Run like Hell.
There’s a bit in David Lynch’s wonk-fest Lost Highway where Bill Pullman’s character Fred sidesteps his deep-seated—and only half-conscious—fear and loathing of memories committed to camcorders: “I like to remember things my own way,” he mutters to a pair of dubious police detectives. “The way I remember them—not necessarily the way they happened.”
[image1]Cue one of the first things you see once this Wii game boots up: A jiggly, videotaped memory of a father-and-little-daughter trip to an amusement park—played, paused, re-wound and played again, over and over and over, each time focusing ever more exclusively on one single moment, as if to be examined. As if to be frozen. As if to be re-lived.
Don’t call Silent Hill: Shattered Memories a re-make, or even a ‘re-boot’ of the original Silent Hill (even though it does concern many of the same characters, and even kicks off with the same car-crash on the outskirts of town); Shattered Memories is a completely new approach to Konami’s horror franchise on multiple levels—one that proves that the Climax folks know how to craft a gripping story worthy of the Silent Hill mantle; one that makes abundant use of the Wii’s functionality without feeling lamely gimmicky…and one that that in fact does a little of its own ancillary ‘shattering,’ to the prevalent perception of the Wii as a cute, kid-friendly platform.
There is nothing “friendly” about Shattered Memories, and you probably don’t want to let a kid anywhere near it (unless you really want to screw the little snowflake up; in that case, go nuts).
Another one of the first things you’ll see is a notice screen, warning players that Shattered Memories is closely watching the choices you make both before and during the game, and adjusting the game-content accordingly (In Soviet Russia, game plays you!)
Silent Hill veterans know they’re in for something a little different straight away when they find themselves in a psychiatrist’s office, looking at the man, the walls and the tastefully-subdued décor in a first-person perspective. In his smooth, reassuring voice, he starts off by handing you a sort of psyche-profile form to fill out—literally a list of rather personal true-or-false questions about your attitudes toward family, friendship, honesty, alcohol use and even sexual intercourse (pay attention, and you’ll notice your bright, white-plastic Wii casing getting just a little dirtier).
Once those formalities are out of the way, it’s time to “go back to the beginning”…to that awful night in Silent Hill when the protagonist of the first game, Harry Mason, woke up in his crashed car to find the dented passenger door hanging open, and his daughter Cheryl’s seat ominously empty. At this point, the game assumes an over-the-shoulder perspective, and players fill Harry’s shoes, trudging through the streets of Silent Hill through the dark and the endless snow with a flashlight, calling Cheryl’s name and looking for answers.
Shattered Memories scores mood point immediately, thanks to the perfectly-natural, eerily-rendered, flashlight mechanic: Point the Wiimote as you would a flashlight, and move Harry independently of the flashlight’s direction with the stick on the nunchuck. The cone of light illuminates just enough of what you’re pointing it at, just enough to make you nervous about it. Harry’s other item is a mobile phone, an iPhone knockoff that lets him receive and make calls (sketchy coverage in Silent Hill allowing), find his way about via GPS (sketchy reality conditions in Silent Hill allowing), read and review text messages, and receive/take digital photographs (with a nice-touch, artificially-slowed, in-screen framerate—imagine the skin-crawling ways that can go wrong here, and the picture you have in your head is basically correct; that’s all I’m gonna say about that).
[image2]Between the flashlight and phone mechanics, the traditional “user interface” virtually disappears. Voices, dial tones, camera-shutter sounds and other audio actually come from the Wiimote’s tiny but capable speaker; holding the Wiimote up to your ear to hear your various “phone calls” feels as right as holding it in front of you as a flashlight. Gadget-wise, it’s a very natural, neat setup.
Good thing, too—because just one of Shattered Memories‘ many uncomfortable aspects is the fact that the game deprives you of any weapons whatsoever. No submachine gun. No pistol. No katana. no crowbar, not so much as a goddamned switchblade. When things get bad like you know they’re going to—when the other-than-human monstrosities come shambling and flopping out from behind the parked cars and school-hallway doors and whatever else—you run. You run like all the skinless abominations of Hell are right on your ass, and gaining ground…because they are (and if you need to check a map to re-orient yourself, best do it while nothing awful is happening—this is all real-time, baby; ready or not, here They come).
