Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a re-imagining of the original Silent Hill game, done especially for Wii. It follows the story of amnesiac Harry Mason as he searches for his lost daughter Cheryl following a snow-related car accident. The town appears all but deserted — the parts of it that aren’t literally walled off by snow — and the only tools Harry has at his disposal are a flashlight and a cellphone (plus maybe some flares along the way). There’s something not quite right about this place, and that’s before it periodically freezes over into a nightmarish hellscape inhabited by zombie-like creatures.
Shattered Memories does things a little differently than previous “horror” titles in that you are completely unable to vanquish your tormentors or even confront them directly. When trapped in the Nightmare, Harry’s only option is to run like crazy (fortunately he appears to be in good shape for a novelist); if he gets caught, he must shake off his pursuers before he succumbs to their icy grip — at which point you usually have to start over at the beginning of the Nightmare. Doors and other obstacles are highlighted to give you some guidance, but it’s really easy to get lost and/or loop around back to a previous position as you try to make your way to a checkpoint (and often a monster-free puzzle room) indicated on your phone’s GPS.
Harry’s phone has other useful features besides the GPS (which allows you to make notes, like tracing a path). Its camera can be useful for recalling important images (if you think ahead enough to photograph them); sometimes it can even pick up impressions left behind by ghosts. In fact, the phone is fairly sensitive to emotional impressions in general. Static can be an indicator of a strong “memory” that, if found, will manifest as either a voice mail or text message (unfortunately the text was hard for me to read on my 27″ CRT, much like the problems I experienced while playing MadWorld); it also serves as an indicator of how close you are to oncoming monsters. Every phone number you come across in the game can be dialed and the call plays via the Wii Remote’s speaker not unlike the calls in No More Heroes; some are just flavor, but others provide useful information. Finally, the phone has a save game function, which is something I wouldn’t mind having on my own!
You can access the phone by hitting the – button, or press left, up, or right the D-pad to directly access your GPS, call function, and camera respectively. Pressing down on the D-pad causes Harry to cast a look over his shoulder, which is useful for reminding you how close those creepy zombies are while you’re running. The + button toggles your flashlight (controlled by the Remote’s pointer) for those times when you might not want to attract unwanted attention by generating light. The A button handles pretty much all of your interactions, with the B button zooming in to give you a better look (this works with your camera too); the two buttons work together to grab something when the situation warrants it. Finally, holding down the Z button lets you run; while running Harry will automatically shoulder his way through doors (that are all thankfully — if oddly — “push”) and leap over obstacles, keeping the pace frantic during the chase sequences.
While the Nightmares may increase your pulse, they are they only time Harry is ever in any actual physical danger; this can reduce the intensity of the game for some, but Shattered Memories is more about psychological horror than slasher-style gore. The time in between the Nightmare sequences is mostly spent exploring the unsettling town, occasionally encountering one of a handful of inhabitants that are still to be found. The time in between those segments, however, is the game’s other distinguishing feature: psychoanalysis. You will frequently find yourself on the couch of Dr. K as he probes your psyche to figure out what the heck is going on — both inside your head and in general. Every “session” ends with a test of various types; you’ll encounter inkblots, questionnaires, photographs, and other exams that the game will then use against you. The way you respond to these exams (and other aspects of the game while playing) will influence how the game unfolds; certain characters (including the monsters) might change appearance, locations might be different, or any number of other subtle changes might happen to personalize the experience up to and including the eventual ending. The game warns you up front that “it plays you as much as you play it;” that’s something of an over-dramatization, but it still adds an extra dimension that makes the game unique and invites potential replays.
Harry’s adventure is a strange one, and thus so is yours as you play. You’ll be wondering just what the hell is going on, and just when you think you might have a grip on it everything changes — sometimes literally. There were times when I needed to work up the motivation to continue playing (and rarely did so for more than a couple of hours at a time), but that was due to the game’s emotional nature and not any inherent flaws. And while it does have a flaw or two (for example, you can’t run while you have the phone out, somewhat mitigating its usefulness during chases) they are easily eclipsed by the solid story and presentation. I went into Shattered Memories without any prior Silent Hill experience, but I’ve heard similar accolades from series veterans. It is easily one of the premier (if sparse) M-rated titles for the Wii, and definitely worth picking up for both long-time residents of Silent Hill and newcomers alike.
Plays like: The absence of combat makes the gameplay fairly distinct amongst 3rd-person games.
Pros: Genuinely creepy atmosphere; psychological analysis makes for interesting theme and adds replayability
Cons: Although you’re never quite sure when the Nightmare will strike, there’s absolutely no danger until it actually does; some phone interfaces are awkward, especially while being chased