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Review

Review: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

We return to Silent Hill. Quite literally this time.

There’s an acute feeling of déjà-vu upon first exposure to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories; the tangible sense of not only having wandered around this particular dark, eerie town in another life, but of a path ahead already predetermined and well-trodden. As a prevailing sensation, it’s completely warranted though. As a blinding snowstorm causes a car to careen into the darkness only to reveal yet another missing child, it’s quickly apparent that this is not just Silent Hill as you remember it, it’s literally Silent Hill rebooted.

Sure, we get a different looking yet obviously the same Harry Mason. We even have his incessantly meandering and troublesome daughter, Cheryl, to contend with. But make no mistake about it, this is very much Silent Hill redux.

However, being the second Silent Hill from Climax Studios – the first being the enjoyable Origins – it’s understandable that the studio would want to take some more risks with the popular franchise, turn things a little on their head and brand the latest in the off-kilter horror series with their own indelible stamp. And brand they have, taking the opportunity to tinker with the formula in multiple areas.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Firstly, the studio have taken the intriguing approach of introducing a hefty dollop of psychological mind-games into the mix. The game starts with the player in a shrink’s office answering personal questions and generally being unsettled by a slightly patronising doctor. These pointed queries not only set the scene for more discomfort to come (you inexplicably find yourself whisked back to the psychologist’s office on numerous occasions) but also aids the game in figuring out just what type of person – and hence player – you are.

It’s a quirky and quite scheming of gameplay mechanics; the idea that the experience at hand will morph around your unique personality and choices, a game that is literally different each time for whomever is actually playing it. Regrettably the scope of personalisation on offer rarely delves much deeper that the game’s aesthetic. If you tell the doc you like your women a little slutty for example, expect the female characters you encounter during your sojourn in Silent Hill to be somewhat abrasive. From the direct, forward dialogue to other aspects such as skirt length and the amount of cleavage on display, though interesting and inventive to some degree, the extent of the customised experience is fairly limited. Creatures do look different depending on how you answer some pensive questions regarding your own fears etc. It’s a nice touch; the game literally concocting what is essentially your worst nightmares to then chase you around a dank and gelid town, hell-bent on catching and ultimately destroying you.

The structure of the gameplay on the PSP is almost a perfect clone of the game’s original release on the Wii, the obvious adjustments due to the lack of a Wiimote withstanding. It’s this patent yet necessary deviation in control system which highlights one of Shattered Memories few concessions. While tension and skittishness permeates the Wii version due to the practice of shining a frantic torchlight over a gloomy and possibly creature inhabited room with the motion controller, the PSP’s bastardised control system, though adequately implemented, loses all sense of the investigative interactivity found only on the Wii. Given, having a fixed cone of illumination that dissipates out in front of Harry like a revealing triangle of impending death is hardly the worst thing the designers could have done to bypass the ability to move the torch around the environments. Alas, one of the main traits that made the game so memorable on the Wii is forever lost here in the PSP version.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Luckily, in the puzzle stakes at least, the control system differences make little to no difference. Shattered Memories comprises some truly memorable and intricate head-scratchers made all the better by the fact that the majority of them are tactile and interactive rather than the trite “find object of peculiar size and insert into hole of similar peculiar shape.” In fact, it’s almost fitting that – considering Shattered Memories is essentially a reimagining of the original Silent Hill – the series’ latest title presents some of the best cerebral and intuitive challenges since the first game. If the puzzles are up to scratch, so, too, are how Harry interacts with his surroundings.

While the original Silent Hill pivoted so much on Harry’s radio, the updated Shattered Memories relies heavily on the use of a mobile phone. It makes sense that the map of the town would be available through Harry’s mobile device, but it’s also used to trigger some of the puzzles on offer and find out more about the world he’s now trapped in. It’s a nice touch, and grounds the game somewhat in reality; a practice that makes things even more unnerving when things get icy.

And icy they will. As with the other games in the series, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories depicts the mirror-world of the town as something distorted, macabre and downright frightening. Tying in with the whole frigid weather situation, alt-Silent Hill is a frozen, danger-filled reflection of the original. And, trust us, you wouldn’t want to stay in the normal version in the first place.  It’s here, however, that we encounter another minor disappointment in Shattered Memories. Immediately when the gelid freeze starts to transform your surroundings, you know the monsters are coming. Admittedly, it’s similar in some respects to how the radio static in the first game heralded incoming nasties, but with the sea-change Climax Studios have introduced with respect to monster encounters, it makes the dash to safety a little less frenetic when it has been so blatantly telegraphed.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Which segues to the second of significant departures for the series. In what purists might deem sacrilegious, there is literally no combat in Shattered Memories. In its place, and probably realistically depicting what would happen if anyone actually was faced with creatures in a snow covered town, Harry must elude perusing creatures through streets, buildings and other environs until the icy veneer leaves the world. When it does, the danger has passed and Harry can go back to looking for the wayward Cheryl, opening up cars and messing with their dials etc.

For the most part, it works. The creatures are scary (probably because they’ve been constructed with your own personal fears in mind) and possess AI that can be spookily thorough. Monsters won’t simply chase you. They’ll double-back, search frantically in every nook and cranny, and ultimately do their damndest to get their hands on your throat. But then the wintry glimmer subsides, and with it any sense of terror as you know you’re now safe.

There’s a lot to like about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The aforementioned puzzle elements stand out, as do the game’s stellar presentation. The world of Silent Hill is big; the game providing a sense of scale not usually present in other PSP titles. Visually the game holds up tremendously well. Environments are presented with just enough level of detail, and characters are well modelled and move authentically. They’re also enhanced with some solid voice acting, a trait that sometimes goes unlooked in PSP games. Fans of the series’ haunting and noteworthy opuses may also want to experience Shattered Memories for the last ever Silent Hill score by the imitable Akira Yamaoka. It’s a fitting swansong; the lilting music peppered with variations of the original game’s mandolin-drenched sounds.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Pros:

  • Innovative and risk-taking. This is Silent Hill with a twist.
  • Graphically impressive.
  • Genuinely scary at times.

Cons:

  • Some might find it too different. The lack of combat a sticking point.
  • Quite short.
  • The personalisation system is not as extensive as it could have been.

Conclusion: From a value perspective, Shattered Memories is not the longest of games. Knuckling down, and likely missing a lot of the finer details, players could probably race through it in five or six hours. There are multiple endings (no signs of a UFO one though – yet), and the game does change with repeat play-throughs thanks to the branching structure which stems from the player’s choices along the way. In essence, however, there’s not a great deal here for the price of admission.

If you’re interested in a solid, nerve-shredding jaunt through familiar territory with a few curve-balls thrown in to make the experience somewhat novel, however, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories delivers all the chills and uneasiness the series is renown for. It therefore comes recommended, especially to those who don’t feel the need to hit diabolical fiends on the head with a pipe whenever they happen to materialise from out of nowhere.

Score: 7/10

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