Silent Hill: Shattered Memories proved combat wasn’t needed for horror 10 years ago

Climax Studios’ Silent Hill: Shattered Memories released 10 years ago on December 8, 2009. The Sam Barlow-designed Nintendo Wii title should have kicked off a new boom period for the survival horror franchise with how innovative it was. But it wasn’t meant to be as Konami followed it up with the generic and disappointing Silent Hill Downpour by a different developer. While brilliantly made, not everybody (consumers and critics alike) appreciated what the British studio had done with the game and the Silent Hill series. Rather than creating a traditional horror title, it was a combat-free adventure game that prioritized player interaction with the plot, an aspect of the game the was far ahead of its time.

It is likely that some of the backlash comes from fan expectation as Shattered Memories was announced as a remake of the original Silent Hill. However, the team at Climax Studios stressed that it was a “reimagining” that wasn’t looking to follow the original title faithfully. Instead, it took the core story conceit of Harry Mason searching for his daughter in Silent Hill in a very different narrative direction and tacked on an incredible twist ending.

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It wasn’t just a different story, though. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories plays completely differently to past titles as Harry can’t combat the monsters he encounters. Instead, the game is split between exploration segments that use the Wii remote as a flashlight and intense chase sequences that has the player frantically trying to escape from unkillable creatures in a frozen version of Silent Hill that is called the “Nightmare.” This is different from past titles as players had to battle off the creatures that haunt the town. However, combat never is a missed opportunity in Shattered Memories as the series’ strong suit was always its psychological horror plot rather than the action that took place.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories‘ psychological profile of the player is excellent

Shattered Memories‘ framing is totally unique as the game bounces between the horror parts and the psychiatrist interview parts. These range from simple true or false questions that allows for him to get a better view of your personality (such as if you’ve ever been unfaithful in a relationship) to more abstract ones such as having the player color in a drawing. The cheesy psychology warning at the very beginning of the title screen wasn’t a lie; it really does psychologically profiles you and “this game plays you as much as you play it.”

The whole purpose to this is so that Shattered Memories crafts an experience that is uniquely scary for different players. Your personality will have an impact on the game and will define who Harry Mason is as a person and father. An early example of how this plays out is when the character paints their house, the colors that the player uses will then be represented when the player returns to it in-game. The later examples aren’t nearly as straightforward, and players quickly learn that the game is tracking all of their movements and interactions rather than just the answers they give to their virtual psychologist.

These choices have a wide array of different effects on the game. Entire character’s looks and personality can be altered. For example, Cybil Bennett, a key character and police officer from the original, can either be a friendly officer with brown hair, an aggressive officer that wears a black police hat, or a highly sexualized officer that shows off her cleavage and blond hair despite a snow storm currently happening outside.

Everything from what the monsters look like to story beats and the ending the player receives is specific to the personality and how they play. This makes the game very replayable as demonstrating different behavior will make the game respond accordingly. Even though that first run will be more personal and organic, it’s still rewarding to replay the game and figure out what actions impact the game later on.

Shattered Memories has influenced a generation of horror games

While originally only for the Nintendo Wii, Shattered Memories eventually came out on both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. While serviceable versions of the game, they are not the ideal way to play it. Actually using the Wii remote as a flashlight feels more involved and active as it actually mirrors using a real flashlight. The motion controls also enhance the overall experience for the first-person psychologist scenes, too. Having to actually move your body to answer a yes or no question is more involved than simply moving the analog stick.

While we unfortunately never saw another Silent Hill game in the same vein as Shattered Memories, and Sam Barlow has gone off to innovate within the full-motion video realm with Her Story and Telling Lies, we have seen an entire generation of horror games that have taken cues from it. We’ve seen both Frictional Games and The Chinese Room focus on creating horror games without traditional combat, and audiences have warmed up to not having a way to fight back. The popular Outlast horror games also takes a combat-free approach, and we’ve seen other horror titles that feature foes that adapt to the player’s actions (albeit not their personality) like Alien: Isolation does with its Xenomorph.

It’s unfortunate that Konami didn’t see what an innovative title it had on its hands with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Future installments could have given Silent Hill a renewed sense of self and have kept releasing personalized horror games that are unlike anything else in gaming. Perhaps it was simply too ahead of its time or clashed with what fans expected from a Silent Hill game. Regardless, it was a triumphant success in proving that horror games don’t need to have combat and that it’s the psychological aspects that frighten players. Even though we likely won’t get a sequel or a Silent Hill game in this vein for quite some time (if ever), its influence can still be seen all over the genre and it is an easy title to appreciate in retrospect, given its bold direction.