Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
At the end of the day, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn't a bad game by any means
- Intriguing psychological angle, looks great for a Wii title, fantastic voice acting
- Far too short, nightmare sequences are frustrating, way too easy to get lost
An ambitious reimagining of Konami's spine-tingling masterpiece, Shattered Memories proves itself an innovative, if flawed take on one of the forefathers of the survival horror genre.
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My first exposure to Konami's Silent Hill series of scare-fests was back in 1999, fresh off of a week-long bender of Resident Evil 2. Ready for even more malformed monsters and mutant crocodile menaces, I was somewhat surprised when I powered my Playstation on to find an incredibly different environment than RE2's Raccoon City. Instead of facing a horde of genetically altered flesh-eaters, I was met with twisting camera angles, hauntingly melodic background music, and faceless creepy crawlies straight out of Jacob's Ladder. Silent Hill's titular fog-infested locale was frightening in a much more psychological sense, creating a general sense of uneasiness and anxiousness that offered a nice change of pace from RE's conventional Romero-esque scare tactics.
The franchise hit a high point with the scarring Silent Hill 2, a journey through the psyche of a tortured widower that garnered both critical and commercial acclaim; after a relatively successful direct sequel to the original with Silent Hill 3, the franchise slowly headed back to obscurity with the remarkably dissimilar Silent Hill 4 (originally not even a Silent Hill title), then ran safely back towards the horror conventions it tried so hard to stray from with the American developed Silent Hill: Homecoming. Despite its masterfully frightening origins, the Silent Hill series fell victim to contrived and confusing plot twists, as well as several inherent gameplay issues such as unwieldy cameras and a slow, cerebral pace that proved too taxing for survival horror fans accustomed to Resident Evil's gut-wrenching pace.
Luckily, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories returns to the game's glory days by re-imagining the first Silent Hill and combining it with a more psychological ploy that harkens back to the classic second installment; Harry Mason is still searching for his daughter in the barren villa of Silent Hill and as the game progresses, players slowly begin to unravel the mystery of the town and the man who haunts its snowy streets. But rather than being a direct remake, Shattered Memories has an interesting twist: the developers -- Climax Group, the promising minds behind 2007's handheld prequel, Silent Hill: Origins -- bills it as a game that "plays you as much as you play it." Every so often, the core action will be broken up by small psychiatric sessions, prompting an unorthodox doctor to ask you almost uncomfortably personal questions about your hopes, fears, and sexuality. Depending on your answers, the game will shape itself as more tailor-made for whoever's playing it. After all, what's more frightening than a horror game that knows what scares you?
While the psychoanalysation angle is certainly an ambitious one, I just didn't feel like it went quite far enough. Two separate playthroughs of Shattered Memories with polar-opposite answers did alter character dialogue and appearances, but the game's simplistic puzzles and repetitive nightmare sequences were left entirely untouched. Add in the fact that the game can easily be completed in about five hours, and there isn't an awful lot to keep players around for another playthrough.
The aforementioned nightmare sequences are especially disappointing: Unlike previous Silent Hill titles, Harry is unable to actually fight his faceless foes, instead resigned to meekly pushing them aside and scurrying away. Discretion is the better part of valor unless, of course, you're mired in a dense fog that surrounds a labyrinthine city, at which point it just becomes jarringly annoying. Harry does come equipped with a GPS on his cell phone, but the level design is so straightforward -- every path but the one you are meant to take is blocked off by a convenient wall of ice or some other debris -- that it's almost completely useless.
At the end of the day, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn't a bad game by any means -- it's an incredibly original and ambitious project, but the weight of its problems, both old and new, keep it from being much more than a nostalgic love letter addressed to diehard series fans.
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