Making its long-awaited debut on Nintendo platforms almost 10 years after the series began, Silent Hill has come to Wii.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was originally billed as a remake of the first game in the series, which came out in 1999. In reality, Shattered Memories is really something else entirely. The game feels detached from the rest of the Silent Hill franchise, and more like its own unique story, itching to be told. The game shares the same setup as Silent Hill, but very shortly takes a left turn and never looks back.
Like the original Silent Hill, the game puts you in control of Harry Mason, a writer who has a car accident on the outside of town. He gets knocked unconscious, and after waking up, realizes his daughter Cheryl has gone missing. From that point forward, it is up to you to explore the strangely vacant city of Silent Hill as it endures a crippling blizzard. The atmosphere, as in other Silent Hill games, is one of loneliness and despair, and constantly has you guessing as to what is real, and what is merely in your character's imagination. The game quizzes you as you play, building a psychological profile that it uses to alter the gameplay experience ever so slightly. Characters will sometimes look or act differently depending on how you answer. The monsters will begin to take different shapes depending on your answers to the quiz questions. These questions are presented in the form of a therapy session, where your therapist demands to know how you will respond to specific scenarios. These scenes break up the action well, using the Wii Remote to nod or shake your head in response feels natural and appropriate. The game features five different endings depending on your responses to these questions, giving you plenty of incentive to replay the game.
As the player behind the character, you use the Wii Remote to shine the flashlight on the environments that Harry comes across. This works incredibly well, and really puts you in a position to truly explore and notice the world around you. Every room has little details that are waiting to be discovered, and the core gameplay mechanic of the flashlight really puts you in a position to discover them. As you zoom in to read posters and signs, Harry will comment on them without needing to be prompted. This bit of polish really draws you into the experience as you will often find Harry echoing your own thoughts as he comments on the surroundings. Occasionally, the game will have you move the Wii Remote to mimic the motion to unlatch a door, or open a purse. These moments are fairly sparse, but well done and add yet another layer of immersion to the game.
Every so often, the town will go from blizzard to deep-freeze and you will see the walls ice over. These tangible scene changes become one of the few frustrating moments in the game. During the icy scenes, the game goes from atmosphere exploration to pulse-racing chase sequence. The game will give you a waypoint on your GPS, and you will need to race there through the altered landscape while being chased by faceless, agile monsters. When they latch onto you, the game prompts you to shove both of your hands in the direction the monster grabbed you from to simulate shoving the monster off of you. This motion works most of the time, but what is frustrating is that if you do not immediately return your pointer to the center of the screen, you will find Harry running in a circle, or turning around unintentionally. This is very frustrating, considering how easy it is to get lost when your prime goal is to run as fast as you can. It is very difficult to find a chance to check the map without getting attacked, so getting turned around due to control issues adds to the frustration and takes away the thrill of the chase.
Soon into the game, once you realize that it's only during the icy scenes when you are truly in any danger, much of the natural tension from exploring the atmospheric town begins to melt away, which is unfortunate. The game does its best to try to unnerve you, and it has moderate success, but it's still always in the back of your head that there's nothing to worry about until the walls turn blue. That said, there are definitely some absolutely chilling scenes in the game that have nothing to do with the monsters or the creepiness of the town. One in particular occurs about halfway through the game and had me almost gasping for air.
The audio in the game is particularly well done. The game's use of the Wii Remote as a cell phone receiver helps to immerse you in the story, and although the audio is hard to understand at times, you can turn on subtitles if so desired. The voice acting is top notch, featuring about a half-dozen characters. The music is nothing particularly epic, but adds to the overall environment of the game.
The cell phone that Harry carries with him does a very good job of acting as an in-game menu. Pressing the minus key to pull up your phone doesn't bring you out of the game, as Harry can still walk around with the phone out. The phone acts as your save screen, map screen, camera, communication device and also plays into the story as you will receive occasional phone calls and voice messages. Part of the exploration of the game consists of looking for ghosts, taking their photo, and hearing their story play out via voice mail. It's a neat device, and it adds to the game considerably.
Visually, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is stunning. The game pulls off some fantastic tricks all while maintaining a good, if not necessarily consistent, framerate. There are occasional stutters when Harry pounds through a door, but during the non-chase scenes, you'll barely notice them. The way the flashlight illuminates the environment really impresses, and is even more noticeable if you decide to turn the flashlight off. Your eyes will usually adjust to the darkness and you'll be able to see around you momentarily. The graphical fidelity isn't lessened just because the light is out. The character models in the game are rendered carefully, with detailed facial expressions and realistic body language.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories fills a gap in the Wii's horror lineup, and it does so with finesse and substance. It is a game that can be appreciated by anyone craving a good psychological thriller that makes good use of motion controls and in doing so, appeals directly to the Wii's core audience.