After a bit of a hiatus for summer vacation, I’m back for more video game posts!
I recently finished the original Silent Hill trilogy. I’m homesick for my little lakeside town, so I decided to revisit Silent Hill by checking out Shattered Memories. I already had a copy of the game for Wii!
Climax Studios and Konami released Silent Hill:Shattered Memories, the seventh installment in the series, in 2009, originally for Wii and then later for the PS2. I played on the Wii, and based on my experience, I believe that players will have a very different experience depending on which platform they choose.
Shattered Memories is an alternate universe reimagining of the original Silent Hill game. Many characters from the original return in this game, though with altered personalities and appearances. You play as Harry Mason. The game switches back and forth between two timelines: third person sequences of Harry searching for his daughter, Cheryl, in the abandoned, snowy town of Silent Hill; and first person sequences in which the player is being interviewed about the events you’re playing through and tested by a psychiatrist, Michael Kaufmann. (You may recognize the name if you played the first Silent Hill game, though his character is different in this installment.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the alternate universe aspect of the plot. It made the whole game feel eerie, with that ominous feeling of déjà vu. I recognized it as Silent Hill, but it felt different. The plot itself is more grounded and personal, rather than the more large-scale plots that the series has had, with killing god and cults and so on. This is more about one man’s personal journey dealing with his family, especially his daughter.
The presentation of the plot was well done: as you search Silent Hill, the player slowly picks up the pieces of what happened to both Harry and Cheryl. Though the gameplay is very linear, the storytelling is done elegantly.
Shattered Memories focuses on exploration and puzzle solving, similar to previous Silent Hill games. However, there are no weapons and there is no combat. Instead, you have to survive attacks in the Otherworld using stealth or, more often, running as fast as you can. You’re armed only with a flashlight and a cell phone. When you enter the Otherworld, the world freezes over, and creatures (called Raw Shocks) start looking for you. You have to sprint and hide through a series of rooms before you reach safety. If a Raw Shock catches you, you have very little time to shake it off (with a series of awkward arm swings) before you are overcome. It’s super nerve-wracking to be in the Otherworld with no weapon to defend yourself, and your cell phone emits static that lets you know danger is near.
The game was quite linear, with only a few simple branches: In certain areas, there would be two rooms to choose to go into, and once you ventured into one, the other would become inaccessible. (For example, in the mall there are two stores you can enter, but once you enter one–even if you don’t complete the puzzle within–the other becomes blocked off and your only chance to see it will be another play through.) I never felt lost, and I always knew where I had to go next–well, there weren’t really any ways I could go other than what was next. The linearity, however, does not render the game stale–rather, it serves to help the player focus on exploring and discovering all the secrets and mysteries that Silent Hill has to offer. Sure, you could blow through and finish the story line in no time, but then you would be missing out on key elements of the game’s content.
The utilization of the Wii remote functionality was more often frustrating than enjoyable. You move with the joystick while aiming your flashlight with the Wii remote. In the Otherworld running sequences, I had trouble directing myself using the Wii remote and I would often find myself unintentionally running right into the arms of the monsters. Many of the puzzles and pick ups involved deft environmental manipulation using the Wii remote, which was nearly impossible. The flailing sequences to escape the monsters almost never worked for me. Overall, I found the use of the Wii remotes distracting, and the cons outweighed the pros. I wonder what the game is like on PS2 – if it’s improved by the subtraction of the Wii remote functionality, or if it feels like it’s missing something because it was originally designed for it. Perhaps I’ll check it out at some point and report back.
Since many puzzles rely on using the Wii remote to solve them, their difficulty lies in simply getting the mechanics right. The riddles themselves are not hard at all, and there’s no option to bump up the difficulty. After playing Silent Hill 3 on the hardest puzzle difficulty, Shattered Memories’ puzzles felt like child’s play. I missed the brain teasers, but the core mystery of the game was enough to keep me hooked.
The graphics are decent; they hold up well despite the game being almost a decade old. Or, perhaps, I grew used to the graphics from the original trilogy, so Shattered Memories feels like a huge upgrade.
In my opinion, the biggest departure in gameplay from previous Silent Hill games was not needing to obsessively check my map. There are pros and cons to this. On the pro side, I always had a bad memory for where I was and constantly needed to check. On the con side, I missed the satisfaction from filling up my map with all the red lines and squiggles that signified where I’d been and where I couldn’t go.
