Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii) - Review by Chris
While some developers continue to struggle with what to bring to the console in terms of mature content, others are finding success through established franchises and some new intellectual properties. Although having not appeared on a Nintendo home console until now, Konami have paired up with Climax Studios to bring their established and highly regarded Silent Hill franchise to the Wii, in the form of a re-imagining of the events of the first game. With a unique twist to the game that could perhaps become the genre standard from now on and some good use of the Wii's capabilities, could this be the truly great survival horror game gamers have yearned for?
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is set within the same confines of the plot laid out in the original game on the original Playstation, yet tells them in a very different way. Through a series of psychotherapy sessions, you'll uncover the story of Harry Mason and his attempts to track down his daughter, who goes missing after their car crashes on the way home in the midst of a snow storm. Waking up after the crash, and in a state of amnesia about where he is, Harry must set out into the prevailing darkness equipped with only a flashlight in the hope of locating his daughter, Cheryl.
Much of your time in the game will be made up of exploring the town of Silent Hill and its surroundings, looking for signs or clues as to where Cheryl could be, with great use of an in game phone being used for using memories of where she has been in the town, while encountering other inhabitants who'll help flesh out the back story of the town and some of the goings-on. This will of course mean searching the various shops and houses and taking part in simplistic puzzles to allow you to progress through to a new area, with many of the puzzles focused on finding keys which normally involves the picking up and shaking of various containers. At all times though, the air of suspense and the tense atmosphere will have you on the edge of your seat as you just don't know what will come out of the darkness next and the use of sound further enhances the feeling of horror.
Yet, the sequences of genuine horror are interspersed throughout the gameplay and are sectioned so as to never truly invade on the sense of exploration and hunting of clues. These sections will see you trying to make your way across sections of the town, covered in sheets of ice, and under the constant terror of a collection of amorphous creatures that pursue you in the hope of bringing you down. The game lacks any form of combat system whatsoever and while Silent Hill fans may not be happy for this exclusion, these Nightmare sequences of the game really bring home the feeling of a survival horror game as you run for your life trying to avoid these creatures. Confrontation is inevitable however, and at times they will catch you up and jump on you meaning you'll have to physically motion to throw the creatures off before being able to resume your running. Your only help through these sections are knocking over various objects to slow the creatures down or finding flares which hold the creatures back for a limited period of time. It's definitely a new direction for the series and one that really provides a sense of genuine terror but traversing these sections is purely based on trial and error. You'll have to use the map on your in game phone to find the correct route but doing so moves to a first person mode and means you can only walk, which isn't particularly helpful when being hounded down by creatures after your blood. But it all goes towards creating a tense experience and one that never really becomes tedious after repeated tries.
Perhaps the most significant differentiation to the game, and to the genre as a whole, is the use of psychological profiling during your therapy sessions to alter certain aspects of the game. These profiling tests take the form of multiple choice questionnaires, object placement tasks and colouring in exercises, all of which will subtly and obviously alter your progression through the game. Certain answers to questions or whether you make eye contact with your therapist through the sessions will change things like who you get to meet in the game, routes you'll be able to take and change aspects such as character or environment design, as well as affecting the overall ending. It's something which hasn't been seen in a game before, outside of the likes of Eternal Darkness, and means that every playthrough can be a unique and truly memorable experience.
Clocking in at around the 6 or so hour mark, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn't exactly the longest survival horror title you'll be able to play on any console yet the gameplay is highly condensed making for a short but oh-so-sweet journey to the finish and the psychological profiling and multiple endings encourages multiple playthroughs so that you can experience the game in different ways and it's definitely something you'll consider as soon as you finish your first game.
Controlling Harry around the town and its surroundings makes great use of the Wii-mote and Nunchuk attachment. Movement is handled as it should be, through use of the analogue stick allowing you to move forwards, back and strafe left or right. To fully manoeuvre around the environments, the game utilises the IR pointer capabilities of the Wii-mote, which act to manipulate Harry's flashlight. The implementation of the pointer controls are fantastic, tracking your movements with very little in the way of a delay, making for easy movement around the environments while also creating a realistic feeling for the movement of your flashlight. Pointer controls are also utilised for using the camera on your phone, and once again they work virtually flawlessly.
A lot of the actions in the game are carried out by the game itself, such as jumping over fences or coming into contact with doors, although the latter does have you physically push them open which is a very nice touch which adds to the level of suspense. Various motion gestures are used throughout, in the therapy sessions as well as for puzzles and for the Nightmare sequences. Although they initially appear finicky, after a brief period of time you'll find them their execution is handled extremely well and any initial issues are alleviated very quickly.
While the use of a film grain effect makes the game look like an old video recording, the visuals themselves are very impressive. Character models are extremely well done, with Harry and his co-stars all being represented to a high degree of realism, a point further brought home by how the characters' bodies and facial expressions are handled. Subtle changes to these characters based upon your answers to the psychological profiling tests may not bring much more than small exterior changes but it's enough to personalise the visuals to your specific play through and a fantastic idea. The creatures you'll encounter while within the Nightmare sections carry the grotesque design that is expected from the Silent Hill franchise and while a plentiful pasting of grey is used to colour them making for a lack of variety, the sheer terror that they invoke through their fluid movements and appearance definitely hits a high note.
Environments are continually shrouded in never-ending darkness, something which isn't apparent until you turn the flashlight out. They provide staple locations to explore, such as abandoned buildings and shops, snow covered streets and some wooded areas, and throughout all of these, the quality of their design and the attention to detail never seizes to amaze, with impressive texture work and a level of detail that allows for close inspection of every object and means you'll never see a drop in the quality. The same personal touches brought through the characters as a result of the profiling occurs in the environments and certain changes to their design really make for a unique visual experience. The snow and ice effects are superb, making great use of some sophisticated particle effects while the lighting is the real star of the game, falling effortlessly on every object the flashlight is pointed at and casting shadows in a realistic way.
Music plays a rather low key role in the game, with precious few instances of it being used. But when it is used, mainly in conjunction with various other noises, it is done superbly, setting an eerie tone and an atmosphere of suspense as you wander about the town of Silent Hill in the dark. The ever present sound of the wind blowing brings home the sense of isolation and the use of sound through can at times lead to some jumping, particularly when entering the Nightmare scenes as the shrieks of the creatures will genuinely send chills down your spine.
The voice work is of a similarly high quality, with all characters and lines of text fully spoken to be believable. There aren't many characters you'll see in the game but those you do see and those you'll hear through other mediums really create a sense of an honest and genuine character. Some of the voice work, particularly the phone calls, makes use of the Wii-mote's speaker and while the quality isn't the highest, it's a really nice touch for an underused aspect of the controls.
While it may not be the re-imagining some would have expected, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories makes for a truly unique experience, not only on the Wii but within the horror genre itself. The fantastic atmosphere of unease and suspense accompany gameplay which is engaging throughout, with even the psychological profiling tests being a joy to encounter, and a presentation that is right up there with some of the best on the console. Although short in its playtime and lacking in any form of combat, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories easily forgoes these issues, making for one of the most innovative and enjoyable horror experiences in years.
Pro: Presentation is of a high standard, psychological profiling is a fantastic inclusion, controls are great and work really well, gameplay is short but sweet allowing for multiple playthroughs
Con: Lack of combat may put Silent Hill purists off, length of each playthrough is short, Nightmare sections are trial and error
Final score: 8.8