Tara Voelker's thoughts. A lot about video games, a little about life
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories – A Brief Look
from a more optimistic Tara
Last April, I expressed my fears about Konami and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. I had hoped that by setting my expectations low that I would be pleased by whatever the results happened to be. Well, I’ve spent some time sifting through everything I could find about the game being released October 13th, and I was really surprised to be really liking everything that I saw.
I’d first like to show you a trailer, just a little teaser that was released to us last May…
I was originally having a lot of doubt about this game because they kept calling it an “re-imagining” of the first Silent Hill. I wasn’t sure what they meant, or what to think. When you play through the game a lot of key pieces start out the same. You’re Harry Mason, and you’ve just wrecked your car in Silent Hill. You wake up to see the world around you covered in a thick snow, blocking your visibility. Groggy and dazed, you turn to the right to see your daughter, Cheryl, is missing. You leave you crashed car and start looking around town… but not only is your daughter no where to be seen, but no one else is either. Finally, you stumble into a diner where you begin to speak with a lady cop… something’s wrong with the town…. Sound familiar? It should. It’s a lot like the original story. Although it starts out similar, everyone kept stressing it wasn’t just a normal remake. As I watched the game play videos, it felt different. I think now I’m not only starting to understand what they meant, but really like this idea despite my initial fear.
(There’s a lot to read here so if you’re just interested in game play videos skip to the end 🙂 )
I think that first thing that made me worry about this title was the fact that it was on the Wii. Although I was worried about it being watered down for the kiddies, I was horrified at the idea of flailing my arms around while attempting to explore Silent Hill. Thankfully, I haven’t read anything bad about the controls yet, and actually it’s the contrary. Everything I have seen has been very positive. You move Harry around by using the nun-chuck analog stick, pressing Z to run, and C to quick turn. The flash light is aimed is done moving the Wiimote. A is used as your standard action button. Finally, the D-Pad is used to navigate your cell phone. From what I can tell, in addition to feeling in my gut, the controls will be easy to use and natural. I think that it’s going to be like the Wii Version of Resident Evil 4. Yeah, you used the Wiimote to aim, but you weren’t doing any extreme movements, just flicks of the wrist. It was all smooth. From all game play videos I’ve seen, no one has seemed to be fumbling or having issues getting the controls to respond as they wanted. I really felt better after seeing the controls weren’t going to be wonky, and it really let me look deeper into Shattered Memories with a new found optimism.
There are a few things that have become Silent Hill staples, such as amazing music by Akira Yamaoka. There isn’t a Silent Hill title that doesn’t have beautiful melancholy under tones or a huge music fan base. You would think that by now Akira wouldn’t be able to keep coming up with new and amazing pieces, but he does. While watching the game play footage (shown below), we see some of the lonely, sad and beautiful piano music he is known for. I’ve read that this game also spans the full length of his talent, including the heavy hearted piano pieces to the crushing industrial sounds that plague Silent Hill. Once again, it looks like we have another amazing soundtrack on our hands.
One of my favorite things to hear about this game is the Konami has stressed that they wanted to return back to the feeling of the original Silent Hill games… more solitude, more fear, less action. Silent Hill was a psychological thriller, made to play on your emotions and the fear of being alone, lost, and out of control. A lot of the intensity from Silent Hill stemmed from trying to deal with being only a normal person against a larger than life enemy, more than a person… the entire world. Of course the creatures were always a large part of that, and now we have new and equally frightening beasts to encounter. The enemies in Silent Hill out number Harry, can go any where he can, and are extremely intelligent and dynamic. They work together, they can open doors. It’s horrifying. To ensure that the player constantly felt like he was struggling, constantly in fear… Komani did something sort of radical… they took weapons away from Harry. When questioned about it, lead designer Sam Barlow had this to say:
“Hitchcock said that all horror goes back to childhood, that’s why it’s a universal thing — it’s a fundamental. How many children wake up screaming because they had a dream where they beat up a zombie with a baseball bat? You wake up screaming because you ran and you got caught. So don’t get caught — run.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a direct response to people completely punching their way through Silent Hill: Origins and the mixed feeling about melee combos in Homecoming. Either way, I’m interested to see how it works. From the game play it looks like you have to out smart them, running, taking allies in attempt to flee, jumping fences, and hiding in lockers. I like the idea and I hope that it’s executed nicely.
Along with trying to keep the feeling of the original Silent Hill, there was definite attempt to make Shatter as immersive as possible. It can be easily be seen in the tweaks they made to the game play. Not having any HUD elements has always been a staple of Silent Hill games, but this time they took it one step further. They wanted the player to have a map, as usual, but didn’t want to make the player be taken away from the game to see it. To solve their dilemma, they introduced the cell phone (which is very iPhone-esque) which has a GPS feature. The player can access their phone at any time to use it. They can also make calls, receive text messages, take pictures, and receives voice messages. To further surround the player with the Silent Hill environment, no information will be given to the player by walking up to something, pressing action, and having text appear about the object anymore. This means no more diaries or books left behind for you to read. Instead, everything comes in the form of voice mails or Harry speaking. If there is something you would like to know more about, you take a close look at the object and if Harry is thinking something about it he will say it, or if it has writing he will read it aloud. It sounds a little odd when I try to explain it, but it’s actually a lot nicer than it sounds. Take a look at the game play video below and you can really see it.
I think the largest change they have made to the game is the fact the the “game plays you as much as you play it.” It sounds a little confusing, but it’s a cool idea. When you first start playing the Shattered Memories, you start out in a therapist office, and are asked to fill out a short questionnaire with true/false questions like “I make friends easily” and “Having a drink helps me relax.” From the moment you start checking those boxes, the game starts developing a profile on you, a psych profile. The game watches your every move, straight down to the items that you look at and uses it to create the perfect nightmare for you. For example, when you first start the game you wander into a room that has both a phone and a pin up girl calendar. Which would you look at? If you walk up to the phone with the intent of calling home or 911 to find your daughter, the game might begin to label you as practical. It would then bring you to the dinner, and lead you to the cop, as its something you would probably try doing. Then, the cop doesn’t want to help you… your practical choice has turned against you. You’re now forced to think of non-practical solutions… you’re out of your comfort zone. It’s a little more complex than that, but you get the idea. Shattered Memories changes the environment to custom tailor your nightmare, and make it more creepy for you.
Did you see in 0:37 of the video when the screen quickly flashed? That’s the other person you could meet at the diner based on your choices.
So like I said, I’m feeling a lot better about this game than I originally was, mostly due to the game play footage I’ve seen. So to wrap this up, here is footage from the beginning of the game up through the diner. The only thing that isn’t awesome about these videos is it doesn’t have any of the noises that come out of the wiimote… so radio static, voice mails, phone calls… that sort of thing. Other than that it’s great though. Enjoy. (Oh, and for those of you who want to skip straight to dark Silent Hill- video 3 about 40 seconds in.)