The Silent Hill Series has a mostly loyal and ardent fan base consisting of folks who really, really love a great psychological thriller/horror. Weird cults who are hell bent on resurrecting ancient gods? Sign them up! Spouses who can't come to grips with their relationships and end up getting stuck in a nightmarish waltz with Death personified? Sounds like a good time! Parents killing their children and destroying their town in the process? That's the place Silent Hill fans want to vacation at. A little horror, blood, guts and dealing with screwed up individuals doesn't bother them in the slightest. In fact, it's kind of what they're looking for in each successive installment. That being said, Shattered Memories, while trying to remain true to the legacy of previous Silent Hill games, falls a little short.
The game features a father/daughter combo trying to…wait? It's Harry Mason and Cheryl from the first game? Ok! The game features Harry Mason and Cheryl from the first game series in a complete reimagining of what Silent Hill and their story could have been. You know; if it didn't include the weird cult that forms the backbone of the Silent Hill Series. Throughout the course of the game, you are treated to Harry desperately manoeuvring through Silent Hill in an attempt to reunite with his daughter after a horrible car crash. Harry wakes up, she's gone, and he needs to rescue his little girl. Pretty much like the start up scenario in the first game. But that is where the two really loose their similarity.
Instead of being treated to a nightmare Silent Hill in which there are monsters around every corner trying to eat Harry's face, the player has to deal with 'nightmare' sequences. Every so often, a frozen landscape envelopes the town, populated by monsters that are supposedly tailored to the player's fears and insecurities. During these sequences, the goal is to escape the nightmare and avoid the monsters. Forget the trusty shotgun or pistol that players are used to employing to deal with video game monsters. In this game, your most trusty weapon is…a flare! By using your flare, you can scare the monsters away while it burns, giving Harry some breathing room to navigate the maze that prevents him from moving forward in Silent Hill and closer to his daughter.
While in these sequences, player is expected to run, as opposed to fight. In the game's words, "They are many….you can't fight them...run!" In exchange for sequences of frantic running, the player gets to enjoy the non-nightmare sequences of the game, knowing that they are safe, protected and free from any interfering monsters that could kill them and make them have to restart the game. As a matter of fact, the player isn't in any danger even in the nightmare sequences. If the monsters overpower the player, they see Harry falling to the ground, occasionally being 'petted' by the monsters that have just killed him. He then wakes up at an earlier part of the labyrinth, tasked once more with trying to find his way out. This might be bearable if it wasn't for several factors. The Wii controls require the player to make shoving motions with both the Nunchuk and the Remote, simulating Harry throwing the creatures off him if they have jumped onto his body. I found these controls to be infuriately cumbersome for the simple fact that once the remote faced away from the television, the sensors in either it or the Nunchuk went nuts and made it difficult to navigate. There's nothing like having five monsters chasing you and being unable to turn to get away because the control has lost synchronization with the Wii sensor. I found myself 'dying' over and over again because I had to pause to smack the remote to force it to work properly again.
In addition, the labyrinths themselves were frustrating in the extreme. When faced with three ways to go, the player randomly picks one way. Once through that door, you are faced with two more to pick from. Then three doors and a fence, and so on and so forth. After dying about three or four times the mazes became tedious, uninteresting and very much a chore to complete for the sake of finishing the game. It didn't help that after a few times of being tackled by the monsters Harry slowed down, limping his way through the dark corridors and making it easier for the fast creatures to grab him. And if a creature came out of a door in front of Harry's path, you could just about forget being able to avoid it.
Outside of the nightmare sequences, the game became a bit more interesting, with Harry moving through a snowed in town, occasionally running across different characters and interacting with them. The flashlight was well used here, forcing you to purposely illuminate the dark hallways and rooms that Harry is moving through and adding to the isolated feel of the town. There are pictures to be taken across the town as well as 'hot spots' to activate, both of which give you either an audio or text message that can be accessed on your in game cell phone. They add to the story, giving you bits and snippets from the life of your daughter and others in the town. During the in town sequences there were also puzzles to complete, the majority of them being fairly simple and involving things like twisting the Wii remote to simulate turning a knob or opening a door. White triangle indicators lead the way to objects that could be interacted with, giving the game a more casual feel throughout; there didn't need to be much searching or frustrating backtracking to figure out what you missed to move forward; you probably would have seen all the things you could interact with when you entered each successive area.
