This is going to be a big year for Silent Hill fans. A new title Silent Hill: Downpour is on the way, Silent Hill 2 and 3 are getting a loving HD re-release, and a new movie will be hitting screens (ok, so based on the last one a new movie might not necessarily be great news, but it’s still a big year). There’s going to be a lot of Silent Hill talk clogging up the interwebs in the coming months and justifiably so.
After all, we’re talking about one of the finest horror franchise in videogame history and in the case of Silent Hill 2, possibly even the greatest horror game of all time. You’ll hear no complaints from me. I’m a big time Silent Hill enthusiast and, embarrassingly, shut off those games a few times because I was too frightened to continue.However, as the resident Nintendo Nerd on this site, I feel like I have to send out a little love to one sadly underappreciated entry in the franchise’s long legacy, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It was never given its due despite the fact that, in this humble gamer’s opinion, it was easily one of the finest titles in the series.
It’s hard to say exactly why Silent Hill: Shattered Memories failed on its initial release. Maybe it was because the fan base of hardcore gamers had dismissed the Wii by then, maybe it was because it was damn near impossible to a copy on shelves, or maybe the Christmas season just wasn’t the time to put out a depressing horror game. Regardless, Shattered Memories practically disappeared after being released in 2009, but should be picked up and reevaluated during the new Silent Hill resurgence. Admittedly, it was always an odd duck in the franchise. It was the only title released on a Nintendo platform, the only one to use motion controls, and it attempted to re-imagine the series. Yet despite the many changes to the established formula, Shattered Memories perfectly captured the tone of the series, brought cinematic gamplay and storytelling to the Wii in a way few titles ever even attempted, and most importantly was one of the most purely frightening games in the series. It’s a great game and one worth tracking down and dusting off your Wii to experience if you missed it the first time.
The game follows Harry Mason who wakes up in the seemingly abandoned town of Silent Hill to find his daughter Cheryl missing. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s kind of a remake of the original game, but don’t worry none of the same narrative beats are retread. This is a different version of the old story, oddly broken up by first-person sequences in a psychiatrist’s office answering uncomfortably candid questionnaires and participating in psychological tests. These scenes directly affect gameplay, changing how the characters respond to you and the look of the environment and monsters accordingly. It’s a brilliant psychological gameplay mechanic that can be creepy and encourages replay. It never quite lives up to the marketing claims that “this game plays you while you play it,” but definitely makes for some twisted moments that climb inside your head and is hopefully something that will be used in other Silent Hill releases.
As you wonder through Silent Hill as Harry, you’ll constantly be using your Wiimote as a flashlight. The motion controls work smoothly and feel appropriate. The flashlight also helps make up for the Wii’s lack of graphical horsepower. It uses the old Silent Hill trick of limiting what you can see to focus heightened details on a controlled area. You never see much clearly in the game and as a result it’s one of the most graphically gorgeous experiences on the Wii. Aside from a few brightly lit scenes, I don’t think HD visuals would have been much better. The standard Silent Hill puzzles all also incorporate motion controls, but in ways that fit into the narrative and never feel gimmicky (like moving the wheels on a wheelchair, rolling down car windows, etc) In fact, the motion controls really only add to the immersion of the gameplay in a manner that we all hoped the Wii would do when it was announced.
The most controversial aspect of Shattered Memories is the monster sequences. You never get a single weapon to defend yourself and are forced flee whenever monsters arrive. In this game, ice freezes over the city when it’s monster time rather than the usual fiery industrial imagery. When that happens, you start sprinting and don’t stop until you’re out. It can be pants-wettingly intense and the monsters are infinitely more frightening by virtue of the fact you can’t defend yourself. Any time they pop up on screen it’s life or death and sweaty palmed gameplay ensues. Personally, I love these sequences, but admittedly it dials down the unease of the overall game ever so slightly. In other Silent Hill games simply entering a new room could be deadly, whereas in Shattered Memories you always know you’re safe as long as there isn’t ice on the walls. However, I find the exploring scenes so creepy and atmospheric that they are disturbing in their own way and as repetitive as the monster sequences can be at times, they always get the heart pounding.
For the sake of keeping this spoiler free for people who never sampled Shattered Memories, I won’t go into the story except to say that it’s deep, engaging, surprisingly touching, and boasts one hell of a final twist. It’s one of the better-crafted Silent Hill narratives and just as mysteriously disturbing of an experience as you’d want from the series. If you’re a Silent Hill fan, there’s so much to love about this game. It’s a fresh spin on the old tale and manages to use motional controls in a way that increases gameplay immersion rather than feeling like a distraction. Would I say it’s better than Silent Hill or Silent Hill 2? Of course not. I’m not insane. However, I will say that it is easily the best entry in the series since Silent Hill 2. It won’t be easy to find a copy of Shattered Memories at this point, but if you’ve got Silent Hill on the brain over the next few months I urge you to track one down. This was one of the best games released during the Wii’s lifecycle and one of the few that will satisfy your hardcore gaming needs. Just make sure to have an extra pair of underwear handy when you play through it the first time. You’re going to need them.