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Michael Kontoudis
23 Apr, 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review

Wii Review | Shattered hopes.
The act of removing a beloved creation from the caring supervision of its progenitors and tossing it into the clumsy mitts of strangers is always likely to rile fans of a videogame franchise. Such was the case with Konami’s Silent Hill series, which, after four games created by the now-defunct Team Silent, was unceremoniously dumped into the hands of Double Helix (responsible for last year's lukewarm Homecoming) and Climax (2007’s reviled Origins). These later titles signaled a decline for the venerable series, leading fans to fear for its long-term survival. Now, Climax returns in an attempt to reinvigorate the Silent Hill series with Shattered Memories for the Nintendo Wii. A spiritual remake of the first (and some might say best) in the series, Shattered Memories is a bold, brave and risky reinvention which tinkers with the tropes of the survival horror template. But as we all know, being different does not ordinarily equate to being better; does Shattered Memories place Silent Hill back on track in an exciting new way, or does it derail the franchise entirely?

Silent Hill clearly thrives on its tourist trade.

Silent Hill clearly thrives on its tourist trade.
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Things begin with a curious mixture of familiarity and strangeness. Players assume the role of Harry Mason, who is searching for his daughter Cheryl much like he did in the first game in the series. Extricating himself from the wreckage, of his crashed vehicle, Harry ventures into the snowstorm-ravaged town of Silent Hill, and from thereon in the proceedings become positively Lynchian in their surreal, nightmarish horror. So far, so familiar, then? Well, not really. You see, Climax takes the interesting approach of interspersing first-person sequences between the goings-on in Silent Hill, all of which are set in the office of a smarmy psychiatrist who analyses players by presenting them with a series of psychological evaluations which affect various facets of the game’s presentation and narrative. Overall, the game’s premise and structure are deeply involving and represent the greatest triumph of Shattered Memories. All of Team Silent’s entries in the series focused on the interplay between the horrors of the cursed town and the damaged psyches of its inhabitants, but Shattered Memories elevates the same sort of material to a higher level, or meta-experience, if you will. The repercussions of the players’ results in the psychological tests alter the game in fairly significant ways which are difficult to describe without spoiling its story, but suffice to say that you will often feel as if the game is playing you as much as you play it. By the endgame, when the devastating, cathartic revelations are finally laid bare, Shattered Memories proves beyond all doubt that it boasts one of the best yarns in the series.

It’s a shame, then, that the experience of playing Shattered Memories alternates between pedestrian and aggravating. The game strips Harry of all weapons; conclusively there are no wooden planks, crowbars or firearms to be found. This in itself is arguably Climax’s single most significant gambit, and it is indeed admirable. After all, when was the last time a survival horror title actually forced a player to, well, you know, survive? In practice, this means that most of the game is comprised of wandering around the largely-deserted town and examining your surroundings with a view to finding Cheryl. Harry is equipped with a flashlight, which is controlled via the Wii’s infrared sensors to satisfying effect, and must use it to locate keys, switches and other items which allow him to progress through the urban maze. The game boasts some simple puzzles which incorporate the capabilities of the Wii; for example, tipping a drink can upside-down to reveal the key hidden inside, or using the beam of the flashlight to reveal messages in the shadows, but none of these are particularly satisfying or brain-bending barring a few frustrating examples. Exploration is a fairly ho-hum experience on account of the game’s extreme adherence to linearity. Harry essentially travels from one locked room to the next, and there is never the threat of being attacked unexpectedly because enemies only ever appear in signposted, designated sequences (more on these later). While Shattered Memories is often unsettling and atmospheric, especially through clever use of Harry’s mobile phone, which acts as an interface of sorts and is integral to many of the game’s brainteasers, it is never scary. Ever. And that is a problem; while the series always eschewed boo scares in favour a slowly-escalating sense of dread, Shattered Memories is largely satisfied with being melancholy and moody. Sadly, the few times it dares to set your pulse racing are among the most wretched sequences we have encountered in an otherwise good game in years.

Shattered Memories is beautiful, atmospheric, but never scary.

