Are you playing the game? Or is the game playing with you? That's the crux of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
Shattered Memories is an attempt to go back in time over ten years look at the original Silent Hill story through a different lens. It strips away the cult and the vague references to obscure mythologies and mysterious gods, and brings it back to the basic story - Harry Mason searching for his daughter, lost in a car crash. Interspersed with Harry's frantic search is therapy sessions with a doctor, who is walking you through the horrifying events in Silent Hill in a search for the truth while giving you psychological tests to gauge your mental state.
And here's where it really messes with your mind - the game adapts not only to your responses to the doctor's tests, but also to how you play the game. It disorients and obscures and confuses right up until the end, when all becomes clear. And does it frighten? It does indeed.
Harry's search in Silent Hill is made more difficult by a freak snowstorm which has literally frozen the town in. Streets are deserted and snowed over and populated with the ghosts of those who once walked there. In the Wii version, you use the controller like a flashlight, pointing where you want the beam to go. In some areas you receive phone calls or voicemail messages which come through the remote speaker. From time to time you take pictures, revealing more of the past.
And you RUN. When the ice comes and the creatures come after you, you run like hell and you hope it's enough. You can't kill the creatures, though you can throw them off if they catch you, and a flare might give you some respite, but you have to move and move fast to make it. The creatures - horrible, screeching, faceless monstrosities to begin with - change as you play, twisting and warping to suit your personality and playing style. The sequences when they are after you are admirably intense and nerve-wracking.
The story unfolds before you through text and voice messages on your phone, as well as character interactions. Familiar characters are here, but range from slightly changed to nearly unrecognizable, again based on how you play. Cybil Bennett might be angry and conservatively dressed, or she might be a helpful temptress. Lisa Garland is here too, still troubled but also quite changed. And then there's Dahlia - perhaps the biggest shock of the game is the new Dahlia and how she fits into the story.
And how it happens all depends on what you do. What you focus on as you explore matters - do you look at the family photo on the desk or the swimsuit calendar on the wall? Does your gaze linger on the drink on the bar or would you rather look at Cybil's cleavage? Your actions matter too - do you give Lisa the green pill or the yellow one? And of course, the doctor's tests have some effect. Some of these things are conscious, but others will surface just as part of a player's natural style. Manipulating these things to get a different costume or a different ending is do-able, but not like it is in most games.
Simply put, Shattered Memories will trick you and do unexpected things to you.
All in all, Shattered Memories isn't perfect, but it succeeds in its attempt to reshape how we look at Silent Hill, and how we play the game. The control scheme is unique and mostly effective in immersing you in the game, though it gets occasionally frustrating at some of the trickier movement puzzles. The way the story shapes itself to what you do is nothing short of mindbending. The ending is shocking in the best sense, and will make you rethink everything you did to get there.
I've played every Silent Hill game other than Homecoming, and at this point my favorite remains Silent Hill 2. The sense if disorientation, confusion, and fear I had while playing that game remains unmatched - I simply didn't know what to expect. Of the others, Shattered Memories has come the closest to re-creating that feeling, and that alone is enough to impress me.
Who do you want to be today? You decide.
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Rich Stoehr (GlassIsland)
I often hide behind a pithy Douglas Adams quote or maybe some song lyrics. I guess it makes sense that much of what I share is reviews of things I like (or don't). People … more
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The story follows Harry Mason, who wakes up after a car accident to find that his daughter Cheryl is missing. Harry will wander the snowy streets of Silent Hill searching for answers of her disappearance, but when the world freezes over, he will need to escape the lumbering demons that haunt his steps. Harry will need to navigate both worlds to discover the truth; not just about his missing daughter, but also the type of person he actually is.