the iPhone again. Since everything is blue and covered with ice, it can also be tough to tell where you are during a frantic race, making it even harder to keep your bearings.
One of the riskier choices in Shattered Memories is dividing the game into two sections. Since the game is divided into two areas, the regular world and the nightmare world, it becomes very easy to tell when you're in actual physical danger from the nightmare creatures. While in the real world, you know that you're not in danger. The fear comes from wondering when the nightmare world is going to appear and everything is going to go to hell. It does, however, mean that there are no real "jump scares." You're warned in advance of the approach of scary things in the real world, and since you know they can't hurt you, it amounts to a loud noise and a spooky sight. If you're the kind of gamer who pays attention to this, it can really suck the atmosphere out of some areas of the game. It's especially noticeable on a second playthrough, since you're more prepared for the ice to show up and to run away from creatures. Shattered Memories does an excellent job of setting the atmosphere, but only if the players are willing to immerse themselves in it. Otherwise, it ends up feeling like a trip through a haunted house, and that can feel quite unsatisfying. Once you know that monsters are not going to pop up, it's hard to be frightened when the iPhone buzzes about something supernatural nearby.
The puzzles in Shattered Memory are a lot more straightforward than their counterparts in the other titles in the series. If you need to open a locked door, the key is usually nearby. If you have to solve a puzzle, there's usually a clue in the same room. You may sometimes have to backtrack in order to find a particular puzzle solution, but this is pretty rare. Since you can use the built-in camera in Harry's iPhone to take pictures of anything suspicious, you can usually keep a collection of useful information on hand. This means the puzzles are a lot more streamlined than their counterparts, but also a bit less satisfying to solve. There is an element of unusual realism to them, which is both welcome and a little disappointing. It's far less tedious than backtracking through a bunch of rooms to find the obscure item you missed, but at the same time, it's pretty unsatisfying when the solution to a locked door is located in a wallet a few steps away. Some of the puzzles are also fairly lackluster. Without spoiling anything, a few aren't exactly puzzles but more of an excuse to show off the Wii's ability to interact with objects. They add nothing to the game but slightly delay how long it takes for you to go through a door.
Almost every element in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has been streamlined. Without the inventory wrangling and backtracking usually involved in survivor horror games, Shattered Memories has a much better pace. You'll rarely find yourself growing tired of a location because you spend so little time in one area. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost to the game length. Even on a first playthrough, it is unlikely you'll spend more than six hours finishing the adventure. Subsequent playthroughs, even with changes to the world thanks to the psychological analysis, are going to be even quicker. The way the game plays out encourages multiple playthroughs, but a good portion of the impact is lost after the first time through, making it difficult to really say that the game is meant to be replayed again and again. This means that Shattered Memories is a great rental, but it's a little harder to recommend as a purchase.
Shattered Memories is a good-looking game. The art design is solid, and the character models are well done, if not particularly impressive. The most interesting visual aspects are all the ways that the game changes and alters itself based on your psychological profile, and each area in the game is brimming with details that take advantage of that. However, the game also suffers from some nasty glitches and poor QA in more than a few places. Most noticeably in the nightmare segments, the frame rate drops very quickly, especially when you're being chased by a whole horde of creatures. More aggravating than that, however, are some potentially game-stopping glitches. On multiple occasions, Harry would glitch and was unable to act, and another time, he even fell through the floor. The worst of all, however, was where game froze at the end of a long cut scene, forcing me to redo a fairly lengthy section. Considering the short length of the game, it was surprising to find so many errors, and while it was possible to work through them, it was certainly annoying.
Shattered Memories also has a suitably chilling soundtrack. While I have a hard time pointing out any songs as particularly standing out, each one does a fairly good job of setting the mood for the scene. The sound effects are very well done, although I could have done without the loud sound that occurs every time you investigate a supernatural object. Harry's voice actor does a good job, especially considering that he has to play someone whose personality changes depending on the player. There are a few scenes in which he is awkward, but not many. The other voice actors range in quality, but most do an adequate job. Cheryl's voice actress is a bit squeaky for the role they ask her to play, which makes it harder to be intimidated when you receive her cryptic voice messages.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an interesting, if flawed, game. The plot is the strong point, and venturing with Harry into the depths of Silent Hill is extremely engrossing, especially as the world begins to change around you. Exploring the town is a surprising amount of fun, especially if you're the kind of gamer who likes to poke around the environment. Escaping the monsters that pop up from time to time is pulse-pounding and exciting, and it provides an interesting twist to the usual survival-horror mechanics. Unfortunately, the flaws have a habit of outweighing its strong points. The fact that you're safe in the real world sucks a lot of the tension from the game and can really dull the experience. Glitches are rather common, and more than a few can break the game. Perhaps worst of all, however, is the fact that the game is short. There is replay value, but the nature of the game means that no replay has the same impact as the first playthrough. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a great rental, but it's harder to recommend as a must-buy because of the flaws and short length. If you're looking for a unique and interesting horror game for your Wii, though, it's hard to find one better than Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
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