Sunday, September 19, 2010
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - Review
Before I begin, I just want to say that I have always been a fan of the Silent Hill series. When I first heard that they were remaking #1, I was admittedly skeptical. I was sure it would be nice to actually see well outside thanks to our current ability to render realistic fog, but would they ruin memorable aspects of the original game? Would this new game, feel foreign and bank only on nostalgic value to carry it through the modern market? Luckily, any skepticism I originally had, was shot dead shortly after more information was released online. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was not to replace the game so dear to us, it was a retelling, a revisit to a scenario reflecting old characters, old places, and that familiar town we've all come to fear. Only this time, we have a new story, a new way to play, and a genuinely new title to add to the series.
For those of you who don't know the story of Silent Hill, I highly suggest taking a trip to The Silent Hill Wiki for a full grasp of what you missed out on. I will not at any point in this review, spoil important plot details for the original, nor this remake. It is entirely up to you to study up on them if that's what you please. A brief breakdown however, for those of you with little time, is this. You play as a father, Harry Mason, who has been involved in a car crash with his little girl Cheryl on board. When he wakes from the resulting knockout, he finds that his daughter is nowhere to be found. Obviously, he must now go to look for her, off the road, into the town, and through the hell inside it.
The game's mechanics are far different than you would expect from a Silent Hill retelling, let along a Silent Hill game at all. The biggest change I could note, was that combat has been entirely removed from gameplay. When encountering enemies, your options are simple. You must run, or be dragged to the ground by your pursuers, and forced to repeat from the beginning of that section of the game. While you cannot directly attack, or ever kill enemies, you have the ability to knock down debris behind you, or if you are lucky, find an emergency flare which gives you around 30 seconds of precious immunity. There are no game over screens, or trips to the title menu in Shattered Memories. I actually found there was a surprising lack penalty for the disregard of your safety in this game, and on reflection I can honestly say it was the easiest in the series. Other new features would include Harry's phone. It is a modern looking phone with a large bright screen, useful for taking pictures, receiving cryptic messages, displaying a map and making/receiving calls from other characters. All of these uses play their parts in the game, and I found myself dishing out memory card data just so I could keep pictures of things I thought might come in handy, which sometimes they actually did. The puzzles in this game were a bit simple, some didn't as much seem like puzzles as much as it did the game handing you the ability to continue down one linear path.
Something I should comment on alone, is the presence of monsters and "nightmare" sequences in this title. The trademark 'dark world' doesn't really exist in this title. When Harry is in danger, the world around him freezes over, making certain paths impossible to take, and generally creating a maze with only one possible exit. In these sequences, are the only times you must worry about hostile creatures. Only one monster exists in this addition to the series, and it in a way is simply you. The creatures you encounter are all of the same kind, a humanoid flesh colored species called Raw Shocks. Depending on how you play the game, their appearances will slowly start to reflect what ending you are going to get, and what kind of personality you are displaying. These can range from bloated disgusting creatures, to clearly feminine ones. In Nightmare sequences you goal is simple, reach the end, and solve a puzzle or two. These puzzles are usually exceedingly simple, and the only trouble I ever found myself getting into was being chased about in big circles. This, definitely added some dislike on my end. I felt having to stop in the 'Ice world' to pull out my phone and check my GPS was far too risky, and ended up making it through every nightmare on pure dumb luck. Overall, I felt these sequences were poorly done. Sometimes I found them more annoying than interesting or difficult, as if they were trying to waste my time rather than keep me entertained.
What it lacks for in difficulty however, it makes up for in it's new gimmick, the psych profile system. The bulk of it comes from your visits to the office of Dr. Michael Kaufmann, who in this game has a very different personality, the profession of shrink, and I dare say the owner of one of the most entrancing male voices I've ever heard. In your visits to Kaufmann's office, you will be given choices to make, or tasks to perform. The first, is a simple and very basic personality quiz. Others include the ability to sit down and color in a picture, or examine ink blots. Depending on how you behave in these visits, or even play the game, it will adapt to you and your playstyle. Simple behavior like messing about with toys, calling phone numbers spraypainted on walls or even simple dilly dallying will go to an invisible counter that slowly changes your game. A great deal is effected by this system, not only is the ending effected by your behavior, but the way characters look, act, their dialogue, and even your paths all change according to your own unique brand of gameplay. This was a great feature, one I haven't seen before. I suppose if you wanted to play dishonestly, the replay value in this simply to experience every version, would be nearly endless. I for one, have the exciting chance to play again, based more on my actual personality rather then my playstyle, which I think may have ruined some features for me. I got marked down for constant fiddling and time wasting, something I do habitually in survival horror and or puzzle games. The game even mentioned at the end, that it would be wise to go back knowing what you do after finishing, to try and really immerse yourself. Something I plan to do, right after this review.
As usual, the story, music, and setting of Silent Hill, is outstanding. A great deal of any bit of scare-factor is taken from this particular title, as is the ability to run about in large areas freely. Most of your paths are very linear, and what paths are not, usually exist in nightmare sequences where the areas can loop about in a long maze. The music is very mellow, and when it is not, it has that old Silent Hill feel to it, I definitely consider it well done. The characters, or at least, what characters I got to interact with in my playthrough, were very believable. I don't often get to say this, but everyone in the game seemed very real, which led me to several disoriented little jumps when interactions ended. As mentioned, the game is extremely easy, and unlike past titles, the controls were extremely smooth, making avoiding danger very simple. Aside from the very rare shock noises, or the chases, this is also a very non-scary game. Meaning those of you who dislike playing creepy titles like these simply because you don't like being frightened, may find this to be an excellent chance to finally experience Silent Hill. Overall, the game felt solid, despite being extremely short. Because I bought around 4 other games at the same time as this title, I was constantly taking breaks from it, and had I not, I'm fairly certain it could be completed in a single sit down. It is however a great retelling, despite what few flaws it has, and to sum things up, I'd rate it with the following:
Gameplay 7.5/10 (I like my games a bit tougher than this, you can call this an 8 if you forgive how easy it is)