Saturday, 22 January 2011

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - The Review

Developer: Climax Studios
Publisher: Konami digital entertainment
Platforms: Ninentdo wII, PSP, PS2
Released: December 8th 2009

This is a tough one. really, i mean that.

This is a very hard game to surmise, to attempt to quantify the sum of its parts as some value of its worth as entertainment. To be honest its hard to call this a videogame, let alone a horror one.

Near as i can judge its an interactive experience that, unlike heavy rain, does not try to be that. It is just what its become in the process of telling its story.

Or telling Konami's story, again, i should say.

So yeah, read on but bear in mind, regardless of arbitrary scoring at the end this is a prime example of how i am one guy and as such the scores of meaningless, its just a process to express my feelings about a game upon completion of it having seen all it has to offer you as a genuine opinion of one person who loves horror games to another.

So silent hill shattered memories is a retelling of the original game in what most consider resident evils long standing rival to the survival horror franchise crown. A game that got me into the genre, a game that layered nuance, subtext and context upon the player in a way not truly seen before in videogames as a medium.
To be honest i was pretty damn wary of this. The more time passes the more i am so utterly disappointed by the cheap name drop cash in that is silent hill origins. So news of the same developer handling a re-imagining of the source of it all?
Madness, surely.

Well i was wrong, if silent hill origins is the worst experience in the franchise, including the gba visual novel and arcade lightgun machine game, then shattered memories is one of the best, in some ways usurping its original.

The game plays as an over the shoulder style explorative action adventure come light puzzler. You play Harry mason, driving along in the car with his daughter cheryl, only to crash it. Not in fog this time, or due to the ghost of some spiritual half a girl but to a blizzard the likes of which silent hill has never seen.
See Harry is not passing through silent hill this time. it is his home. trouble is he doesnt remember a lot of things about the town, and other people live in his house...
Of course Cheryl disappears and Harry spends the game looking for her, traversing silent hill proper and also some of its surrounding countryside.
The game is faily linear but the linearity is never the same at defining points. this is all controlled by the games 3 piece play system.

The first type of play is i lonely exploration of the 'real world'. A mundane snowy town thats got most inhabitants in the warmth behind closed doors. There are no monsters, no nightmares round the bend. Just a man looking for his missing daughter. A very real nightmare for every parent that requires no fictional entities to make it all the more dreadful.
This portion plays like an amusement park ride. See the sights of silent hill. An easter egg filled walk through the town where you learn as much or as little about the game as you want. There is no reason to not stop and spend as much time as you want in every area exploring every nook and cranny and drinking it all in.
The second type of play is the psychological evaluations. In first person perspective you the player are interviewed by dr. kaufman- now less a creepy peddler of drugs than a doppleganger for mass effects illusive man- who wants to help you with your apparent mental problems.
To do this you undertake certain tests as the game progresses. either you solve a riddle, or colour a drawing or just answer some yes/no questions about yourself. The opening titles recommend being as truthful as possible and i did and it was an interesting process because your choices and therefore your mental outlook shape the game around you.
Maybe you come to a small shopping arcade and there are a number of stores, but only one leads to the next area. Maybe guy A plays it and its the record store, but girl B plays it and its the electronics store. This all depends on the player and the unconscious choices they make.
There is no stark fable style good or evil choices. its all subjective. There are things like if you tend to linger the camera on the breasts of mannequins or female characters and the players lecherous nature will alter the game to suit there psyche. The enemies hips will bell out and there faces will become more feminine, cybil will dress in a much less....professional way. Whereas if you prefer art or posters then maybe the enemies look more like sculptures and dahlia seems more punk-ey than junky.
The third portion is the other world. Every time Harry nears a crucial point in the plot the world literally ices over in deep glaciers of nightmarish, angry jagged exploding ice like glass from hell. This world is full of the rawshocks. An obvious play on the psychological term rorschach tests that also change depending on the player. all starting as some raw fleshed skinned humanoid nightmare thats only goal is chase Harry through these mazes of ice and darkness and grapple him to the ground for a nasty end. Which is an ironic metaphor in a remake of a game where the spirit of the horror has gone from oppressive isolation to crushing loneliness- and this game is very much about loneliness on a few levels. You can hide from them for a time, use flrase and fire to keep them back and move obstacles to slow them down but these adrenaline fuelled periods of terror in between the calm have a single focus 'RUN'. you cannot fight them, you cannot win, all you can do is run from the problem and find a safer place to continue you journey to cheryl. a journey that will be different for most of you.

Basically its all based on you with no stark right or wrong. Because whilst there are 'good' and 'bad' endings the story is always the same.

And it is most certainly a sad one.

