The family-friendly Wii isn’t usually a system people turn to for deep storylines and truly unsettling horror settings. However, leave it to a big name like “Silent Hill” to change that with a game that’s mature in all the right ways.
“Silent Hill: Shattered Memories” is a sort of re-imagining of the original “Silent Hill,” released on the original PlayStation back in 1999. It is wrong to call it a remake, as the story and gameplay is entirely new. Like the original, you play as Harry Mason, who after a car crash is searching for his daughter in the creepy town of Silent Hill. But from there, any similarities with the first game end.
The developers as Climax have taken the prestigious franchise in an exciting new direction, which was undoubtedly a smart move considering the last game in the series, “Silent Hill: Homecoming” received a lukewarm reception at best. The staples of the survival horror genre were starting to wear thin, so Climax literally went back to the beginning.
The result is a game that feels fresh, original, smart and yet still terrifying.
The most obvious change is the complete lack of combat. Not once in “Shattered Memories” do you fight an enemy. You never fire a gun or swing a blunt object.
That’s not to say that enemies are non-existent, however. As in previous games, you will often find yourself confronted by monsters that are not at all normal, and are fairly disturbing in a variety of ways. The difference here is that you don’t try to fight off the nightmares. You do what I think most of us would honestly do in that sort of situation: You run.
That may sound like a disappointment to fans of action, but the resulting chase sequences can at times be more tense and frightening than any combat sequence would. Getting lost while frantically trying to race from point A to point B, all the while too scared to take out your map lest you be murdered, is more fun than might be expected.
But even though this change is successful and fun, it is far from the focus of the experience. Much of the game isn’t actually spent running from monsters, but rather exploring Silent Hill in an effort to reveal its sinister secrets. Flashlight in hand, you spend most of your time looking for clues in the surprisingly desolate town.
But the most exciting feature is by far the way the game reacts to how you play it. Upon booting up the game, you are treated to a “psychological warning,” letting you know that the game is going to be watching your actions and changing itself to fit them. Amazingly, this isn’t a lie.
Many segments of the game – including the opening scene – take place in a psychologist’s office, where the player is often asked questions about their life. This might come in the form of a questionnaire, asking things like, “Have you ever cheated on a partner?” or whether or not you would rather spend time with family or friends. The game also monitors what objects in the game world you spend more time interacting with. Did your gaze linger on the calendar with the woman in a bikini on it? If so, the game kept track of it.
All of this information is compiled and the game changes as a result. Characters will appear differently, different areas of Silent Hill will be blocked off or inaccessible, the main character will respond differently to situations. Everything can change based on how you play. Immediately after finishing the game, I started over and started making different choices, just to see what would happen.
The game uses the features of the Wii surprisingly well. You look around with your flashlight by pointing the Wii remote. Sure, you could achieve the same function through the use of an analog stick, but using the remote feels really natural.
Even the remote’s horrible speaker is put to very good use. Throughout the course of the game you will often get mysterious voicemails and calls on your in-game cell phone. To hear them, though, you have to physically put the remote to your ear as if you were really holding a cell phone. It sounds foolish and gimmicky, but it is actually pretty immersive. The poor quality of the remote’s speaker simulates the poor speaker of a cell phone pretty well.
Primarily, though, “Shattered Memories” should be noted and praised for being “mature” rather than “adult.” It’s not a game filled with gory imagery in an effort to get cheap scares. Sure, the story deals a fair amount with sex and other subject matter that would be inappropriate for younger audiences, but it does it in an extremely smart way and provides one of my favorite video game stories in recent memories. The story twists in some pretty great ways.
While the game was released on the Wii in late 2009, it is also coming to the PlayStation 2 and PSP early this year. That said, I can’t imagine those versions being better, as many cool Wii-specific features will have to be lost.
All told, I have to recommend this new “Silent Hill” to any mature Wii owner, particularly fans of psychological horror. It’s a ride that I’m not likely to forget soon.