I would not call myself a die-hard Silent Hill fan. I didn’t play the original and fall in love with it, nor did I pick up (borrow) a copy of Silent Hill 2 until my senior year of college. I really enjoyed the time I spent with it due to the surreal nature of the game and the mysterious symbolism that could (and continues) to take years to unravel. Is James’ story real? Or is it a drunken-induced hallucination? Or is he dead? Any answer is completely valid as the game gives you clues to support those thoughts. So let me present to you Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Nintendo Wii.
You see, Shattered Memories is a reinterpretation of the original Silent Hill for the PlayStation and follows the journey of Harry Mason, who looking for his 7-year-old daughter. They experienced a car crash, and Cheryl has gone missing. So Harry searches for her through the local area. Unfortunately for Harry, everything quickly turns into a surreal hunt as ice springs from the ground, covering the town in a casket of ice. Monsters come out and relentlessly hunt down Harry. So where is Cheryl? And what is happening in the town to cause nightmarish landscapes? To reveal more would ruin the plot.
Gameplay wise, Shattered Memories returns to its roots. This is an adventure game. You roam the city looking for clues and trying to make your way to the required waypoint to advance the plot. Harry moves like a tank, and you have to adjust the flashlight using your Wii-mote to properly orient him. The Nunchuk controls movement. Furthermore, the game tries its best to take advantage of the motion sensitivity. You literally have to zoom in on objects and hold down the A button and interact with things. This tends to make some of the puzzles far easier, though very intuitive. Need to find a key? Search a jacket. Or a drawer. But don’t think that some puzzles are pushovers. Oh no. Some were quite devious had me scratching my head for awhile.
Then there is the Nightmare world. The world contorts, and ice covers large portions of the land. Street lamps twist and turn and are covered in ice. Portions of the land transform into chasms. And this is when the “demons” come out and hunt Harry. The only way to keep them at bay is to find and light a rare flare. These segments are supposed to be intense and confusing as it can take several tries to navigate the world.
And these segments plus others would work much better if the game gave you the control you need. In order to remove those unkillable beings from Harry’s back, you have to move the Nunchuk and the Wii-mote in the direction you’re going to remove them. So if they’re on Harry’s right, you move them from the left to the right. Or if they’re on his back, you swing them up then down. It doesn’t always work. And I’m constantly afraid that I’m going to give myself whiplash. Plus, moving objects is a pain. I’m either tipping them over or unable to move them properly. Ultimately, I was constantly rearranging things to make them work. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit heavy-handed (something I quickly admit). Ultimately, Harry moves like a tank. And it can be bit more difficult to do what you need to do or should be.
However, what is really cool is Harry’s cell phone. It’s something I would use if I were going to buy one. You see, his cell can receive calls from the other characters, make phone calls, receive text messages, GPS (not my favorite map system, but it works exceedingly well) and locate hidden ghostly messages. Oh yes, certain spots of the hamlet act as hotspots that his phone reacts to, expanding Harry’s awareness of the issues of its people. It is interesting to receive them, and some are required to solve puzzles.
This all relates to the psychology behind Shattered Memories. It quickly admits in the first 30 seconds of gameplay that this is something that can and will mess with you. Depending on how you respond to Dr. K (draw your own conclusions, folks), who constantly breaks the rules of counseling 101, changes the world around Harry in subtle fashions. One route through the high school may be valid in one play through but different in another. Characters may or may not respond differently to Harry’s plight. And at the end of the game, provided you answered honestly, you’ll get a pretty solid analysis of your own psyche.
Graphically, the game looks great. Snowflakes and fog engulf the hamlet. And you can see the flakes on the ground. The downside is that you’ll never see them accumulate. Yet again, that might take far too much effort for such a little detail. Anyway, the town feels like it’s been lost in a snow day. Banks are everywhere in town. Trash has yet to be dealt with. Ultimately, the “normal” town doesn’t feel like it’s out to “get you.” The nightmare realm is a bit of a different story. Ice is everywhere. Doors and ledges that Harry can climb up have a nice faint icy blue glow to them. Facial moments are awesome, as it looks like an actual person is involved in the story. There is only one major chink in its armor: Sometimes it lags. It never happens when you need everything to be silky smooth and tends to happen when transitioning from area to another.
Sound wise, Shattered Memories is a treat for the ears. Pianos are moody and perfectly set the mood. Another song has an industrial feel to it with metal grindings and a marching drum. Another song sounds like a perverted music box with an ethereal feel to it. And what could be considered the game’s theme song is an awesome rock song with emotional vocals and a hammering beat. Furthermore, the voice acting is just as top-notch, helping to draw you into its world. It’s awesome. And I hope I don’t need to say anything else to solidify that.
At the end of the day, Shattered Memories is an intriguing mix of good and bad ideas. It has an incredible plot, incredible sound design, great exploration and some memorable nightmarish moments. And it’ll give you tons of things to think about long after the game has left the tray. On the other hand, there is the game’s lack of control. It just doesn’t give you the control necessary for this to be “survivable bliss.” And ultimately, the game fails as a horror game. Is it scary? No, Pyramid Head went on vacation and forgot to clean house. Creepy? It has its moments, but it lacks the feeling that something will jump out and devour you. Downright disturbing images and thoughts that will shake your thoughts well after it’s over? Again, it has its moments. Especially at the end of the game. In actuality, Shattered Memories is at its best when it plays out like a suspense novel. It draws you in with its strong storytelling and refuses to let go until the credits are reached.
Thus, go out and rent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Play it for the plot. Then see if it belongs in your personal library. It belongs in mine because it’s a neat experiment. It shows Konami knows how to subtly crawl under a person’s skin and make another person’s story his/her own. And I wish the developers would go all out and do this, truly showing how disturbing horror can become and how it can shake our cores. Ultimately, there are people who will love Shattered Memories, and there will be people who will hate it. I quickly admit I fluctuated between those two extremes while I played it. Is it worth another go? Yes, to see what I’ve missed and to see how things can change. For mature Wii owners, this might be the game they have been looking for.