Shattered Memories is beautiful, atmospheric, but never scary.
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The conceit, you see, is that every so often the world of Silent Hill will literally freeze over and force Harry to flee for his life through an icy labyrinth while being pursued by an array of repetitive monsters all of which are very repetitive and dull to look at. Believe us when we say that players will begin to dread these ‘nightmare’ sequences as the game progresses, letting loose groans of dismay every time Harry steps into a room and the environment freezes over. These frequent sequences essentially involve the player scurrying through a boring maze in which every room looks the same while trying to shake off attacking monsters with a flick of the nunchuk in the vain hope that they will stumble through the right door. Navigational clues are thin on the ground, which means that the player must drag up Harry’s mobile phone to view the utterly unhelpful map if they harbour any aspirations of not running around in circles before being mauled to death and having to start the whole, tortuous affair again from the beginning. Truly, these ‘nightmare’ sequences threaten to destroy every good thing Climax achieves with Shattered Memories, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that many players will choose to abandon the game altogether rather than slog through them.

All of which is a shame when you consider that Climax has put together a game with a strong narrative and some of the best production values of any game in the Wii’s library. The title’s presentation is superb, with a strong voice cast delivering solid dialogue against the somber, threatening background melodies composed by series mainstay Akira Yamaoka. Animations, lip-synching, lighting and texture detail are all beyond reproach, and in all these technical aspects it is easy to admire Shattered Memories as a showcase for what a determined developer can do with a relatively underpowered system. The game’s visuals are so fine that they could be mistaken as belonging to an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 title running at a lower resolution.

The 'nightmare' sequences are shockingly poor.

The 'nightmare' sequences are shockingly poor.
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With no multiplayer options to speak of, and a duration of around five or six hours, Shattered Memories is a slender experience. Admittedly, the game’s length feels appropriate and is bolstered by the potential for multiple run-throughs to see the various endings on offer; but when the intrigue of the story is lost, all that remains is the uneven, dull experience of playing the game, and there will be few who want to return to it in any sort of hurry.

It is with a heavy heart that we declare Silent Hill Shattered Memories to be an admirable failure. It is not a bad game, merely a mediocre one, but the pain is exacerbated by the squandering of its ample potential. Climax deserves credit for steering the franchise away from its faintly ludicrous occult-based thrills in favour of credible, psychological fears, but has produced the least-scary horror game since Resident Evil 5. The general, hour-to-hour experience of playing Shattered Memories is a rollercoaster of boredom and controller-heaving frustration, which makes the game difficult to recommend to anyone but the diehard veterans of the series for whom it will be a curious, diverting, but ultimately failed experiment.
The Score
Shattered Memories is an uneven, disappointing game which nevertheless shows ample promise of where the series might go from here. Fingers crossed that Climax re-evaluates the abysmal nightmare sequences and ups the fright-factor while maintaining their shrewd emphasis on pared-back, psychological horrors.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 Comments
3 years ago
Good review. Unfortunately Shattered Memories is an extremely polarising game, so a lot of the issues felt here will not be as significant, and then others will find issues other than those mentioned. One look at Metacritic or Gamerankings shows how varied the scale of reviews for this game is, some loving it, some meh, and others loathing it.

So, like always, people shouldnt be completely turned off with what negatives the game has, but especially for a title like this. If it looks and sounds interesting its still worth giving a go, possibly as a rental.
3 years ago
I really liked this game, the game actually encouraged exploration without getting constantly attacked(which stopped getting scary quickly btw and just got annoying). But to each their own.
3 years ago
Finally got my copy. I love it. It kicks the living crap out of Alan Wake, for my money. (Alan Wake disappointed the hell out of me. By contrast, Silent Hill is surprising me with how clever some of the narrative tricks are.)
3 years ago
Wait until you get to the end. Oh boy.
3 years ago
Of Silent Hill or Alan Wake?
3 years ago
Silent Hill.
3 years ago
Cool. Looking forward to it then. icon_smile.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  06/05/2010 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Mindscape
Genre:
  Survival/Horror

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