When I first heard that Climax studios were once again developing a game in the Silent Hill franchise I have to admit that a part of me froze up in fear. Silent Hill: Origins isn't exactly one of my favorite games. Indeed I actually prefer Silent Hill 4: The Room to the prequel story simply based on the gameplay mechanics. But after getting some hands on time with the title on the show floor I've come to the conclusion that this is definitely a game to watch for.
The game begins with you speaking to a psychiatrist about the events that happened to Harry Mason in the town of Silent Hill. You're asked to fill out a small questionnaire that asks things like "Are you faithful in relationships?" or "Do you enjoy drinking?" that seem trivial at first. But these shape your game in some interesting ways, changing the way you interact with the town of Silent Hill and its human denizens.
One of the more noticeable examples occurred when playing the game and then watching another person do so. When I played I chose to say that I had never cheated on any relationship while the other guy chose that indeed he had. Shortly after starting the demo we both reached a building where we could get some information on Cheryl, Harry's missing daughter. For me it was an old fashioned bar with a fairly unattractive woman behind the bar. The other guy had some hot, large breasted woman behind the counter of what almost looked like a strip bar.
There are other such interactions with the world as you play through the game but this was one of the first ones that you find. It will be interesting to see how these shape individual playthroughs of the game for each player and what greater effects they might have as you play through.
One of the areas of the game that is sure to be controversial is that of the combat system. Basically that there isn't any form of combat system at all. Instead of fighting the monstrosities that infest the town you will be trying to run away from them for dear life. To make this easier for you the enemies are basically only encountered while within "mazes." These areas are fairly typical looking areas of Silent Hill (ex. Buildings, back alleys, etc) that have monsters running around in them. Blue lines on doors or objects try to help you navigate on through.
In this sense the game plays itself out almost like the Clock Tower series of games. For those who aren't familiar with this game series you spend your time running and hiding from the monsters instead of fighting them. It's really tense and frightening knowing that you can only try to outpace the monsters. Your only real defense is to knock things down, like vending machines, into the monsters paths in the hopes of slowing them down.
Hiding from the monsters only works if they don't see you do so but it's very possible to get some space using this system. So if you've managed to lose sight of your pursuers simply hiding in a cupboard or closet makes them run right past you. Then you can emerge and make a run for the exit. However monster positions are dynamic so what works on one playthrough will probably not work on the next ones requiring you to be more thoughtful in how you proceed.
Shattered Memories looks to change the face of Silent Hill to that of a frozen over death trip and it's looking like it might be successful in that regard. This was definitely one of the most tense gaming experiences that this writer has seen in a long time and we fans of the series, and genre, can only hope that this spin-off lives up to the promising showing that it made on the floor at E3.