Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Wii
“…you run your ass off.”
The Silent Hill series has always been about the atmosphere the games create and, in the case of the absolute materpiece second installment, the brilliant psychological horror tale they tell. They have, however, had an estranged relationship with top-quality gameplay. Sure, the puzzles and exploration have always been decent, but the combat has always been a sticking point with reviewers. The first few games used slightly shoddy gunplay to convey the feeling that you aren’t playing as a hardened soldier, and in fact a guy who has never even picked up a firearm, nevermind having extensive combat experience. Thing is, wrap it up however you want, it is still slightly shoddy gunplay.
The most recent game, Silent Hill: Homecoming, is regarded as a bit of a low-ebb for the series, not helped by the fact that it was outsourced to a US developer who clearly had no idea of what made the games so effectively scary. Instead, they created something completely derivative of previous releases, full of series cliches and nods to the movie, with the only real innovation being the inclusion of a “proper” combat system, which gave the title a more action-orientated bent – something that is clearly at odds with what made Silent Hill so damn relevant in the first place. The series had become stale, and something needed to change.
Enter Climax, the UK studio who created the underwhelming PSP Silent Hill game. Shattered Memories is the series’ first foray onto Nintendo’s Wii console, and they have used this opportunity to do something of a reboot. You play as Harry Mason, and after a car crash you awaken in Silent Hill, with your daughter nowhere to be found. So, flashlight in hand, you wander off into the darkness to track her down. That is where the similarities end – this game is a different Silent Hill, with no reference to previous games or the film – and with good reason, because Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is – and sit down, boys – the most important horror game in YEARS.
Addressing the age-old problem with the combat is one of the many touches of genius Climax have brought to the series. They’ve removed it completely. There is no combat in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Put in the shoes of another everyman, this makes perfect sense. When the town freezes over and shifts into the dreaded parallel Silent Hill, you’re put into a “nightmare” sequence where you must run from the horrible creatures that dwell within. You have no defense for their attacks; if they grab you, you must do an onscreen prompt to fling them off and just keep running until you escape the section. You will occasionally stumble across a flare, that can be fired off to keep the enemies away from you until it expires, or push over obstacles to stop them from getting to you. These sections are so tense and fast-paced you’ll occasionally find yourself getting lost, or worse, doubling back on yourself. In any other game this would be a source of much frustration, but here, much like the gunplay in the original games, it is the point. It is supposed to be nerve-wracking, confusing and panic-inducing. This isn’t going to stop some people taking issue with these sections, which is fair, but really, they’re the only thing even slightly flawed in this game.
The exploration element is also improved. Instead of having to check your map at every turn and avoid the roaming monsters, lest ye run out of ammunition when you actually need it, everything here is far more streamlined. After the first ten minutes or so, you get access to Harry Mason’s mobile phone, an iPhone-esque device that works as a map, a means of communication and a camera – all integral parts to this new Silent Hill experience. As you walk around the town, you’ll find notes scrawled on walls, much like Left 4 Dead, and occasionally a jab of the A button will prompt Harry to comment on what he has just seen. Phone numbers are scattered around the environments on adverts and other places. Any one of these can be keyed into the mobile and called, resulting in some kind of creepy message. Characters will call you, send you text and photo messages for you to hear and see. Much like the brilliantly inventive No More Heroes, all of the phone audio is projected through the Wiimote’s speaker. All of these things immerse you further into this horrid nightmare.
There is barely any issue with control, either. The Wiimote acts as the torch Harry is carrying through the game, and pointing it around obviously illuminates the proceedings but also acts like the crosshair in a third-person shooter, pointing the way that you will start to turn as you push the analog stick. The traditionally devious Silent Hill puzzles are back, and with an added physicality that the unique controller allows. Sure, some are as simple as finding a key hidden in a coat pocket, but the act of unzipping the garment and pulling the key out is far more interesting than simply walking up to it and hitting the use button. Again, it is all about immersion, and the biggest, most incredible thing Climax have added to this game is the reason.
You start the game in a psychiatrists office, from a first-person perspective. The psychiatrist sits in front of you, and will ask you questions that can be answered by nodding or shaking your head with the appropriate Wiimote movement. He gets you to fill in a form full of “yes or no” questions, starting with simple things like “Do you make friends easily?” and “Are you a private person?” before delving a bit deeper into who you actually are.
“Have you ever cheated on a partner?”
“Have you ever enjoyed roleplay during sex?”
Not the sort of thing you want to answer while your family sits behind you, anxiously waiting for their go on Wii Fit. But answer these honestly, and Silent Hill will start to get its hooks into you on a much more personal level than ever before. Throughout the game, breaking up the exploration and chase sequences, you’ll find yourself back in this room, in the chair, doing more tasks for the pychiatrist. Slowly, the game builds a profile of you, working out what will and won’t scare you. It works out what makes you tick and starts to use it against you.
If you really think about it, most of the things it tries to aim at you personally are intentionally vague, like a horoscope, but there is usually just enough there that, combined with the already uneasy atmosphere, it can get you thinking “How does it know that about ME? How does it know I’m a fat, bearded misanthrope? What does it WANT from ME?”
Sorry. I got a little carried away, there.
As you get deeper and deeper into the game, the story becomes shaped around your answers, with characters’ attitudes to you and situations changing, creating your own personal little nightmare. Psychological horror at its most raw.
Despite being played in almost complete darkness, it is still one of the better looking games on the Wii. Characters are well realized with some excellent facial animation, while the backdrops are suitably murky and filled with all sorts of creepy stuff to cause your torchlight to create an unsettling sillouette or seven. With this being series sound designer extraordinaire Akira Yamaoka’s final Silent Hill game, he has left on a high note, no pun intended. His somber guitar pieces again work perfectly in creating that eerie atmosphere that reminds you that, even when you’re in the “real” world, nothing is as it seems. Industrial crashes and bangs up the ante during the nightmare sequences and the trademark static that signifies that something not very nice is lurking in the shadows is back, now slowly coming in through the Wiimote speaker. No air raid sirens, mind, but then, this is a new Silent Hill. A much, much better one.
It is becoming something of a cliche these days, but I’m going to say it anyway. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the Resident Evil 4 of the series. Things had got stale and boring and this series had lost sight of what made it so special in the first place, instead becoming a bit of characture of itself – all big muscle bound monsters with pointy helmets on, going around raping zombie nurses with ample breasts, just to be a bit risque. This changes things around, makes things completely different from a gameplay point of view, but truly harks back to those few things the original games did so right. The fear of something being not quite right. The fear of not knowing what is around the next corner. The protagonist fearing something dark lurking inside himself, only this time, the protagonist is merely an avatar for yourself.
It flies in the face of the typical Wii game, yet uses the console’s unique strengths and comes out a better game for it. If you’re one of those people who is sick of all those party games on Nintendo’s lovable, family-friendly console, and are crying out for a proper, grown up video game, look no further than this. Silent Hill. Saved. On the Wii. By a developer other than Team Silent.
Who’d have thought it?