Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a survival horror game published by Konami. It is the seventh instalment in the franchise, and a ‘reimagining’ of the first game. It is available on the Wii, with ports on PS2 and PSP. It launched during Winter 2009.
The game is like the much-feared movie adaptation of a popular video game [Insert caustic Uwe Boll reference here]. Although there is a real Silent Hill movie in existence, the movie is probably much closer to the canon of the video game series than this offering. Like a movie adaptation, Shattered Memories takes the basic concept of the first Silent Hill game – Harry Mason searching for his lost daughter after a car crash – and runs with it, shrinking the experience into a much shorter, watered-down form. All the important characters return, although all have radically altered roles in the story. The supernatural elements behind the evil of Silent Hill have completely disappeared. In spite of this, the psychological element remains in Shattered Memories, perhaps stronger than ever. In fact, Shattered Memories claims to psychologically profile the player throughout the game in order to create a custom nightmare, and this is probably its most attractive feature.
The game opens with Dr. Michael Kaufmann, now apparently a psychologist, asking the player a series of questions. While there are a multitude of factors to influence the game experience, the way the player answers these questions has a heavy impact on the rest of the game. The characters that the player encounters, for example, are clothed in different attire, mostly as a result of these questions. Throughout the game, the player returns to Kaufmann’s clinic to either answer a series of questions, or to complete various mini-games in order for Kaufmann to form conclusions about the player’s mindset. While this sounds like a wonderful idea on paper, the effectiveness of it is questionable within the game. The monsters change slightly depending on how certain questions are answered, but this mostly doesn’t matter, since the entire game has Harry running as fast as he can away from the monsters, not really giving the player much time to see their inner demons except when they decide to grapple you. Early on in the game, you’ll be asked to colour a picture of a family home, and its occupants. When Harry encounters the house and family in question, they will be the exact same colour that you chose.
The majority of the game revolves around Harry traversing from point A to point B, usually having to look around the environment to solve various puzzles in order to obtain a key to a locked door. Gone are the days of extremely obscure Shakespeare puzzles, or pulling a key out of a drain with a piece of hair and a hook. The puzzles in Shattered Memories are usually pretty simple: turn over three cans and see which one had a key inside, or line up for different colours of gumballs in order to open a door. These aren’t the stupidly easy puzzles of Resident Evil 4, nor are they are mind destroying puzzles of Silent Hill 3. Instead, they feel just right for this type of game. The puzzles themselves provide a light of insight into the back stories of the areas that Harry has to traverse.
Gone is the small pocket radio that Silent Hill protagonists have traditionally carried. Instead, Harry owns a cell phone, which emits noise when a monster is near. In addition to monsters, the cell phone also emits static when Harry is near a text message or a voicemail. When Harry moves right up to the location where he can receive the message, it will automatically be added to the cell phone. The phone also has several other interesting uses. Harry can use the built in camera to take pictures of ghostly figures trapped in other dimensions, to obtain text messages or voice mails from people who had been in the area previously. Finally, the phone can also be used to answer calls from other characters, as well as to dial various extra numbers found hidden throughout the environment.
Shattered Memories is clearly divided up into two different forms of gameplay. The first is the normal puzzle solving mode. At first, the player may be led to believe that Harry is in some kind of danger due to the fact that he can slowly open doors, or peek inside before opening each one. The truth is, during normal sequences, Harry is never in any sort of danger. There are never any monsters that randomly appear to accost him, nor is the environment itself of any danger. Silent Hill quite obviously freezes up into an icy landscape every time monsters appear, and doorways and ledges are lit up in a bright blue colour to indicate to the player that Harry can move there. This “ice mode” replaces the traditional rust, blood and darkness based landscape that the “otherworld” in previous Silent Hill games featured.
Whenever the ice landscape appears, Harry receives a waypoint on his cell phone GPS map. His goal is to reach the waypoint to escape the nightmare sequence. This is usually a difficult task to accomplish, since Silent Hill blocks off all the obvious paths, as usual. This forces Harry to run absurd distances into all kinds of buildings, and he is always pursued by a large number of enemies. Since combat has been completely removed from Silent Hill, Harry can only run for his life. There are only three things that he can do, besides running, to evade the monsters. He can tip over shelves or vending machines to stall the advance of the demons. He can hide in certain spaces for a short amount of time, although the monsters are able to eventually locate him if he stays in one place for too long. Finally, Harry will occasionally stumble across the flare. When lit up, the heat of the flare repels the ice based monsters for a short amount of time, making Harry essentially invulnerable for about 30 seconds. This could potentially buy the player enough time to escape a life threatening situation.
