Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
The two most recent entries into the Silent Hill universe haven’t quite matched the brilliance and terror of the original Japanese-developed titles, I must admit. Much in the same way Western horror movies make little impact with me nowadays, Climax and Double Helix’s takes on the series is missing that extra something that the first four games delivered (it certainly isn’t Pyramid Head, since he’s now been whored to an almost comedic degree. Give the big guy a break already). Origins was a decent effort, but rode the coattails of the previous games a little too hard without trying anything new. Homecoming, meanwhile, did a few things a little too different, and removed much of the tension and dread of the previous games by making the main character a capable demon-slayer, and a ho-hum story and overall noisy setting that felt more like Hostel: The Game than a Silent Hill title.
And yet, I’ve got my hopes up for the third time in a row for the upcoming Wiimagining (I’m sorry) of the original Silent Hil, coming this year under the name of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Developed by Climax (the same folks behind the aforementioned Origins), the more previews and trailers I see for this game, the more it becomes my most anticipated title of the year. Before, I criticized them for sticking too close to the series formula, but with Shattered Memories they seem to be borrowing their ideas from other classic horror games.
They just so happen to be good ideas, to the point that Shattered Memories seems to contain everything I’ve ever wanted in a survival horror game. Such features include….
1. I’m sane and so are you.
Don’t call it a Wiimake (please). The original SH was a trippy but still straightforward story about an everyday father looking for his missing daughter in a (not very) deserted town. Shattered Memories thankfully avoids telling the same story thrice (the second time being the live movie) and starts things from scratch. Harry is as dull looking as ever, but now he’s apparently out of his mind.
Taking a scenario that Team Silent was rumored to use at one point for one of the games, the entirety of SM is told in past tense, with Harry already admitted into a psyche ward, where he’s being interviewed by a therapist who routinely asks him questions about both the town of Silent Hill as well as reaching deep into his troubled(?) mind. This isn’t just for dramatic effect, but also has an impact on the game itself.
2. My subconscious is a genius. And horny.
During the start of the game (and later in subsequent intervals), the doctor will ask Harry some personal questions that can be answered in any number of ways by the player. Depending how you answer them, the events of Silent Hill can physically change in accordance with Harry’s inner turmoil. Come across as a womanizer, and Cybil can appear in a more relaxed, suggestive attire rather than her standard police uniform. Admit you’re a total drunk and other NPCs will find it hard to warm up to you. These changes can go as far as completely altering someone’s physical appearance (always gagged at the sight of Dahlia’s mummified face? How about imagining her as a goth teenager this time?). The monsters frequently change their appearance based on your answers as well. Speaking of whom…
3. Press X repeatedly followed by O to….oh wait.
To me, there wasn’t a more appealing gameplay mechanic to hear than the fact that Shattered Memories features no actual combat whatsoever. No breakable weapons, no dodging rolls and finishing attacks, and no motherloving QTEs to get in the way of the scares. There are no guns, samurai swords, chainsaws, or any other kind of weapon to dispatch monsters with, so you’re only option is to run and hide and hope to God those creatures don’t detect you by the stench of your crapped pants. This instantly brings back the fear and tension that was sorely missing from even the earliest SH games (as awesome as SH2’s monsters look, they were pretty darn easy to kill), and hopefully brings back the original game’s moments of running like a madman in the dark.
4. Waggle in the Dark
In the Wii’s first tech video, the one feature that got me excited was the concept of using the Wiimote like a flashlight for horror-themed games. It took some time, but there’s finally a game making use of this idea. Shattered Memories features many Wiimote applications that don’t feel merely tacked on. Steering Harry with the nunchuck while controlling his flashlight with the Wiimote is a basic but efficient control scheme, but the game does one better by also making use of the built-in speaker to deliver that extra level of creepy. You’ll also be needing the Wii-centric controls to solve the many puzzles of the game, which leads to…
5. We interrupt the nail-biting scariness and adrenaline-filled tension so you can read this long, boring document
I used to enjoy reading the written documents and files found in Silent Hill and Resident Evil, but not so much anymore. As games get louder and angrier, it feels like hitting a brick wall to stop and read some boring walls of text just to advance the plot (thanks Fallout 3, I totally love reading your incredibly long stories on a blurry computer monitor. I mean the one in the game). SM ditches the conveniently placed files and dossiers in favor of telling the story through its visuals. Certain puzzles require hearing a message from an answering machine, for example, or using Harry’s “pretty sure they didn’t have them in 1999” palm pilot to snap pictures of cryptic messages or other strange oddities that may come to life in digital form.
So in closing, I’ve got real high hopes for Shattered Memories. Silent Hill still remains my favorite horror series of all time, and I know there’s a game developer out there who can do it justice. I have a few nagging doubts, of course; I’m hoping the story doesn’t end up another basic plot where we can see the twist coming a mile away like with Origins and Homecoming. I also haven’t seen any monster designs other than the pink teenage mutations of the first game’s baby monsters. Still, this game is primed to be the ultimate release to look forward to this Halloween.
….what’s that? It’s been delayed until November? Mother fu-