One simple quick look at the list of games released in the franchise makes it easy to see that Silent Hill and Nintendo consoles never were two things that made obvious sense when put together. Other than an average visual novel named Play Novel: Silent Hill, released exclusively in Japan for Game Boy Advance, which was only noteworthy for its remarkable yet minimal use of full motion video on a cartridge-based handheld console, the series stayed well away from Nintendo consoles for years. Actually, in October 2007, in an interview between Wired and Akira Yamaoka, sound composer on the series and public face for all things Silent Hill, the latter deemed the Wii audience "not hardcore enough" for a Silent Hill game to come to the little white box. Fast-forward to 2010 and a new game in the franchise gets released on the console, developed by Climax Studios who had previously worked on Silent Hill Origins for PSP and PlayStation 2. In fact, not quite a new game in the strict sense of the term, but rather a re-imagining of the first game, released over a decade earlier. As will soon be discovered if continuing to read this review, this new version plays very differently, though.
Just like in the original game, the hero is Harry Mason, an average guy who was in a car accident with his daughter. He passed out in the car crash and when he came to his senses again, his daughter Cheryl was nowhere to be seen. The main task in the game is to look for her all around the town of Silent Hill, a ghost town of sorts where nothing but weird stuff happens, but none of it seems quite out of the ordinary to its own inhabitants - or so it seems - so they take Harry for a madman because he keeps seeing stuff that no one else notices. Injected into the main story are separate scenes showing psycho-analysis tests where the player embodies a mysterious unknown character at her psychiatrist's office. In these sessions, the player's mind and character is being analysed.
This happens within the main game as well. The system determines one's traits of character depending on what his or her attention lingers on the most. For example, one that keeps stopping at every sign showing alcoholic beverages will be interpreted as someone who enjoys booze, one that checks thoroughly every poster of cheerleaders or women posing in provocative garments will be labelled as a pervert, and so on. On other occasions, he is given the choice to explore one room or the other, both leading forward in the game, but once the door to one room was opened, there's no way to explore the other one anymore.
The player's choices in these occasions are constantly being monitored, and these decisions will be reflected in various aspects of the game. This is one of the biggest changes brought to this new version, Shattered Memories. The areas affected by this are the looks of the NPCs, some different areas becoming available instead of the normal ones, some small details in the NPCs changing, and the appearance of enemies altering slightly.
Speaking of enemies, another huge amendment comes from the total lack of combat, which is totally different from anything the series has seen before, or has seen since for that matter. The whole game plays more like an exploration adventure, looking for mementos of Cheryl and solving some light puzzles. Structured in a chapter-like fashion, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories switches from exploration - scenes where the hero gets chased by grotesque looking creatures - and those aforementioned psycho-analysis sessions. The chase sequences are the most action one is going to get from the package. In those, Harry must avoid confrontation at all cost, and run from point A to point B for the world to go back from its nightmarish nature to its Silent Hill-esque normality, sometimes being forced to solve a puzzle midway through. While this makes for not too bad a change from the usual formula, the execution is somewhat lacking. Shaking off enemies that manage to grab onto him is fairly easy, as a mere shake of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo is required in the direction the enemy is to be pushed in order to get rid of them.
However, in the rush of adrenaline that may come from these scenes, one could be tempted to nervously waggle the controller combo in all directions, and this proves totally ineffective. Calm and accurate movements are required from the player, and this kind of kills the mood of nervousness that one would like to experience from such sequences.
Otherwise, the whole experience is still fairly solid and the overall feel of oppressiveness that comes from roaming the snowy streets of Silent Hill is quite unlike anything seen in consoles of the past generation. Or at least it's unique on the Wii, of that it can be assured. This is helped by an excellent soundtrack composed by series musician Akira Yamaoka, the very same guy that didn't want a Silent Hill to happen on the Wii. The music is just as good as it is in any other game in the same series. Most stunningly beautiful yet are the graphics. The lighting effects are the best on the system, with every piece of the scenery the player directs its torchlight at spreading shadows all over the place. Textures are highly detailed as well and, to be frank, the game as a whole shows a heavy attention to little details that the most attentive players will take great pleasure in examining one-by-one. On some sparse occasions, the frame-rate takes a hit from all these visual wonders happening on the insides of the Wii, but otherwise, it runs quite solidly on the whole.
