Not marketed by its publishers, ignored by Alan Wake-hypers and too different from its origins to be loved by old fans: That would be the most fitting description of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, at least when you´re looking at only its surface and its surroundings. What Shattered Memories actually is would be one of the most immersive, engaging gaming-experiences that have ever been created. That doesn´t mean that this 2010-game is flawless, but what it did was spectacular. Why Silent Hill: Shattered Memories shouldn´t be missed out by any fan of rich, detailed virtual worlds – you´ll find out in the following review.
The game starts out very abrupt, showing how Harry Mason, the game´s protagonist, and his daughter are having a car accident. Harry loses consciousness only to find out that his little, cute girl is gone when he finally reawakens. The game then switches over to a psychologist´s bureau, who welcomes you and eventually starts asking you questions about the accident … which apparently has happened in the past. You can look around the room while sitting still in your chair, but be careful: that´s already part of a vital segment of Shattered Memories´ gameplay. The psychologist´s questioning divides the game into several chapters, though it doesn´t break up the game flow by suddenly changing you previous location. It´s just a narrator-function in that way, changing between past happenings and your current session with the psychologist, though it is important in its own way. Probably the most popular game mechanic of Shattered Memories is the actively changing game content, depending on not only the way you answer to the psychologist´s question, but also how you perceive the environments of Silent Hill. This goes from houses or persons that you encounter having different colors, to enemies and persons looking different, all the way to scenes playing out completely differently, leading to up to five different endings. It´s these interactive changes that at least partly balance out the game´s biggest flaw, which would be its short playtime of about six to seven hours. But don´t be deceived: These few hours are packed with atmosphere and tense situations.
I have only played the Wii-version of this game, but nonetheless do I believe that it is the best way to experience this title. Other than the intriguing change-mechanic, the motion controls really make this game the unique blockbuster that it is. Using the wiimote´s pointer-function as your ingame-flashlight is but the most obvious use you will encounter, yet it is undoubtedly implemented in a very fun way, made even better by Shattered Memories´ fantastic lighting effects. Each object or person that you point your source of light against will realistically cast a shadow, changing its form depending on angle and distance. Often times will you find yourself just playing around with what kind of silhouettes can be created. It´s redundant to mention how much these effects add to the creepy atmosphere that will never leave you for the whole trip. Besides the clever flashlight-mechanic, you´ll use the wiimote´s built-in speaker as your mobile phone, holding the controller against your ear to listen to phone calls. Which you can make yourself by finding new phone numbers scattered all over the city of Silent Hill, simply by looking at advertisements or posters on walls or otherwise written down numbers. The game doesn´t expect you to call anyone, but it´s exactly that kind of optionality that makes it all the more endorsing. On other occasions you will use the pointer-function on minigames that are realistically put into the game, like opening a locked door by guiding different parts to their right position. The most action-focused motion control-mechanic will be defending yourself against nightmarish creatures. Often times, people complain about how the shaking off-mechanic doesn´t work that well, thus resulting in failure, but as far as I´m concerned, it works perfectly fine. When one of those creatures jumped on your back, simply follow the on-screen icon and shake the wiimote in the exact same way. Or even less complicated: Act like you would in real-life. When a creature hangs on your right shoulder, raise your hand to the left and hit it down to the right. No science, really.
Mentioned creatures will only attack during pre-defined nightmare-scenes where your one and only goal is to reach a certain place. On this run, without any option to fight back, numerous of the horrifying monsters will run and jump after you. To gain distance, you can throw over objects to slow your enemies down, or sometimes find and activate a torch which temporarily holds off any attack. These chase sequences will make you lose your head and set you into an incredibly panicking state, the only thing on your mind left: Where the hell do I have to go?! And you´ll lose your way many times, that´s for sure, but it isn´t a problem due to the beginning of each chase being a check point. What helps you finding your goal are blue marks on doors or fences that indicate interactivity, as well as your mobile phone´s gps-map. In terms of Shattered Memories´ creepiness-factor, a lot of people argued that due to the knowledge of the absence of enemies during non-chase sequences, the rest of the game is boring. Can´t say I agree with that claim .. at all. It is true that your ingame-character´s life won´t be in danger outside of the chases, but at least on your first playthrough, you don´t know when the world around you turns into the scary nightmare-version of Silent Hill. And it can happen any time. Sometimes you pass one of the many doors and suddenly find yourself in the ice-nightmare, sometimes the streets transform before your eyes, not hiding the mystical happenings. Even outside of the chases, the environments are so well-designed and dark and little inviting that most gamers that get into the virtual world of Silent Hill will find themselves playing a true nightmare.
What pushes Shattered Memories beyond its great story and great visuals is the incredibly interactive gameplay. Where other games focus on some parts and dismiss others, developer Climax managed to successfully deliver a complete experience. Exploring environments from a behind-the-shoulder view with a directly controlled flashlight, using your mobile phone to call people, read messages, look at a map or take photos, opening doors just a little to peak into the next, unknown room, smoothly climbing over obstacles or hiding inside them – it all comes together more than nicely and is one of the very few games that don´t leave you wishing “awww, if only I could somehow interact with that“. Visuals and soundtrack are masterful and probably around the best the Wii-system has to offer. Not only are there these convincing lighting effects, it is the textures that will take you by surprise. Instead of the usual blurry mess that most non-HD-games make use of, Shattered Memories lets you actually read anything you can see and thus creates a higher sense of exploration. The weather-effects are superb, too, really adding to the atmosphere when snow starts falling.
I didn´t talk much about how exactly the story unfolds or what changes your own decisions can and will make. And I won´t do that. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a masterpiece, a truly immersive experience that should be undergone without any detailed knowledge, spoiling fun and interesting scenes. To add this: I hate horror-games since I´m a scaredy cat, but the gameplay possibilities and atmosphere convinced me to give this game a try, and damn, do I not regret that decision. Shattered Memories will suck you in and keep chewing on you until the very end. And then you´ll want to play some more, since you remember all the places you could have tackled in a different way. Thanks for not marketing this game, Konami, you brought gamers the most unknown treasure of 2010 (or 2009, if you´re from the USA). No, seriously, add in a dialogue-system like Mass Effect has and it´d be the best video game, haha!