Spoiler Warning: I’ve avoided big plot spoilers, but does contain some minor spoilers for Silent Hill Shattered Memories
Urgh! I’ve been staring at a half finished version of this post on and off for weeks now. And that was after a fair number of restarts. I want to write about Silent Hill Shattered Memories. I want to give it the ol’ “How does this fit in to the Silent Hill Family” treatment following my exploration of Silent Hill 3. I’d like to talk about how it’s an unorthodox take on the original outing and enriches the universe.
But I can’t. The amount of caveats, conditions, “buts”, “howevers”, and “Hmmmms” made the entire thing an unreadable mess that I ultimately got lost in time and time again. So I’m going to start fresh and say exactly what I want.
Shattered Memories is not a Silent Hill game. I mean, it IS… but it’s not. Change the names of the town and a few of the key characters and there isn’t anything left to tie it to the series. The rusty, bleeding, alternative reality is absent. There’s no sign of the mysterious dark religion at the heart of events. Gameplay doesn’t centre around gradual exploration and unlocking of signature locations, warped by a shifting reality with overtones of relevant imagery suggesting a deep personal link to the demons haunting our protagonist. That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, it’s just that my intended look at how this oddball of the series squeezes into the existing offerings falls apart because there’s so little to tie the two together.
I guess it might be best to start with where there are overlaps. The key protagonist is a character called Harry Mason. Harry wakes up in Silent Hill following a car crash to find his daughter, Cheryl, is missing and then trots merrily around the town sort of aimlessly looking for her. On his travels around the town, Harry does experience a kind of alternative reality version of Silent Hill populated by monsters who are trying to … I don’t know… just grab him?
Outside of that however, it’s a pretty different game. Seemingly suffering from memory loss caused by the car accident, Harry spend most of the game learning more about who he is, in contrast to the original game which focused much more on uncovering the secrets of the town itself. The alternative reality takes the form of a frozen world, covered in a kind of neon glowing ice triggered by each significant plot revelation. Otherwise Silent Hill seems more like a regular town…. If you ignore the convenient snow drifts keeping you on the right path.
And I guess that’s a good time to jump to the gameplay. Shattered Memories is a largely linear affair unlike what you would expect from a Silent Hill game. Typically Silent Hills 1 through 3 drop the player in to a signature location and let them loose, bumbling around corridors and gradually unlocking doors. Here Harry is much more of a ‘walk along path to the next location’ sort of guy. From a purely mechanical point of view, the game has three different forms. First up are the ‘exploration’ bits of the game. The player guides Harry around various buildings, finding clues, solving the occasional puzzle, and catching a glimpse of a few spooky things here and there. Reach a significant point however and the world freezes marking the shift to one of the action sections. Without any weapons to speak of, these involve sprinting through often labyrinthine areas to find the exit pursued by monsters and forced to solve one final puzzle before escape. Finally, the game is broken up by first person sections where the player is ‘talking’ to a psychiatrist and asked to complete various ‘tests’. These sections form the famous psychological evaluation that the game proudly proclaims, but in reality your answers apparently influence some sections of dialogue or how the world appears, along with which ending you receive. Personally, I found the jump between slow exploration and running from monsters a little jarring, but it did hold my attention.
Being a Wii game, there is also a little Wiimote-motion control funtimes to keep players lurching around the couch. Yes, it was also released on PS2 and PSP, but with the Wiimote being critical in three different aspect of the gameplay, I’m not sure it would have the same charm in those ports. First up, you get to use the pointer as a flashlight which, to my surprise, works really well. Cautiously moving in to a room and shining the beam around the walls feels natural and adds to the immersion. I was also a fan of using the Wiimote speaker as your mobile phone. Yes, it is a little cheesy, but I couldn’t pass by one of the many phone numbers scrawled on walls or ingame signs without dialing it and holding the controller up to my ear to listen to each fun recorded message. Finally, during the action sequences, thrusting the controllers in the direction of any monsters that had grabbed Harry send them flying off. This wasn’t my favorite use of the controller as I didn’t ever work out how to thrust the controller backwards without whipping the nunchuck cable into my face.
Whilst shattered Memories wasn’t received so well at release, it does tend to get a fair bit of praise now as being one of the more interesting additions away from the main Silent Hill series and is definitely seen as one of the better Wii games in terms of gameplay and using the controller for something other than bowling or shaking wildly to try and pull off some kind of special move. I can’t help but feel that it was held back by the Silent Hill name. The tone is so different and I found it more of a mystery to be explored rather than the gradual grinding tension and horror that everyone’s favorite foggy small town usually brings. Rename the main charter Bill and have him walk around Townsville U.S.A. and the creators could have avoided all the unnecessary baggage of being judged by an established fan base.
I guess if you enjoy it or not is probably going to hinge on if you’re looking for a Silent Hill game and how much you like, what tend to get labelled as, walking simulators. Yes, there are puzzles, but mostly it’s about meandering from one place to the next… of course if that’s all you’re looking for then the action sequences are probably going to grate. There were some that were particularly frustrating. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure what the split was between actually enjoying it, or finding it ‘interesting’ from a retro-gaming perspective. I do know that I was ready for the credits to roll when they did despite it not being a long game.
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