Although these nightmare sequences are a great idea, and the idea of a chase scene instead of the bland combat scene might seem exciting, it quickly becomes something close to a chore, or even torture. The main problem is the Wii’s motion sensing. The monsters occasionally grapple Harry to suck away his health, and the only thing Harry can do is to fling the monsters off. While monsters that grab onto the front and back are easy to shake off, the monsters that grapple the side of the body are hard to shake off due the motion sensing of the Wii. Often times, the throw won’t be executed in the right spot, or could take several tries.
By this time, the monsters have usually swarmed Harry to the point where he can no longer move. Sometimes the monsters gather around so close, even if the player somehow manages to fling them all off, Harry simply cannot escape due to the fact that the monsters cannot be pushed out of the way, and they remain “solid”, blocking any chance of escape. Players are likely to find themselves occasionally swarmed in the harder chase sequences, to the point where they might wish to start over instead of dislocating their arm in a futile attempt to escape. Fortunately, there is no penalty for dying.
The problem with these two different gameplay modes is that they simply are too different from each other. Halfway through the game, the player realizes that there are certain times that they will never be in danger, which takes away lot from the scary atmosphere that the puzzle parts of the game does pretty well. The game quickly becomes a routine, with the player expecting to have to solve some puzzles, be plunged into a nightmare, and then ending up at Kaufmann’s office again. That said however, Shattered Memories is generally interesting enough for the player to want to suffer through the nightmare sequences simply to see what happens to Harry in the next cut-scene, or puzzle sequence.
As stated earlier, the plot basically is about Harry Mason searching for his daughter, Cheryl, after a car crash. Harry winds up getting lost all over town in the worsening snow storm. At the beginning of the game, this story makes a lot of sense. Towards the ends however, the story dissolves into the nonsense typical of Silent Hill games, with Harry magically appearing in various locations after nightmares. The ending that the player obtains is dependent on the actions undertaken throughout the game, but the twist at the end of the game is definitely worth seeing. For those seeking the classic, gritty, Silent Hill experience, look elsewhere. Shattered Memories, while it gets pretty dark at times, isn’t anywhere as oppressive or macabre as the previous games in the series. The plot of it is most comparable to the adventures of Travis Grady in Silent Hill Origins, or perhaps the insanity of James in Silent Hill 2. Notably lacking is any reference at all to the main plot involving the Silent Hill cult.
For a Wii game, Shattered Memories looks fantastic. The lighting effect from the flashlight Harry carries around for most of the game is fantastic. The ice effects are worthy of attention, with some pretty cool, although completely unrealistic effects. As usual, the monsters in Shattered Memories are perhaps the least detailed. One of the characteristics this game shares with its predecessors is that the monsters look like mangled lumps of decaying flesh. One has to look pretty hard to see the details, which are actually there, although it takes a long time to notice them properly. While some of the in game objects look kind of shabby, they don’t look any worse than any PlayStation 2 game could pull off, which is really about as much as one can ask for from the Wii.
Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn both return to make up the soundtrack for Shattered Memories. While the ambient tracks aren’t quite as memorable as the ones from previous games, most aren’t quite as abrasive, either. McGlynn reprises her role as the vocalist for a number of songs on the soundtrack, which are fantastic and moody as ever. The sounds effects from the cell phone all come through the Wiimote, which is particularly neat, as one has to put the Wii Mote to their ear to clearly hear when someone calls Harry. The Wiimote also doubles as the flashlight, and the on/off clicking noise also comes through the Wiimote. The only audio-related problem appears during the chase sequences, when Harry busts through a door. Sometimes, the animation for Harry going through the door lags a bit, and the sound doesn’t quite line up at the same time with the door opening. While this is an uncommon occurrence, it happens often enough for one to notice it a few times throughout the game.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories provides an engrossing, thriller styled experience, if not a distinctly Silent Hill one. For newcomers to the series, don’t expect Shattered Memories to properly explain the story of the first game properly, or much at all. Shattered Memories instead stands more as an alternate, although much more simplified edition of the first game. The “Silent Hill” part of the title, however, now means nothing beyond the setting of the game, and has little impact on the events of the story itself. The psyche profile portion of the game might be interesting for about half the game, but when it comes down to it, it isn’t much more different than standard 4 path story of most role playing games. The short length of the game is simply inexcusable, which lends itself more to the quick, almost movie like style that the game is presented in. The first playthrough, while gathering much of the bonus material, should take no longer than 6 hours. This is probably a fairly good estimate for players all around, since Shattered Memories takes no skill at all to play, merely a solid few hours to sit down with it.
Flaws aside, the game is an intense few hours to play all the same, and as long as you don’t expect the game to compete with the second or third Silent Hill games, you’ll enjoy yourself a fair amount.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii.
Good graphics, 'psychological' experience, good musical score.
A poor contribution to the Franchise, gimped controls, lack of horror elements, reduced plot makes it unsuitable for new-to-the-series players.
Shattered Memories provides an engrossing, thriller styled experience, if not a distinctly Silent Hill one.