Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Preview

And I have still other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain.

If good horror movies—and by extension, games—are supposed to disarm us by taking away the hopeful, the helpful, and the familiar, then Konami’s forthcoming Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is off to a damn good start. It’s developed by Climax, the folks who gave us Silent Hill Origins, and they’re knocking holes in walls again. No more scads of on-screen text—no interface, for that matter. No tried-and-true “good” or “bad” plot-pathing. No ‘helpful’, cryptic little notes, journals, and news clippings littered all about that place. No overt gore, even—just wall-to-wall creeps, alternating with immediate, right-on-your-ass danger. No radio, either. And no weapons. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that it’s all on the innocent, white, oh-so-family-friendly Wii.

[image1]Wait, what? No weapons? What the fuck?… Wait, what? On the Wii? What the f… Okay, let’s back up. Let’s start this over.

That beloved WTF element has always been the best—indeed the defining— aspect of the Silent Hill series to date (“WTF is going on here, and WTF is that thing, and OH GOD IT’S COMING THIS WAY!!!”). Meanwhile, “let’s start this over” seems to be one of the design mantras behind Shattered Memories, which not only looks like a promising addition to the Silent Hill line, but the most promising title currently in the works for the Wii—and in the Konami lineup, period. It’s a thorough re-imagining, rather than a ‘re-make’, starting right from the original Silent Hill… sort of.

Yes, you’re still Harry Mason, devoted if somewhat clueless father. Yes, you’ve crashed your car; yes, your daughter’s gone missing into the fog and snow-shrouded town of Silent Hill; and yes, you go blundering after her—this is a horror game, after all. And then things start getting weird.

Prying out development details on Shattered Memories is a little like prying buried secrets from a resistant therapy patient… and that’s a very right thing in Silent Hill’s very, very wrong world. We know that the story is framed within the idea that an understandably-disturbed Harry Mason is going over his own recollection of just what happened—or didn’t—that first terrible night in Silent Hill. Kinda gives ‘re-imagining’ a whole new meaning, for starters. (More on this in a bit.)

[image2]For, um, seconders, Harry Mason’s gotten on board with the whole hip, new iPhone thing (that old crackly radio was getting a little embarassing, anyway). His all-in-one helpful gizmo lets him make and receive calls (of course, coverage is always a little sketchy in Silent Hill), take and receive pictures (with a nice-touch, artificially-slowed, in-screen framerate—and just imagine all the skin-crawling ways that can go wrong here)… and, of course, it gets a lot of static to herald the gibbering, flopping approach of some god-awful thing from out of the fog. In a cool and perfectly logical immersive touch, you’ll get those unhelpful, static-drowned 911 operators and creepy messages from your daughter over the Wii-mote’s tiny but crisp little speaker—perhaps the last warning you’ll get before something truly ghastly shows up in your vicinity. Good thing the little gadget does so much, because beyond your wits, it’s pretty much the only ‘weapon’ you’ll have.

Except the old-standby flashlight, that is. From what we saw at the recent Konami Editor’s Day in San Francisco, the effect of the flashlight crawls across your skin almost as effectively as it does across the surrounding environments, and must be seen in action to be truly appreciated. Better still (or worse, we’re still working this out), the flashlight can (and occasionally must) be used independently of Harry’s movement… which means, there’s a lot of hauling ass in one direction, while pointing the flashlight directly behind you—so as to get a nice, juicy, terrifying, shadow-throwing look at the abomination that’s scrabbling just behind you.

Another stylish and very troubling element shines when the moment inevitably arrives—as we all know it must—when Silent Hill begins to change around the player, dramtically and usually for the worse. From what we’ve seen, the disturbing alterations happen in real time, right before your eyes: The environments change, distort, frost over with ice—not blood or rust, from what we’ve gathered, but ice. You know what Dante said about the parka department down there in circle nine.

Speaking of changes, there’s yet another aspect that the designers are being very tight-lipped about—and it has to do with personal choices. Essentially, the game is carefully scrutinizing your actions, choices, and (apparent) attitudes. Since there’s no ‘interface’ per se, players will need to watch for small-scale changes in environmental detail as they progress through the game—the way buildings look, the details that surface, or don’t, in phone-pictures taken or received, perhaps even the on the signage about the town.

[image3](Reader note: This automatically makes me think of the ‘training’ offered to serious students of lucid dreaming—the automatic ‘reality-checks’ one can make to determine if one is dreaming or awake, which often invovles ambient lighting or the text on nearby sign. The idea is that if the green, lighted signs above your head says "No Smoking" the first time you look at it, and "YOG SOTHOTH RULES or INFANTICIDE" the next, you may want to seriously consider waking up before something really nasty happens. Just my thoughts, here, not Climax’s or Konami’s… but snacks for thought, nonetheless).

Meanwhile, it all comes back to some promising directions: Total dramatic immersion, fear and unease over needless gore—and constant vulnerability and tension. With no weapon to your name but a jazzed-up iClone, you don’t get macho when the Bad Things show up. You run. You run your ass off. You evade, dodge, look for the next environmental clue and clamber over the occasional obstacle in your flight, or you die. Sometimes you clamber over the occasional obstacle—and the Bad Thing behind you grabs your left Nike at the last minute, and you die anyway.

How long, and in what condition, would most of us ‘really’ last in Silent Hill, anyway? You think about that. We’ll give you our full answer when Silent Hill: Shattered Memories ships later this year.

Pleasant dreams. Read all the signs carefully.