Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Retrospective Review)

I don’t think anything is quite as hard for developers as taking a beloved video game franchise and having to completely change its mechanics. 2D to 3D was an awkward enough stage, but developers constantly have to keep up with changing times. If Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 hadn’t used its famous over-the-shoulder camera and the series had stuck to its roots, I’m confident that EA’s Dead Space series would have incorporated tank controls. Developers have to go with what they know will sell, which means they have to follow trends.

 This isn’t a problem until they realize that(and this is absolutely shocking so you may want to hold on to your seat) following the crowd does not equal success, and often just backfires. Konami’s fifth entry chronologically in their famous Silent Hill franchise, Silent Hill: Homecoming, tried to be more action-oriented ala Resident Evil 4. The result was a dark and gloomy mess with insanely bipolar difficulty, horrible controls, and a battle system that’s cringe worthy.

Enter late 2009 and Konami once again tried to reinvent the Silent Hill franchise with the release of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii.(The game was later ported to the PS2 and PSP and are the superior versions of the game–more on that later) Shattered Memories, a re-imagining of the first game, brought the series back to its puzzle solving roots, which fans and critics alike complained Homecoming ditched in favor of mindless combat. However, the camera system was redone, as was the main staple of the series; Silent Hill’s horrifying rusty alternate dimension was replaced with a chilling ice theme. And there’s one final itsy bitsy change to the usual formula; Shattered Memories features no combat whatsoever.

Though Harry is still looking for his daughter who disappeared after a car crash, the game’s most pivotal moments take place with you in the office of a psychiatric doctor. Throughout the game you’ll answer questions and complete activities which will result in a completely unique experience. Admit to being a bit sexually active(or perhaps you’d rather ogle the posters that feature cleavage) and the game’s enemies will change to reflect that. This is fantastic because the alternate dimension of Silent Hill is different for all characters that have to face their own personal demons. If you answer honestly, you’ll get a taste of what visiting the nice and warm little town would actually be like.

Combat is gone completely and instead Harry must run and hide from his enemies, use light to distract them, knock over pieces of the environment to detour them, and try to get to a safe zone. The developers, Climax Studio, said they abandoned combat to make the game more realistic and scary. After all, when you have a nightmare, you usually run from the monster instead of picking up a shotgun that was lying on the ground and blowing it to bits.

While this change once again divided critics and fans, I personally thought it was an incredibly clever idea and was genuinely scared whenever I entered the alternate dimensions. But I’m not sure if I was scared for the right reasons. The Wii version of Shattered Memories requites you to waggle the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in order to escape the clutches of the game’s enemies, and it’s almost completely unresponsive. In the PS2 and PSP versions of the game you’re instead required to hit buttons, which eliminates all the frustration of the new combat system(or lack thereof).

The puzzles are fun but nowhere near as difficult as past games, though this can be forgiven for their originality. Audio logs are scattered throughout the multiple environments of the town and are quite disturbing. These logs can be listened to anytime on your obvious iPhone, which can also be used to take pictures or call numbers you might find on a billboard or scrap of paper.

Multiple endings make an appearance, but there’s no real reason to replay the game if you’re honest with your answers unless you absolutely must see everything the game has to offer. Don’t worry about it if you do, because the game clocks in at around 6-10 hours. It’s a shame the experience doesn’t last just a couple hours longer.

Of course with it being a Silent Hill game, the music of Akira Yamaoka is as brilliant as ever. The snow and ice setting of the game is incorporated well into its audio and the game’s main theme, a haunting cover of “Always On My Mind” by series go-to singer Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, captures the themes of the game well.

Shattered Memories may shun away series purists, but it’s a unique title. While it may be the black sheep of the franchise, it’s also one of the best.