By Marty Mulrooney
Those who know me well will attest to the following: I am a big wuss when it comes to scary films and video games. Which is actually quite odd, as I was reading Stephen King’s The Shining at age 10 without even thinking twice. I love horror novels, but scary games are often played for a while and then left on a shelf gathering dust where they can’t hurt me. Yet having recently bitten the horror gaming bullet by playing both Dead Space and Resident Evil 5 on PS3 despite my low scare threshold, I decided Silent Hill: Shattered Memories would be my next tentative step into the world of interactive horror…
It was the right step to take. Shattered Memories is everything I love about a good psychological horror story. Playing this reimagining of the original Silent Hill on Nintendo Wii, it is hard not to laugh at how primitive it makes recent horror games look: it reminds one more of Don’t Look Now than Saw (insert sequel number here).
In a nutshell, this game may very well be the gaming equivalent of Donald Sutherland crapping his pants in Venice. What’s more, it is all the better for it if you pride story over cheap scares. If you are more of a gore-porn fan, you might want to give this sophisticated adult horror thriller a miss… things have changed in Silent Hill.
A warning at the beginning of the game lets players know that it will be playing them as much as they play it. This is not just a gimmick either: it is immediately apparent from the opening sequence, where protagonist Harry Mason sits in a therapist’s office filling in a simple questionnaire, that Shattered Memories will be adapting to each individual player on the fly.
Upon finishing the questionnaire (the therapy scenes are played from a first person perspective), players find themselves in the town of Silent Hill after a car crash, with their daughter Cheryl missing. Did you say drinking helps you relax when you answered the therapist’s questions? Then perhaps the nearby bar will be open instead of the diner. Did you reveal that you enjoy role-play during sex? Then maybe cop Cybil Bennett (pictured above) will be sexier in both attitude and dress-sense when you play than she was for me. These details are very impressive and will obviously offer immense replay value.
The control scheme for Shattered Memories is a dream come true on the Wii. Finally, a developer that knows what works when it comes to motion controls. Harry is controlled with the Nunchuck, with the Wiimote’s aim used to point him in the right direction. This is complemented with the flashlight mechanic: a quick tap of + turns on Harry’s torch, allowing you to illuminate the dark environments he will be exploring as you aim.
The way this beam lights up the surroundings, casting shadows in its wake, is a wonderful visual effect that never grows old. Holding Z makes Harry run, whilst A will answer Harry’s phone, let him interact with objects and open doors. The arrow buttons are used as shortcuts to several functions on the phone, including a map of the area and a camera. The controls are streamlined, responsive and a joy to interact with throughout.
The majority of the gameplay is spent exploring the various environments, most of which will be familiar to fans of the series. The game is mostly linear although it manages to cover this up with some great level design that makes sure the proceedings never feel too restrictive. A high school, hospital and shopping mall are just some of the eerily deserted indoor locals that players will be exploring when they are not outside trudging through the worsening snow storm.
Most impressive of all, posters and signs can be read immediately by pressing the B trigger to zoom, showing off some brilliant attention to detail. All the phone numbers in the game work as well, with the phone soon becoming an invaluable tool. Call ringing and vocals issue from the Wiimote’s speaker and I often found myself holding it to my ear like a geek to mirror Harry with his phone in-game. Too cool for words.
Notice how I haven’t mentioned anything about combat yet? That’s because there isn’t any! Series purists may well be screaming in horror at this revelation, yet I found the new nightmare sections to be an effective substitute, providing plenty of scares. At certain points in the game, Silent Hill will freeze over completely, warping the environment you have just been exploring. As well as looking amazing when it happens, it also let you know that you need to start running and fast! Doorways and gaps are outlined in icy blue (running allows Harry to push through them quickly) and it is only when players have successfully navigated these frozen mazes that the world will return to normal.
Featureless, screaming, fleshy horrors pursue you during these sequences, grabbing on to you whenever possible, requiring a flick of both Nunchuck and Wiimote in the relevant direction to throw them off. Dying simply returns you back to the start of the sequence. Yes, this does make regular exploration that little bit less scary because you know you are safe. But the flipside to this is never more apparent than when pressing the down arrow to look over your shoulder as several monsters peg it after you during a nightmare sequence. Even a lit flare can only hold them off for so long, making these chases, although ultimately formulaic, a great adrenaline rush.
As I am sure you are aware by now, Shattered Memories is a game of two halves (three if you count the therapy interludes) featuring atmospheric exploration that draws parallels with classic adventure games more than survival horror and intense chase sequences where the only defence is to flee frantically. It shouldn’t really work, but it does. I have dabbled with the series in the past, but the way developers Climax have re-imagined Silent Hill is admirable. Everything you look at and input into the game alters things in numerous ways, shifting the focus to psychological horror rather than simply hitting a beastie with a lead pipe. The game was constantly creeping me out because it was directing itself at me specifically.
There are five different endings and the game will last players between 6-8 hours the first time through. I know series purists are going to either love or hate Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on Wii due to its departure from many of the mechanics of old. Yet as a relative newcomer, I loved it. The story sucked me in and the ending I finished with was brilliant, cementing the story as one of my favourites in the last few years of gaming.
The voice acting is stellar, the soundtrack by series regular Akira Yamaoka is totally haunting and the graphics push the Wii far beyond the usual shovelware. You really feel like the power of the console was put to good use. Of course, it isn’t a patch on the best Xbox 360 or PS3 has to offer, but artistically it may well be one of the best designed games of the year. Even the menus are brilliant, mimicking an old VCR interface.
Sadly, I did encounter a bug that stopped my progress at one point, so I would suggest saving often: there is no autosave for some bizarre reason. Luckily, my anger at this inconvenience was soon subsided by prom queen Michelle Valdez singing ‘You Are Always On My Mind’ (performed by series vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) to me once more. Her facial animations, as with the other supporting characters, are phenomenal and this rendition of a classic song in a dark new style is ultra-creepy. It was my personal highlight of the game (twice) and made my unfortunate setback become a distant memory fast. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories does so much right that the little flaws are easily pushed to the wayside. Not in the classic survival horror mould then, but a joy nonetheless and a must for Wii owners who love a good scary yarn.
9 OUT OF 10
Alternative Offering: Heavy Rain (PS3)