There has always been a problem with Silent Hill. No, it’s not the underground cult that has lead the citizens of this accursed town to their unholy deaths. It also had nothing to do with the troubled souls that seem to constantly wander through the place looking to find/resurrect/avenge their significant others. To be honest, the biggest problem with Silent Hill has always been its combat, which is a comparable experience to hitting an airborne piñata while standing blindfolded on a moving rollercoaster. The developers of the upcoming Silent Hill: Shattered Memories decided to remedy this situation in the best way possible: removing the combat entirely.
Shattered Memories reimagines the tale of Harry Mason, the protagonist from the original PlayStation One classic. In this case, Harry can’t attack the demons that he encounters, as he is a normal person with no violent tendencies. The result is a true horror experience, where you have no way of defending yourself against the creatures that lurk around each and every turn. From my playtime with the game, I found that this ramped up the fear to levels not reached in many other horror titles. In games like Resident Evil 5 and Dead Space, you are deluged with so many ways to defend yourself that you can never truly fear what is in front of you. Why would you be, when you can fill each of them with lead quickly and effortlessly? In Shattered Memories, the only thing that you can do when faced with a threat is run, and you will have to do plenty of that as you hunt down your missing daughter.
The game starts off with an interview that asks some surprisingly personal questions, like “do you roleplay during sex?” and “have you ever cheated on your significant other?” The answers to these questions—as well as the decisions that you make during gameplay—actually effect the way the game plays out, as everything that you do is noted and utilized to determine what will happen in the next area. While many titles have offered branching paths before, I can’t recall a game that keeps track of every decision that you make. The on-hand developer noted that even relatively minor situations make a difference, like the choice to explore a ladies restroom before you examine the men’s room. Enemy placement, storyline branching, and character involvement will all be affected by your actions, making Shattered Memories a unique experience for everyone who plays it.
I also got to see a few other innovations introduced in this iteration, namely the cell phone. This device acts as your HUD, providing information, inventory, a phone book, a recap of conversations, objectives, a map, and even a camera that can be used for seeing hidden specters in the environment ala Clive Barker’s Undying. The phone is mainly used for the puzzle solving purposes, as are the motion control functions of the Wii remote.
One example had me faced with an impenetrable locked door. After looking around a bit, I saw that the only interactive items in the area were three cans on a nearby table. Using the remote, I was able to pick up and shake each can, noticing that one of the cans made a clanging noise as I moved it. I turned that specific can upside down and shook it to find the key that I needed to advance. While not the most complicated of conundrums, this clever implementation of motion control has me excited for later, more intense puzzle scenarios. I also got to see Shattered Memories’ town transformation, which replaces the metallic hellworld from older titles with an arctic wasteland packed to the brim with horrific nightmares. The town morphing is impressive, happening in real time as ice spikes through the pavement and swallows the buildings and cars around you. While I am not entirely sold on the switch from fire to ice, Silent Hill’s new look is definitely intriguing.
After walking around for a bit, I encountered some fast-moving creatures that didn’t look entirely friendly. I began to run, but quickly realized that I wasn’t sure where to go. I blew through a nearby door hoping that I was safe, but the beast blasted through the same opening and continued the hectic chase. I located a ventilation shaft and hastily jumped through it, but the demon grabbed me and pulled me back out. I dashed through a few other doors, knocking over shelving to block the monster’s path and diving over all obstacles that got in my way. The game feels almost Assassin’s Creed-ish during these segments, as a quick tap of a context-sensitive button allows Harry to squeeze through and vault over the objects blocking him in. I was eventually able to get away, but it wasn’t easy.
From what I saw, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories looks like a complete reinvention of the series and an exciting direction for the survival horror genre to venture towards. All of the changes looked smart, and the developers seemed to have a firm grasp on what made the first three entries of the franchise so special. The game ships this November for the Wii, PS2 and PSP.