The survival horror genre isn’t what it once was. With many games now placing an emphasis on non-stop action over cold, hard fear, and featuring characters that feel like they will never lose, the only people in danger of surviving a horror game are the monsters. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories harkens back to where it all began, putting the focus solely on simply surviving instead of fighting. While at first it may seem a bit odd to run from all your problems, once you complete Shattered Memories, you’ll realize just what a wonderful surprise of a game it was that you just played.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a reimagining of the original Silent Hill, forgoing much of the series’ history in favor of a more easily accessible narrative for newcomers that isn’t bogged down in years of complicated, and sometimes convoluted backstory. You’ll play as Harry Mason, a writer who gets into an accident during a snowstorm in Silent Hill. He awakens to find his daughter Cheryl missing from the car, and immediately begins searching for her. All of your exploration will be on foot, and there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. Events occur throughout the story that cause Harry to question just about everything, from his motivation to whether or not people he encounters can be trusted. The story is broken up by visits with a psychiatrist, where you’ll be tested with fairly ambiguous psychological exams like coloring a family portrait or picking your perfect school day schedule. All of the tests are subjective, and will not only shape the characters that you interact with, but the world around you. Depending on how you answer the questions in your first test, you’ll encounter one of four different policewomen at the start of the game. One is fairly normal and compassionate, while one is gung-ho and short tempered, and yet another is very sultry looking, but has the personality of one of the other two cops. There are dozens of ways the game changes subtly and overtly based on how you answer, and what you do while you’re exploring (like constantly staring at sexy calendars, or peeping in on characters as they get dressed), and it’s an interesting way to change the dynamic of a game. Choices that you make during the actual game will also impact how the game ends, and with five different endings, there’s plenty of reason to go back and find out what you could have done differently. Shattered Memories’ story is chock full of great storytelling, and once you complete your first playthrough, you’ll either start a new game up immediately to see how well the game foreshadows the ending from the very beginning, or run into the next room to talk with a friend about how incredible the game was.
There are two main aspects when trying to survive in Silent Hill. In the real world, you’ll spend your time exploring the area looking for Cheryl, solving puzzles, and interacting with a handful of other people in the town. The only tools you’ll ever get for the entire game are a flashlight and your cell phone. Your phone is one of the key elements to the game, as you’ll be receiving calls, voice messages, text messages, and photos throughout your journey. Occasionally when exploring, you’ll come across a shadowy, ghost-like figure. Taking their picture with your camera will sometimes include the answer to a puzzle, or more often, reveal more of the mystery of Silent Hill. There are a more than a handful of messages you’ll receive that seemingly don’t relate to your mission, but are interesting to witness, nonetheless. Calling people with your phone isn’t essential, save for a few times, but there are more than enough numbers (I found about fifty, and I’m sure there are plenty more) located around the town for you to call if you’re curious. Of course, certain phone calls you make will alter future events ever so slightly, so it may be worth calling every number you find just to see what happens. The puzzles in the game often require you to use the motion controls to solve them, and range from finding poorly hidden keys, to exiting the back of a police car, to finding the proper control sequence for a drawbridge. For the most part, the controller will mimic your hand, so you don’t have to worry about senseless twirling or waggling. Every motion is concise, and to the point. None of the challenges are particularly difficult, but they do still break up the wandering moments of the game pretty well.
Throughout the game, true to classic Silent Hill fashion, the real Silent Hill will transform into a twisted version of itself, full of deformed monsters. Unlike previous incarnations of the title, there is no fight or flight reaction. There is only running. The only “weapon” you’ll ever see or use during these segments is a flare, which can be used to scare the deformed creatures away for a few moments by waving it around as you run, or by throwing it, but you must constantly be moving, or else the demons will catch up with you. If you do happen to get snagged by one, you’ll have to throw it off by shaking the controller in the direction you want to throw the monster. Concise movements work best; motioning as if you were actually trying to throw something off of you. The more frantic and spastic your motions, the less likely you are to actually escape their grasp. The other world isn’t too hard to navigate initially, but as you progress deeper into the game, the other world has more pathways and monsters, and there’s a larger sense of urgency to escape. You’re likely to be less cautious of where you’re running, and can find yourself running in circles before finally getting caught by a horde of beasts. The beasts themselves will even change based on how you’re answering the questions from the psych tests, or by how you’re playing the game. Like I said, virtually everything in the world is affected by how you play. Even though the perverted Silent Hill of this game is nowhere near as outright frightening as the original, the sense of relief you feel when you finally escape back to the real world is just as satisfying.
While it’s true that some of the console’s games aren’t quite up to snuff graphically, Silent Hill proves that the Wii is capable of producing outstanding visual products when in the right hands. Characters are all fully realized, with facial emotions that could rival games with much higher budgets and more powerful supporting hardware. Lighting effects are surprisingly strong as well; especially considering how dependent much of the game is on a flashlight being the only illumination. Climax Studios has also created a city that while short on population, is big on destinations. There’s a good deal of varied terrain to cover, and even though the game makes use of a blizzard to hide some of its graphical shortcomings, the game still looks great. The snowstorm really adds to the game’s mood, and aside from the giant snow drifts, the weather effects are good. There’s a lot of use of the controller speaker when making phone calls, and this has to be one of the most impressive uses of the Wii controller I’ve seen to date. Often the controller speaker is used for ambient cues, but here, a great deal of your time will be spent listening to heartbreaking, confusing, and occasionally creepy telephone conversations. The first time your daughter calls you is one of the eeriest moments I’ve ever had in a game, and moments like that help keep you off balance in a game that constantly has you questioning your surroundings.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is without a doubt one of the year’s finest games, and is another example of a well made third-party game for the Wii. After witnessing what the developers were able to accomplish emotionally and psychologically, I’m convinced that there’s a whole new level of gameplay we gamers have yet to experience. Shattered Memories strips survival horror down to the bare essentials, and comes out as one of the strongest games in the genre’s history. It may not have much in common with its predecessors, but this is one Silent Hill story that everyone should witness.