Historically, Silent Hill games developed outside of Team Silent in Japan have not fared so well. The recent Silent Hill: Homecoming simply retread too much territory, while adding some lame Hollywood-style elements. Silent Hill: Origins on PSP was closer to the original games, but to a fault as it failed to improve on the formula, instead choosing to introduce a new inventory system that allowed you to carry an unlimited supply of television sets to break over the heads of monsters. However, from what we've seen so far, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for Wii, PS2 and PSP looks set to change the West's track record with the franchise.
Shattered Memories is being developed by Climax, the team behind Silent Hill: Origins. However, perhaps recognising that the original continuity was getting a little convoluted and stale, Climax have chosen to reboot the franchise, setting their latest game in a completely new universe. On the surface, it's a remake of the original Silent Hill, as the story indeed begins with Harry Mason crashing his car outside of a town called Silent Hill, and waking up to find that his daughter, Cheryl, is missing. However, Harry's search for his daughter takes a completely different path from that point on, allowing the developers to find all-new ways to scare and surprise both series veterans and new fans.
The biggest change this time around is the mysterious 'Psych Profile' running the game. The game opens with a first-person perspective, as you sit in a psychiatrist's office. The psychiatrist tells you to fill out a survey, promising it's the only one you'll see in your time with him. The questions listed are personal to say the least, ranging from 'Have you ever cheated on a partner?' to 'Do you like to role play during sex?' There's a reason for the inquiry, as the game changes depending on your answers. For instance, you may encounter a bar if you admitted to being partial to drinking, while the building would appear to be a diner to other players. The female cop you initially meet may be openly hostile if you admitted to a little infidelity. However, the game also changes as you play, continually keeping tabs on you. Indeed, that cop may start showing a little more skin if you keep checking out the erotic calendars around the town.
The idea is for the game to get under your skin in a way that no Silent Hill has before, so that there is always an unseen omnipresent force watching and judging your every action. That sounds like the town of Silent Hill to us. The developers have also revealed that you will return to the psychiatrist's office throughout the game, although the tests you undergo will be different each time, becoming more akin to Rorschach tests in nature. Their game is also aiming for a seamless experience, with Harry's phone. Lucky Harry has an iPhone-like mobile phone which he'll use for navigating menus, taking pictures, making calls and detecting paranormal activity. If you're playing on the Wii, the voice from the phone will be transmitted out of your Wii Remote's speaker, a very nice touch. The Wii Remote will also be used to control Harry's flashlight, taking full advantage of one of the controller's most obvious but under-utilised applications, as well as the impressive lighting engine in the game.
Of course, Shattered Memories is a horror title, and there's plenty to be scared of. The horrific Silent Hill creatures return, only this time they're more numerous and cannot be killed. When the entire town of Silent Hill periodically shifts into the nightmarish 'Otherworld', the monsters appear and you'll be forced to run for your life. Weapons have been completely removed from the game, which means that Harry is in for a Mirror's Edge-like escape. As he runs, certain doors or pathways are highlighted in icy blue, showing Harry the way to shaking off his pursuers. Whereas other portions of the game are spent in classic Silent Hill style, investigating and exploring the run-down and decaying town, these sections are frantic and adrenaline-fuelled, and it'll be interesting to see how well the two fit together.
The look of the Otherworld has also changed. In the original games, it was filled with blood and rust-covered walls, industrial machinery and unidentifiable mutiliations, but in Shattered Memories, the town literally becomes frozen. In one segment, Harry witnesses a street in Silent Hill transform in real-time, with lightposts bending under the strain, and ice covering the road and most of the buildings.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is certainly a big departure for the series in terms of style. But in some ways, it's also a return. Homecoming brought the franchise into more action-orientated territory, and was criticised for it. Shattered Memories has all the elements to see the series return to survival horror. Your character is no army veteran, has no experience with or access to weapons, and his only chance at survival are his wits and speed. So far the game looks to be pushing the Wii to its limits, graphically, and it will be interesting to see how the PSP and PS2 incarnations turn out as well. With literally an entire town against him, Harry Mason has got his work cut out for him, when the game releases in Q3 this year in America, and most likely soon after in Australia. Check out the game's latest trailer below.