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).