Harry Mason is a father on a mission, and that mission is going to lead him to some really strange and a terrifying places. He wakes up after a car accident, and his daughter is nowhere to be found, but he's determined to find her by journeying through the darkest and most barren sections of a town called Silent Hill, regardless of the effects it'll have on his own mental sanity.
That's pretty much the setup to the newest Silent Hill title, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which debuted on the Nintendo Wii a few months ago and has now found its way via a port to the Sony PSP. Surprisingly, not a lot was lost in transition, and the title features the same voice acting, high-quality visuals, and overall gameplay as the original game. There's a bit lost in the transition from some motion-based control segments to a standard control scheme involving an analog stick and face buttons, but overall, I came away feeling pretty impressed. The visuals have seen a slight downgrade, but even so, it's one of the better-looking PSP games you'll come across. It's also nice to hear the superb soundtrack make its way over intact, and it's easily the highlight of the entire game.
If you're coming into this experience without having played the Wii version, then you're in store for a treat. There are segments that can be wildly annoying, but the game nails the horror atmosphere so well that I'm more than willing to overlook a few of its flaws. That's not to say they don't exist or that I'll gloss over them in this review, but it's a game that I think is worth experiencing, especially if you've enjoyed the franchise in the past or you felt let down by the action-heavy Silent Hill: Homecoming on the X360 or PS3.
Shattered Memories tosses action out the window pretty early in the game. You don't have a big inventory system to manage or weapons to pick up and find. You're equipped with little more than your flashlight, a cell phone, and your own two feet, and that's going to be it for the majority of the game. Get rid of the concept of boss fights, or any other nonsense that's been tacked on to the Silent Hill mythology up to this point; Shattered Memories takes you back to the most basic sense of fear that was present in the original release, and it excels at making you feel uneasy throughout the entire game.
Gone is the ashy haze of the previous Silent Hill titles, replaced by a winter theme that works just as well. With a constant snowfall during your outdoor segments and a freezing effect that kicks in when the nightmare world takes over the normal world, the idea of using cold as an oppressive element works really well. Tie that into the fact that the majority of the game takes place at night, with nothing more to see than your flashlight beam, and you get an overwhelming sense of being enclosed that works really well and plays on the fear of the unknown, which is the bread and butter of the Silent Hill franchise.
When the game begins, you're asked to take a psychological profile test. It's a simple quiz with a few questions, and you've probably taken more in-depth personality tests on Facebook than the one that's presented here. Regardless, it sets up different markers within the game that trigger at various points, changing details like colors or locations. While you're playing the game for the first time, it's not really evident what the test has done or what it's altering; the title pretty much begs to be played multiple times if you're curious to see what your choices are possibly affecting. It becomes evident on a second playthrough, especially if you opt to do the opposite of each question from the prior time, and it's pretty cool to see the changes. Like previous Silent Hill titles, Shattered Memories also offers up multiple endings, so there's even more incentive to play it multiple times.
A lot of your time spent in Silent Hill revolves around exploring, and while you'll run into a small cast of characters along the way, Mason's journey is largely silent. There is some excellent voice acting to back up the story segments, and all of it was carried over from the Wii iteration. There's also some character interaction via his cell phone, which serves a few purposes throughout the game. One of its primary uses is to function as your map, which can be brought up from the cell phone menu at any time. There's also a camera function that allows you to take snapshots of ghostly images, and it'll also collect messages from the beyond for you to hear. It also has some basic functions to contact different characters, and the phone book is equipped with quick dial. It's a little cumbersome to keep the phone around at all times; it obstructs the view by taking up a lot of screen space, and Mason deliberately moves slower when the cell phone is out.
The small annoyance with the cell phones is particularly amplified when you reach the chase sequences. At pre-determined points, the town of Silent Hill transforms into a nightmare replica of itself, and this is where the trademark monsters and demons begin to surface. A staticky noise emits as you get closer to danger, and eventually you'll be chased by various Silent Hill creatures. The idea is that you need to run to a safe haven, outlasting the creatures' attempts to corral you and evading their attacks. This is made more difficult by the fact that when the nightmare effect kicks in, everything looks frozen, making it harder to get your bearings or a sense of direction. You'd probably rely more on the map if it weren't such a pain to take out and use, and there's no way to be quick or on the run when you're trying to use it. Not tying the map to the cell phone implementation would have alleviated one of my bigger issues with the game, and it would have made the chase sequences far less annoying. Thankfully, they don't comprise the majority of the gameplay, but if there's one thing in Shattered Memories that I hate, it's the nightmare chases.
One other complaint, and this is more due to the small screen on the PSP, is that it can be a little challenging to find objects with which to interact. Having played some of the Wii version prior to this, it wasn't difficult for me to remember where things were, but if I had never played this game before, I could see it being a little aggravating. The game tries to help you out by highlighting interactive objects with a small, white arrow, but this is nearly impossible to see in the outdoor segments. Compound that with everything being smaller on the PSP screen, and it becomes really easy to glaze over a small object, key or item. Being stonewalled because you can't find something is always annoying, and it really kills the pace of the game if you you're stuck and can't progress due to missing a ridiculously small item or clue.
Overall, Shattered Memories is a pretty excellent port and a pretty excellent game. It has a few issues, but it also signals a return to form for the Silent Hill series that's been missing for the past couple of iterations on the consoles and handhelds. If you don't have a Wii console, then this PSP iteration is a good alternative. I think you lose a little bit without the motion controls, such as nodding Mason's head in agreement to questions with the Wii Remote or using the Remote and Nunchuk to independently control movement and the flashlight, but the control setup on the PSP is fine.
If you haven't had a chance to check out Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, then I urge you to pick it up. This isn't going to do much for you if you're not already a fan of horror games, but longtime Silent Hill fans should really appreciate this particular release. It manages to stay creepy throughout, does some great things on the audio and visual fronts, and has one of the best soundtracks in the series to date. There are some annoyances to overcome in the chase sequences, but ultimately, de-emphasizing the combat was the right decision to make. Shattered Memories is absolutely worth trying out.
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