The game also features an in game profiling system which changes not only the ending of the story, but the look and interactions you have with other characters. Over the course of the game the player is treated to therapy sessions in which yes or no answers can be given to questions. Each answer impacts the environment in different ways, some subtle and some overtly so. Looking at pictures in the environment can also impact the story of the game. Depending on the responses given, certain buildings that Harry had access to changed as well as the messages received from pictures taken or 'hot spots' accessed. Nightmare sequence creatures also morphed depending on player answers; in one playthrough my creatures looked like oversexed and over enhanced high heeled wearing flesh dolls, while in another they featured cog heads and bodies with missing pieces. Because of my answers, I went from having a mean non cooperative cop 'helping' me, to a sympathetic officer who wanted to make sure I found my daughter. At the end of the game, after you see the ending based on the choices you've made, you're treated to a mini profiling report of yourself.
I liked the fact that your answers could change the environment so drastically. It was interesting going from one playthrough to the next and waiting to see what the changes would be, from the way the characters looked to the things that they said to Harry. However, I found the biggest purpose to the profiling, the ending, to be incredibly non satisfactory. After playing through the game and struggling with nightmare sequences that got all too frequent towards the end, I got a couple minutes of footage to explain what the game was 'really' about. I felt cheated. The game has a nice twist at the end, but in addition you should at least get a more substantial ending.
In general, I felt a little cheated by the game as part of the Silent Hill series. Because it's a reimagining, they use the same character names of the first game. However, many of the characters felt like guest performances within the father/daughter drama as opposed to fully fleshed out characters of their own. It felt almost like a bunch of useless celebrity cameos. Because of the nightmare sequences being separate from the town as a whole, you never experience the true horrifying aspects of the other games in the series, where each new area brought new terrors to fight your way past. And while the music was scored by Akira Yamaoko from the other games in the series, the composition felt lacking. The Silent Hill Series features some incredible in game music and tracks, for example 'Silent Hill', 'Theme of Laura', 'Hometown' and 'Room of Angel' from Silent Hill 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively. I found the music in the game to fall disappointing flat, including the cover of 'Always on My Mind' featured in game.
The graphics were nicely done, not just during the cutscenes but in game as well. There were some frustrating issues with Harry taking up too much of the game screen at times, making it difficult to see the environment, but some adjustments in how he moved and I was able to see and interact with anything I needed to. Overall the town and the scenery were well detailed, especially the weather affects. Things like being able to see Harry's breath as he walked around in the cold environment were nice additions and showed some attention to detail in creating the visual design of the game. Lighting levels in the game seemed well balanced, with a good mix between light and dark. By changing the area I focused my flashlight on, I was able to see everything quite well, including in game indicators of ghostly picture areas. The only frustration with the flashlight was during a late game nightmare sequence where it's needed to complete a puzzle. It took some manoeuvring to fully see what I needed to move forward and at that point I was very much feed up with the poorly done nightmares.
Overall, the game is definitely worth playing at least once, but suffers mostly because of the series that it was intended to be a part of. Taken out of the Silent Hill Series and given its own unique background and story it would have been a much more enjoyable game. As its own psychological profiling game it has some definite merits. It bears noting, however, that regardless of what game series it's a part of, the nightmare sequences would hamper it and make it annoying to play. The nightmares did get a little easier the second playthrough around as I vaguely remembered the right paths to take to escape and if you're able to do that as well (or look up a decent nightmare guide online) then a second playthrough is definitely a must, just to see the changes in environment and characterization through different player choices. Shattered Memories is not, however, a very good addition to the Silent Hill series, and I eagerly look forward to Konami developing a much more suitable addition to the series.