"I don't look like a ghost, do I?"
In my attempts to start a review for Silent Hill: Book of Memories, I continually found myself running into mental roadblocks. Who was I playing? What was my objective? Why was the mailman also the shopkeeper? It seemed that Silent Hill's ever-present fog had seeped into my brain, warping the details I thought I had nailed down.
Book of Memories is certainly a departure for the long-running series from Konami, but any software for Sony's flagging PlayStation Vita is worthy of a look, even if you (or I) have never played a game in the series before. Would this dungeon crawler be a welcome turn into the fog or am I ready to leave Silent Hill prematurely?
Players can choose their avatar at the beginning of the game, whether they want to play as the preppy school boy or the goth chick. What you look like matters little, but depending on your aesthetic choices, you might be in line for some varying story elements. Like many SH games before, Book of Memories turns the mundane details into emotional points of contact. Hacking your way through a level is rewarded with a few beats of character development.
Of course, that's old hat for SH, and there are heaps of new franchise elements, much of which will be familiar if you've ever looted in your life. Mixing Diablo with more psychological horror elements doesn't reap many scares, notably because I felt distinctly overpowered throughout each level. Players begin each level with a blank slate, filling out the map with each new room. You'll have to clear the map in order to progress as each level ends with a puzzle, more often than not relying heavily on logic.
Book of Memories makes for a nice rhythm, even in short bursts. Most levels play out with combat, loot, exploration, and puzzles in equal measure, though it certainly feels like there's more combat than anything else. This is because the combat is monotonous. All you do is mash the square and triangle buttons to wield your left- and right-handed weapons. There aren't any combos to speak of, but players can unlock power moves in the store with their hard-earned credits.
There's no doubt that Book of Memories is better with friends, though. Hopping online or playing over ad-hoc is easy and fast, and adds a layer of extra challenge. Coordinating with your fellow hell-explorers and focusing attacks on enemies drives home a feeling of frantic survival, even on the Vita's slightly smaller screen.
In one online match, a trio of split-head canines attack my group of three. I nimbly dodged out of the way, firing my dual pistols from behind our cohort. Another player was quickly swarmed by the pack of beasts and lost health before the other male in my group could connect with his baseball bat. I knew he needed health after the encounter, but I ignored his pleas to safeguard myself for later engagements.
I'm surprised that Konami has pulled off such a Western style of gameplay with such an Eastern IP, but I won't question the decision. By all accounts, Book of Memories should be terrible. It's hardly a Silent Hill game, leaving fans to question the legitimacy of the series. But all in all, it's actually enjoyable.
If you've got a Vita, this is well worth a look, even if you're not compelled by the brand or even the gameplay. Chances are you're dying for software and you could do worse than Book of Memories. Utilizing online features and dungeon-crawling makes for a welcome spin on Konami's brand of virtual horror.