[Ghosts Of Gaming Past] A Review Of ‘Silent Hill: Shattered Memories’

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Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.

Written by Ally Doig, @allydoig

Silent Hill and Resident Evil are synonymous with survival horror. Or at least they used to be. In recent years both have felt the backlash from longtime fans as they grow increasingly disenchanted with the contrasting direction in which the franchises are heading.

Since Capcom’s mission statement started to read: “must make Resident Evil appeal to absolutely everyone!”, Konami’s IP has slowly and steadily slid from prominence. Team Silent disbanded after the fourth game having never eclipsed the masterful second, and Silent Hill was subsequently entrusted to western developers. Origins and Homecoming were released in 2007 and 2008 by Climax and Double Helix respectively. Perhaps it was the fact that Konami’s in-house team had signed off in fairly unmemorable fashion themselves and the series then took a three year leave of absence, but both games flew quietly under the radar. Neither received great fanfare and were met with a muted response from critics. However, Konami deemed that Climax had made a decent enough effort with Origins to give them a second crack of the whip.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories – despite its flaws – proves that decision was worthwhile. It’s heavily based around the very first entry in the series, but offers much more than a graphical overhaul. It’s an involving, yet intermittently infuriating re-imagining of the events of the seminal PSone original.

The game again revolves around Harry Mason’s search for his daughter after crashing his car just outside Silent Hill. He awakens with a severe case of amnesia and his daughter, Cheryl, is missing. To compound matters a freak blizzard has battered the town leaving the majority of its streets off limits and eerily deserted. As soon as you flick on Harry’s flashlight after crawling from the wreckage, Shattered Memories evokes that ominous sense of solitude from classic Silent Hill games. The fog has been replaced with driving snow and impassable drifts, but the haunting feel of the place still resonates as it did in the original.

Despite the many protagonists whose shocking stories have played out within it, it’s the town itself that has always been the star of the show. Shattered Memories boasts arguably the most atmospheric rendition of Silent Hill to date. The further Harry ventures into its murky world in search of Cheryl, the more it drags you in and consumes you. Contrary to the headshot-happy nature of most horror games you’ll reach the end credits without swinging a bat or firing a bullet. This is a daring move, but one that the works within a game that places such a firm emphasis on psychological horror over copious amounts of gore.

Shattered Memories claims to “play you as much as you play it” by profiling you in a psychotherapist’s chair between chapters. Although this claim is perhaps a little overemphasized, how you respond to certain questions — some of which get pretty personal — and tests does have a noticeable bearing on how elements of your adventure will pan out. Puzzles alternate depending on how you answer, characters will react differently to Harry later on down the line, and what you take away from the game’s conclusion is subject to change from player to player. It may not be a consequence system with as much depth as many modern RPGs, but it doesn’t need to be. Your quest to find Cheryl will still feel personal enough to leave a lasting impression.

Many of the locations you’ll visit will be recognizable to established fans: Midwich Elementary, Lakeland Amusement Park and the lighthouse, among others, though all have been redesigned in accordance to Shattered Memories’ vision. Though it occasionally relies on good old jump scares, it’s the creepy references to life before the snowstorm that have the most impact.

Harry’s ingeniously implemented cell phone is integral to this, as he receives photos, text messages and voicemails from otherworldly sources. These paint an unsettling picture of small town angst; of lost innocence, teenage heartbreak and broken marriages. Many of these lonely accounts sound eerily foreboding against the backdrop of the now ghostly Silent Hill. Cleverly, they also contain vital information to solving the game’s more creative and cryptic puzzles.

Shattered Memories ambiguity works brilliantly in the game’s normal, explorable world. The player is often just as in the dark as Harry himself on his quest to find his daughter; NPC’s are rarely who they seem and the line is constantly blurred between reality and the supernatural. It drives you to keep progressing and uncover the game’s secrets.

Keeping in tradition with past titles there is an ‘alternate’ world which takes this concept far more literally. It’s simply known here as The Nightmare — an icy version of the horrific rust-covered hell that series veterans will be familiar with.

As everything around him freezes over Harry gets thrust into a chase sequence. Packs of lumbering demons bound after him as you make a panicked dash for a hidden exit door that will allow you passage back to the ‘real’ world.

As mentioned earlier, there are no guns or melee weapons to protect yourself with. In theory, these sections could work well and we shouldn’t be averse to a shift in pacing. Being unarmed and outnumbered is, after all, a terrifying prospect. The problem is that you fear these sections for all the wrong reasons. Not because they are inherently frightening, but because they are cumbersome and repetitive.

The Wii’s motion controls work fine when you’re not under any pressure, but as soon as you’re being chased through the snow and ice by a mob of marauding beasts it’s a different story. Harry might stop dead and look at the floor or the sensor will lose track of his movements altogether as he’s getting swarmed from all sides. It can simultaneously be a real problem to get your bearings. You’ll often find yourself running around in circles randomly guessing which doors will lead you to the exit.

Trial and error is rarely any fun, but under these circumstances it can be downright exasperating. Perhaps the saving grace is that when you finally do escape each Nightmare and return to comparative normality, the sense of relief is truly palpable.