This is a completely different silent hill story. its still got the same named characters and places, and Harry still needs to find his daughter, but the whos, whys and wheres are a very different silent hill. Dahlia is not only a young woman but she is Harrys wife, there is no cult, no white drug, no out and out supernatural evil.
Like the games development the story is a much more personal affair. You are not saving the world in some way, or fighting a dark god or some other detracting out of left field enemy but from beginning to end this is a story of a father and his daughter and there separation. This simplicity and sole focus doesn't not detract from shattered memories, in fact i can say it only strengthens it. The game pulls you in in a completely different way per person, two friends will play it and feel completely differently about the plot twists and characters by the end than the other.

Personally i found the game surprisingly engaging on an emotional level. I went in expecting weird shit and lame attempts to scare, but honestly between tense marathons from rawshocks, and the creepy exploring the story i got was much more touching than i expected. My ending in particular got a rise out of me few movies or games have in a decade.
However like i emphasised this may differ completely for you. Based on you and how you played you may be left hating the characters and the story.

But can anyone hate the experience?

I don't believe so.

Gameplay was its a very different silent hill. nunchuk controllers movement and the wiimote is everything from harrys arm holding the torch in third person to a key in a lock or a channel tuner on a trv to a hand you move to solve puzzles like shaking tins to hear if theres a key in one you can upturn to get it out.
No longer is there a radio but a smart phone that you use to take pictures, save, load the menu and even take calls that involve you holding the wiimote to your ear to hear out of its speaker a eerie message left by some emotional ghost or a call from another townsfolk out in the blizzard.

Honestly i wasn't expecting these motion controls to work but they are intuitive and engaging- and capable of more than i would have thought on the wii, especially the torch in a game that for its platform looks absolutely fantastic.
The biggest complaint is the visual cues on how to shake the wiimote and nunchuck to shake off rawshocks during the otherworld phases are often wrong or the movement detection doesnt work well. but truthfully its pretty easy to get through without getting caught once and a handy check point system means even if you do its not an hour of gametime lost or anything.
The biggest portion of the games controls or harry interacting with the normal world and most use the wiimote and the a and trigger and somehow climax made so many things feel intuitive and natural with this claw grip motion.
The camera and torch acting as the same hand as the point of view works seamlessly in this snowy town and the option to zoom in and focus makes it much less constrictive than it would appear to be in the limit range of movement given to a sensor bar compared to a never ending thumbstick held in one direction.
An excellent example of the zoom being in the elementary schools principles office where harry must decipher his password by exploring every nook and cranny of his office to find every clue to get in to find what he needs.
In fact most of the puzzles are well thought out. none are truly hair ripplingly tough but all are neat. another involves altering the positions of statues so there shadows spell out a word. something done in real time with a very impressive lighting engine for this not so hardware heavy console.

The voice acting is not its strongest point but its not resident evil level cheese at all. harry is played as a normal guy. and i mean a truly normal guy, not the hollywood 'normal' guy that other games like alan wake or heavy rain failed to capture. He truly comes off as a poor man caught in a terrible situation. and each member of the backup cast no matter how small there part all put in the effort.

Soundtrack wise its Akira Yamoakas last silent hill soundtrack and he goes out with a bang, like the voice acting id say it pales to silent hill 2s raw emotional nature of it but it still knocks it out of the park. in particular another series of collaborations with mary elizabeht mglynn are haunting and beautiful.
Also it was nice on a personal note to see the change from foggy or rusty nightmare to a more natural, but out and out psychologically devastating world meant we see akira abandon his usual heavy industrial interludes for a more melancholic sound that only serves to emphasise this game is less about making the player feel scared at the oppressive, almost hateful nature of the world around them. But sad, lonely and altogether isolated. not only from the townsfolk in the blizzard but form the protagonist himself.

All in all it is an experience that is hard to evaluate. which is why i will probably deem this my worst review to date but honestly this is a game you need to play. it is the best silent hill game since 2 and you will give a shit about these characters and not just wait to see who gets killed off if and when the next dramatic push forward occurs.

Is it a masterpiece? not at all. the very nature of its split play style means you get wise to it and know "no ice, im safe no worries" or "ice, dont worry, this will have a set end point i just need to reach". This is why i feel it fails utterly as a horror game, because it gets less scary as the game goes on.

However this fault does not dull that fact that this is a pretty damn unique experience in the way that makes silent hill great. does a silent hill game have great combat? no. fluid controls? not really. Tough characters you can get behind? never.
It does have memorable characters, a superb soundtrack, a spooky world you will adore to explore every facet of and an ending that leaves you numb as the credits role.

You know how i classify this kind of game?

It's Silent HIll. simple as that.

SCORE [9/10]


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