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Game Review- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

March 9, 2010

The Silent Hill Series has a mostly loyal and ardent fan base consisting of folks who really, really love a great psychological thriller/horror. Weird cults who are hell bent on resurrecting ancient gods? Sign them up! Spouses who can’t come to grips with their relationships and end up getting stuck in a nightmarish waltz with Death personified? Sounds like a good time! Parents killing their children and destroying their town in the process? That’s the place Silent Hill fans want to vacation at.

A little horror, blood, guts and dealing with screwed up individuals doesn’t bother them in the slightest. In fact, it’s kind of what they’re looking for in each successive installment. That being said, Shattered Memories, while trying to remain true to the legacy of previous Silent Hill games, falls a little short. The game features a father/daughter combo trying to…wait? It’s Harry Mason and Cheryl from the first game? Ok! The game features Harry Mason and Cheryl from the first game series in a complete reimagining of what Silent Hill and their story could have been. You know; if it didn’t include the weird cult that forms the backbone of the Silent Hill Series. Throughout the course of the game, you are treated to Harry desperately manoeuvring through Silent Hill in an attempt to reunite with his daughter after a horrible car crash. Harry wakes up, she’s gone, and he needs to rescue his little girl. Pretty much like the start up scenario in the first game. But that is where the two really loose their similarity.

Instead of being treated to a nightmare Silent Hill in which there are monsters around every corner trying to eat Harry’s face, the player has to deal with ‘nightmare’ sequences. Every so often, a frozen landscape envelopes the town, populated by monsters that are supposedly tailored to the player’s fears and insecurities. During these sequences, the goal is to escape the nightmare and avoid the monsters. Forget the trusty shotgun or pistol that players are used to employing to deal with video game monsters. In this game, your most trusty weapon is…a flare! By using your flare, you can scare the monsters away while it burns, giving Harry some breathing room to navigate the maze that prevents him from moving forward in Silent Hill and closer to his daughter.

While in these sequences, player is expected to run, as opposed to fight. In the game’s words, “They are many….you can’t fight them…run!” In exchange for sequences of frantic running, the player gets to enjoy the non-nightmare sequences of the game, knowing that they are safe, protected and free from any interfering monsters that could kill them and make them have to restart the game. As a matter of fact, the player isn’t in any danger even in the nightmare sequences. If the monsters overpower the player, they see Harry falling to the ground, occasionally being ‘petted’ by the monsters that have just killed him. He then wakes up at an earlier part of the labyrinth, tasked once more with trying to find his way out. This might be bearable if it wasn’t for several factors. The Wii controls require the player to make shoving motions with both the Nunchuk and the Remote, simulating Harry throwing the creatures off him if they have jumped onto his body. I found these controls to be infuriately cumbersome for the simple fact that once the remote faced away from the television, the sensors in either it or the Nunchuk went nuts and made it difficult to navigate. There’s nothing like having five monsters chasing you and being unable to turn to get away because the control has lost synchronization with the Wii sensor. I found myself ‘dying’ over and over again because I had to pause to smack the remote to force it to work properly again.
In addition, the labyrinths themselves were frustrating in the extreme. When faced with three ways to go, the player randomly picks one way. Once through that door, you are faced with two more to pick from. Then three doors and a fence, and so on and so forth. After dying about three or four times the mazes became tedious, uninteresting and very much a chore to complete for the sake of finishing the game. It didn’t help that after a few times of being tackled by the monsters Harry slowed down, limping his way through the dark corridors and making it easier for the fast creatures to grab him. And if a creature came out of a door in front of Harry’s path, you could just about forget being able to avoid it.

Outside of the nightmare sequences, the game became a bit more interesting, with Harry moving through a snowed in town, occasionally running across different characters and interacting with them. The flashlight was well used here, forcing you to purposely illuminate the dark hallways and rooms that Harry is moving through and adding to the isolated feel of the town. There are pictures to be taken across the town as well as ‘hot spots’ to activate, both of which give you either an audio or text message that can be accessed on your in game cell phone. They add to the story, giving you bits and snippets from the life of your daughter and others in the town. During the in town sequences there were also puzzles to complete, the majority of them being fairly simple and involving things like twisting the Wii remote to simulate turning a knob or opening a door. White triangle indicators lead the way to objects that could be interacted with, giving the game a more casual feel throughout; there didn’t need to be much searching or frustrating backtracking to figure out what you missed to move forward; you probably would have seen all the things you could interact with when you entered each successive area.

Overall, the game is definitely worth playing at least once, but suffers mostly because of the series that it was intended to be a part of. Taken out of the Silent Hill Series and given its own unique background and story it would have been a much more enjoyable game. As its own psychological profiling game it has some definite merits. It bears noting, however, that regardless of what game series it’s a part of, the nightmare sequences would hamper it and make it annoying to play. The nightmares did get a little easier the second playthrough around as I vaguely remembered the right paths to take to escape and if you’re able to do that as well (or look up a decent nightmare guide online) then a second playthrough is definitely a must, just to see the changes in environment and characterization through different player choices. Shattered Memories is not, however, a very good addition to the Silent Hill series, and I eagerly look forward to Konami developing a much more suitable addition to the series.

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