The Final Word: It’s a real shame you’ll have to grit your teeth and endure these sequences when surely they could have been implemented in a more effective and less frustrating manner. Climax have created a game that evokes and expands upon much of what made the early Silent Hill games so great. It’s unsettling, has atmosphere in spades and has the ability to feel distinctly personal. Shattered Memories is a flawed gem, yes, but when the credits roll you’ll hopefully look back and remember it for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is available on the PS2, PSP and Wii (reviewed).

  • ljbad

    One of my favorite games of all time. I like how every choice the developers made seems to be geared toward serving the story. They stripped down the game to just the gameplay elements that were necessary to tell the story they wanted. Sure having weapons and more fights might have helped the game appeal to a wider audience, but it wasn’t necessary for their purpose. Because of this the game feels very focused which helped create a very memorable and powerful experience.

    It’s too bad the game wasn’t all that successful and didn’t spawn any similarly focused sequels. I loved Downpour, but it felt like a step back in a lot of way from Shattered Memories. It seemed like the Devs added in a lot of gameplay features just for the purpose of trying to draw in more gamers with buzz words like “open world,” “non-linear” and “20+ hour of gameplay.” Addition of unnecessary features actually made the game feel less focused and diluted the overall experience. I only mention Downpour because I was hoping it would take the formula of Shattered Memories and improve it (like by changing the frustrating chase sequences), unfortunately it didn’t do that, imo.

    Anyway, I hope more games go for a simpler and more focused route by getting rid of extra “features” that only serve to dilute the overall experience. The Walking Dead is another great example of Devs who kept it simple to tell their story, and hopefully with its success, we’ll see more games like that in the future.

    • Raziel_cz

      I like this game a lot for the same reasons. It’s different, quite simple in its own great way, and very atmospheric.

      On the topic of The Walking Dead, that game is awesome, but gameplay is maybe too much subordinate to the story. It seems to be more like an interactive movie than a game to me. Like I said, it’s awesome, but the mechanics of Shattered Memories work a way better.

      By the way, I played it on the PSP and the controls were fine (at least they seemed to me back then). I assume it’s better experience while playing on the SONY’s devices than on the Wii.

  • ThunderDragoon

    No weapons? Hmm, I might have to get this game just based off of that alone. Hopefully there will be more gems on this Ghosts of Gaming Past.

  • spanky23

    I remember when this game first came out, I hadn’t played any before it; the game gave me chills and turned me on the rest of the franchise; which I had skipped in favor of other games at the time. Excellent choice.

  • horroraddiction

    Definitely one of my favorite Silent Hill games of the series. I had a blast playing this on my PSP.

  • AfterTheAsylum

    I am honestly surprised at the love for this game. I am certainly in the angry and disapproving categories regarding SHSM.

    The Anger Side:
    SHSM was announced as a remake of SH1, which is my favorite game in the franchise. It was a game completely deserving as an upgrade in the graphics department. SHSM is not even a shadow of SH1 and it has successfully hurt the chances that a real SH1 remake will ever be made.

    The Disapproving Side:
    Survival horror is not just about visuals and emotions, but it is about choices. Eliminating combat gives the player no choice in how the game is played. Part of the thrill of survival horror is when you have to make the choice to fight or run because you have to assess your threats. You have to decide if your ammunition is going to be wasted or properly used. Weaponry also allows enemy difficulty to increase. Without weapons, all you can do is run, so now there is no hesitation for decision (which increased terror).

    SHSM is a linear game without action and it takes away a player’s ability to decide where to take their adventure. The psychoanalysis is great, but the rest is garbage. Silent Hill’s combat system has never been about killing, but defending.

    My Silent Hill order: SH1, SH2, SH0, SH3, SH5, SH4, SHDP, SHSM.

  • GreigShelob

    I’ve got this for the PS2 and Wii and I’ve yet to play it. I think after being disappointed in Origins and Homecoming I decided to give SH a rest for a while.

    Yet even after being really impressed with Downpour I still didn’t think about getting round to playing SM. Maybe I should do that next time there’s a lull in the 360 releases.

    I’m one of the few people who would rate SH2 quite low on the list (I think James is an arse that’s a bit think) so I may be in the minority and like SM aswell.

    • ljbad

      I’m also one who didn’t like SH2 very much, for the same reason. I just don’t like James as a protagonist. I found him fairly boring and uninteresting. My lack of interest in his character meant I wasn’t very compelled to play on to find out more about his dark past (though I did still finish the game).

      The gameplay in SH2 is great though. That’s probably why I liked SH3 so much, same great gameplay, but with a character who I actually cared about.

      • GreigShelob

        SH3 was brilliant. It was a fantastic idea to use Heather Mason as the main character and have Claudia to bring a Dahlia type character to the story.

        SH3 is one of the few games that I can never tire of. I even managed to finish it on Extreme 8. I was going to go for a speedrun of the UFO ending on Extreme X but never got round to it.

        That’s something I should really get back to now I’ve got a DVD recorder. There’s no way I’d be able to do it on the HD versions though, Heather’s a bit sluggish with the Heather/Sexy Beam so the chances of getting hit by the dogs has dramatically increased.

  • joesey

    it was interesting to play this on the wii and use the control as both flashlight and cellphone but running from the same screeching annoying ass creatures really pissed me off! You can’t fight back and there are no different creatures no Pyramid Head. It was a nice gimmick but I have no desire to ever play this game again.