Having just played the original trilogy, I had an appreciation for how well Shattered Memories puts the player in the town, using familiar landmarks to make it feel like a real place. The mall especially stood out to me as a mall that it felt like I’d really been to before.
Rather than the omnipresent fog familiar to Silent Hill fans, the town in Shattered Memories is beset by a severe snow storm (the cause of your car crash). As a result, the town has largely been abandoned, and you find yourself alone among huge snow drifts and thickly falling snowflakes.
The icy, wintry aesthetic permeates the game, including the Otherworld. While the Otherworld in previous games utilized a red-focused color scheme (blood, heat, rust, etc.), the Otherworld in Shattered Memories is an iced over, frigid, blue nightmare. The effect is equally frightening but very different, resulting in an effect that feels like Silent Hill without being a simple redo. It’s like entering the opposite side of hell.
The monsters, called “Raw Shocks,” are fairly simple, without the hideous variety usually found in Silent Hill games. They look like shriveled humans, and they shriek as they launch themselves at you. As the game progresses, the design of the enemies evolves based on the player’s psychological profile (more on that later). In my game, they evolved into the “Abstract” style: they began to look like they were missing pieces of their bodies, or unraveling. There are four different possible versions of the enemy. There are no bosses, just escalating difficulty when it comes to the monster chase sequences. The only thing that can keep them at bay are short-lived flares, which Harry doesn’t find very often.
Shattered Memories claims to read into your choices as you play it, and as you progress, certain choices will lead to differences in the games. There are several first person look tracking scenes during which the game analyzes where you look and how long you look there (using the Wii remote). There are also some tests the psychiatrist gives you, such as questionnaires and a coloring task. These tests directly affect aesthetic changes in the games. Characters and monsters can have dramatically different appearances based on your answers and actions.
I could write an entire blog post about the psychological profiling in the game, but that would be beyond the scope of this review. You’ll get the most rewarding experience out of the game if you go in without trying to manipulate the game a certain way, and then once you’re done, look up the possible changes and find out what your game tells you about yourself.
Harry’s Cell Phone
The cell phone was probably my favorite feature in the game. Despite the game coming out in 2009, the cell phone was very well done and didn’t make the game feel dated. The cell phone contained many functionalities for game play: you can make calls and receive calls, receive text messages, take and store photos, and use the map. You also access settings and save the game using the cell phone. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the map is not quite necessary due to how linear the game is, but it came in handy a handful of times. The cell phone also serves as a monster (and general creepiness) detector by emitting static when you get close to a monster or ghost (see more below).
Because the cell phone was done well, it added an extra level of spookiness. Many horror movies and games choose to simply ignore cell phones because they provide easy solutions to many plot problems, but a poorly functioning cell phone can strike deep fear into the hearts of modern people. There’s nothing worse than calling someone to help you, only to be foiled by static and the dull beep of a dropped connection.
Throughout the game, Harry will come across traces of the past. Sometimes they appear as ghosts in a certain location, indicated by a subtle static effect in the landscape that is a mere shadow of a person. Harry needs to use his cell phone camera to capture the ghost in his phone. When he does that, he receives either a voice mail or a text message that gives a window into a past story line. In other cases, Harry’s cell phone will start to emit static, and you follow the static until you come across some sort of object that has a connection to a past story. White light will flash and Harry will receive either a voice mail or text message.
These traces of the past add to the history of Silent Hill, and they add to the player’s experience of the story. Some of the traces are from random people in Silent Hill, but some you will eventually realize have to do with Harry and Cheryl. I thought this element of the game was especially well done.
I enjoyed Shattered Memories a lot, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Silent Hill series. It’s different from the original trilogy, but it still feels like a Silent Hill game. It’s a short game with excellent re-playability, thanks to all the different possible play experiences. Even if you’re not a Silent Hill fan yet, it’s a great gateway for potential fans who are hesitant about getting into horror games. I’ve recommended Shattered Memories to a lot of friends who aren’t necessarily into horror because, despite some truly scary moments, Shattered Memories is more focused on mystery and storytelling than on making you scream.
Since Silent Hill games feature branching narratives, alternative endings, and well-hidden story elements, I couldn’t have written my post without a little help from the internet. The Silent Hill Wiki is a great resource for all things related to Silent Hill, but beware of spoilers. The game specific and whole franchise Wikipedia pages were also a great help. I also loved this walkthrough, written by my new hero Whitney Chavis, aka the Guiness World Record holder for “Largest Silent Hill Collection” and the creator of the Silent Hill Historical Society.