One of Silent Hill’s nastier aspects is the town’s habit of suddenly shifting—of changing from an already-sketchy, deserted place to a nightmarish otherworld. In many previous SH games, the shift usually involved a warbling siren, a blackout…and coming to in a hellish alternate space of darkness, rust and blood. In Shattered Memories, the terrible change comes on in real time, all around you, right before your eyes…not with rust and blood, but with ice: unnatural darkness falls like a hammer, storefronts and parked cars freeze over with translucent blocks, massive frozen walls block off points of egress, metal streetlamp poles bend, twist and shear off under the weight of massive, jagged icicles…and the gibbering, shrieking monsters appear, beeling straight for you from all directions.
Thus begin the so-named “Nightmare” portions of the game, wherein you get busy running—or you get busy dying, it’s that simple. Your goal is to run and claw your way out of the nightmare by finding the one all-important Exit…but your entire world suddenly turns into a darkened obstacle-course of ledges to clamber up, walls and fences to vault, confusing mazes of monster-filled corridors to navigate, large empty dark spaces to sprint across…and doors to crash through, in search of the one that will end it. There are monsters coming for you, and you can’t completely lose them, and you can’t kill them.
If one of the Things (or two, or three) manage to hound you into a bad corner and tackle you, or—a very bad-dream-like touch indeed—grab your foot just as you’re trying to clamber over a fence, you have to use the Wiimote and nunchuck to flail about and throw them off, only to immediately start running for your life again. The frantic, over-the-shoulder camera and the unhinging audio work of Evil Sound Wizard™ Yamaoka Akira combine to give these run-or-die segments the authentic feel of a heart-pounding nightmare. You’ve got the occasional flare, the light of which will leave nearby abominations cowering in terror…but it won’t last. You’ve got closets to hide in, hoping the monstrosities will pass you by…but eventually, they’ll come for you, and you’ll see their approach in dreadful first-person. Better to die on your running feet, giving them little but ass and elbows to work with.
[image3]All the while, the game is weighing the psyche-profile answers you originally gave, and watching your decisions throughout the game (even to the point of taking into account what you spend your time looking at)…and those first-person stints in the psychiatrist’s chair scattered throughout the game like milestones become a little more intense, a little more intrusive, a little less-friendly than the ones before; your personality and individual decisions can skew the game into very different cinematics, conversations, revelations and even entirely new areas, practically demanding that the game be played multiple times for the series’ trademark multiple endings.
Silent Hill is decidedly on the brief side, and you may well blow through your first game in six or seven hours—it falls short of what Silent Hill fans have come to expect… but then again, it makes replaying the game for the different endings that much more feasible. Another drag on the game’s overall appeal for some gamers is that the Nightmare sequences, as intense as they are, can start to feel like the same thing, over and over again; they’re really the only instances of out-and-out “Monsters” to be found in the game, and the notion of traditional Bosses is absent entirely. Consider it a down-payment on a deep, brilliantly-executed story (with, on the whole, solid voice-acting) that can only be fully appreciated once you’ve completed the game at least once.
READER NOTE: Play this game alone, and in the dark—I find it kind of weird to even have to tell anybody this, but here we are (for an added mood bonus, I suppose you could even play the game with your back to a open door leading to a darkened side yard, long hallway, or garage… but it doesn’t sound like a good idea).
The real hell of reviewing Shattered Memories is that there are some whopper surprises, revelations and brilliant moments that us reviewers simply daren’t spoil, under penalty of… I don’t know, maybe winding up in Silent Hill ourselves. Between you, me and the god-awful thing that’s about to come scrabbling over that frozen fence, it just doesn’t seem worth taking the chance. I’m sure as hell not going to.