All these ingredients help make Shattered Memories an experience that nobody should miss -and this, dear readers, should be experienced on the Wii at all costs, and not on any other platform on which the game is available! The Wii offers, quite understandably, the best visuals since it's more powerful than either a PS2 or PSP, despite what some unjust allegations from Nintendo detractors might have lead some to believe. Moreover, the gameplay experience is just unmatched as well. Pointing the Wii Remote at the screen to control the torchlight is just so much more intuitive than doing it with a second analogue stick that one would be foolish to want to experience it with a regular pad. Hearing the Wii Remote ringing and rumbling in-hand every time Harry Mason gets a phone call, grasping that controller, pressing a button to pick up the call and putting the Wii Remote against your ear to listen to the correspondent through the tiny speaker... This is an intuitive experience that further contributes to make the player feel as a part of the game and is an indispensable part of the bigger experience that comes with the psycho-analysis that's going on at every moment, as the game is not drawing Harry's psychological profile, or that unknown character's... it's actually drawing up yours!
For all these subtle details, excellent plot and a structure that requires at least two play-throughs to see all of its locations, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of the best Wii games available, and a criminally overlooked gem, despite some of its shortcomings.
Making specific movements displayed on-screen to shake off enemies doesn't always work as desired when performed nervously in the thick of the action, but otherwise everything controls superbly. For once, the unique features of the Wii Remote were also exploited in a most clever way.
Possibly the best visuals on the system. Characters models are superbly animated and very detailed by Wii standards and textures are impressively high resolution too, allowing a lot of small interesting details to be incorporated directly in the scenery for the player to examine at will. Lastly, the lighting system is the best the console ever saw, full stop.
An excellent soundtrack, yet again composed by Akira Yamaoka, right up there with the best the series has to offer, and maximised by the use of dynamic music. This, coupled with a good cast of voice actors for all the characters appearing on-screen, makes the sound part match the excellence of the visuals.
The maximum playtime one could squeeze out of the game really depends on its ability to get drawn in by the psychological profile, meaning multiple play-throughs would then be required to find all the mementos scattered throughout, UFOs, as well as exploring every possible change brought by acting differently during the game, altering some of the dialogue, and so on.
While the change from the traditional Silent Hill formula might certainly not sit too well with die-hard fans of the previous episodes, even those people have to admit that the new turn makes for an original new take on the franchise. Everything the game may lack in terms of actual action, it more than makes up for it in terms of exploration, music, graphics, story development and overall mood, making it a quite unique experience worth trying. Describing it as a survival-horror game would be a grave mistake since outside the parts where the hero is being chased and must run for his life, Harry Mason never actually really fights for his survival; he merely runs. There's little horror to be seen either, and the overall atmosphere is more dark and oppressive rather than horrific. As a sort of interactive psychological thriller where the player really gets the feeling of being in the skin of an average bloke looking for his lost daughter, it excels in every possible way and can't possibly be faulted. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a criminally overlooked game in the Wii library, and its Wii version indisputably the best available, both in terms of visuals and gameplay.
I'd definitely pick it up again. I have very fond memories of this...but it's been so long that they're becoming rather...shattered.
Great review, Rudy, for a great game!
One of the best survival horror games last gen...
Really loved this game! Very underrated and not enough people got their hands on it to enjoy what was really an excellent game!
The best story told last gen, creepy atmosphere plus an unforgettable ending. When climax said it wasn't a reboot but a reimagining they weren't messing around. My favourite Silent Hill and my favourite survival horror game.
It seems like Nintendo has quickly become the home of true survival horrors. Which is funny when you think about it.