Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is not a sequel to the Silent Hill series, nor is it a prequel. In fact the only thing you could associate this Silent Hill with any of the other games in the series are the character names from the first game released in 1999. Shattered Memories is a re-imagining developed by Climax Studios, the same company that created Silent Hill Origins for PSP and PS2. Now don't confuse this with a re-make, the game is not a re-make. Not associating this game with any of it's predecessors the first step to enjoying it.

It's snowing heavily outside, a well dressed man tosses a few ice-cubes into a glass and pours himself a whiskey. The intercom buzzes. "The new patient is here. They're early." The man accepts the person in, saying they can start. Straight afterwards, a car veers through the snowstorm and off the road, through and fence and into a ditch. A man with glasses unbuckles his seatbelt, and falls into the snow. It's dark. It's quiet. It's cold. "Cheryl!" the man cries out. Your daughter is missing, and you're in Silent Hill. Not a good start.

Back in the initial room, you're now face to face with the now revealed to be psychiatrist in first-person. You take a test, which reveals your personality. "Do you enjoy role-play during sex?" and "Do you make friends easily?" being a few examples of the questions. These questions are important, as it defines you, it develops your character, it makes your character... you. Your name is Harry Mason, and how your Harry reacts to the world of Silent Hill around him and how he treats other characters he meets depends on how you play and and how you answer the psychiatrists questions at important intervals in the game. Be truthful, and you might now like how your character becomes...

Shattered Memories' first noticeable feature is how it's more of an interactive film than anything. There's no beating up monsters with a pipe, there's no ducking behind cover to shoot enemies, and no revving up chainsaws. In fact, you don't get a single weapon in this game. If you expect to be doing any sort of combat, you've picked the wrong game. You trudge through the town looking for your daughter Cheryl and you run into a cast of different characters along the way. If you're a fan of the original, you'll recognize the names for sure. The psychiatrists questions and how you play come into effect here too, characters you meet actually look different depending on your Harry. For instance, my character was sleazy at the start, causing Cybil the policewoman to be... "skanky," and wearing a low-cut top.

You can observe things like posters by zooming in with the B-Button and by hovering your reticule over them. Harry makes verbal comments on things you look at, which is a nice touch. For example, look at a poster of a "sexy" lady in a garage, and Harry will say, "mmm..." On top of that, the things you do look at influences the game. Look at more sex-orientated things, and you'll find yourself becoming a more sleazy Harry. There are two main parts that Shattered Memories is split up into: exploration and chase segments, and both parts are important to character development.

Exploration is the biggest part of the game. You make your way through abandoned buildings, and through the snowy, quiet town of Silent Hill. Investigating the environment and doing puzzles is the biggest part of the game, and the most enjoyable part by far. The graphics look very impressive, possibly stretching the Nintendo Wii to it's very limits, thought it's hard to see this through screenshots. The snow looks beautiful, and it's very well animated. Accompanying that, the lighting effects look fantastic, and your flashlight really helps you traverse the dark terrain of the town. It's almost 1:1 movement as your wiimote acts as your flashlight. As another feature of the game, Harry Mason now has a cellphone, which looks suspiciously similar to an iPhone. Your phone has a variety of functions: a map, contacts list, camera, the ability to save your game, and of course a phone to dial numbers. Dialling numbers is entertaining, but mostly useless since in the snowstorm, no one seems to be able to hear you or the reception is too poor. Trying to dial numbers you come across on billboards/signs etc are only for the fun of it, and rarely help. Dialling 911 rewards you with having to listen to a woman get frustrated because she thinks someone is playing a prank on her. The camera is a very important tool, which you'll be using to take photos of "echo" images. The very first one you take in the game is of a seemingly deserted swing-set, however when you take the photo, it appears that Cheryl was sitting there, as she appears in the photo. Spooky stuff indeed.

The other part of the game are the chase segments. Chase segments usually occur at important parts in the plot, stopping Harry from learning something important. Similar to the other Silent Hill games, the world transforms into a "nightmare" world. Though the other games were a lot more blood and rust style, Shattered Memories takes on a new approach with a frosty iced over world. It's a lot less disturbing than blood and rust for sure, but the chilly, cold and alone feeling is atmospheric enough and fits the theme of the game. Again, the animation is top-notch here. You can see each breath coming from Harry's mouth, and you really feel quite cold just playing the game. However, chase segments are easily the most tedious part of the game. As said earlier, there's no combat. You just... run away. It's pulse-pounding, hectic, and pretty scary actually.

The main problem with the chase segments is that they're not linear. As much fun as free-roam is, being chased by monsters that are faster than you just isn't much fun when you find yourself running around in circles over and over. Sure you have a map, but it's mostly inaccurate, and you can't actually run with your phone out, so most of the time you're desperately sprinting through, hoping to get out as soon as possible. Which I suppose is the idea, but fun it does not make. On top of that, you're forced to use the motion-controls to climb, and shake them off. It immerses you in the game nicely, but when the controls don't quite work, you find yourself flailing your arms like an idiot and getting overwhelmed only to go back to the start again. It's frustrating and unnecessary. There's no penalty to death though, except for being irritated. The monsters are called "Raw Shocks," a play-on-words of "Rorschach" test, a psychological test involving inkblots based on your perception. This is fitting, as the monsters change and appear different as your characters personality develops. As an example, Raw Shocks take feminine shape the more sleazy and perverse Harry is. The creatures are invincible, and cannot be killed. The only way to even slow them down is by throwing obstacles behind you so that they get stalled, but it's usually not very effective, and it slows you down just pulling objects down. You can completely halt them, with a flare but it only lasts 20 seconds or so, then you're back to being chased. Another problem here is that all the nightmare segments feel the same. There's really no variety, and you'll find yourself dreading a chase scene while you're exploring, and hoping that it's over soon so you can get back to exploring while you're in a chase scene.

Annoying chase segments aside, the game is really quite fun. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that Akira Yamaoka is still doing the soundtrack, with a more frosty theme. It really suits the theme of the game, and it just wouldn't be a good Silent Hill game if he wasn't the composer. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, the series vocalist, also features singing "Always on my Mind," the excellent cover song of Shattered Memories.

Re-playability isn't the strong point of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. There are "mementos" to collect throughout the game, but the only reason for that is to unlock a small scene at the end of the game. Besides that, you can't view them at all, and they're lost when you start a new game, which made me feel that they're quite redundant. However, the main reason you'd be playing through again is to see the different choices, the different outcomes, and the different characters you meet. In fact, you can even go to different places at some points. On my first play-through, I went to the Diner and met the police-officer, yet on my second play-through I went across the road and into the sport's bar, and met the barmaid. These choices don't appear very often though, but it's a neat touch.

To truly enjoy the experience of this game, you really need to either be new to the series or just forget what you know about the rest. It's not a remake, it's a re-imagining. It's a different company's take on the series, and they've pulled it off very well for taking the series in a different direction from where it was going. Silent Hill: Homecoming was a good example of where you don't take the series, fighting monsters with machine guns and assault rifles doesn't make a good Silent Hill game, psychological horror does however fit the profile. It's not very scary and it's a bit too short, but the deep emotional and psychological story will have you thrilled until the end.

Neoseeker Silent Hill: Shattered Memories user-review

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