Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Review: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

In this day and age, there are literally hundreds of re-makes of games. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that someone would want to re-make the original Silent Hill, a series that has sold millions over 12 years with 6 games and a movie. However, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a remake in name only, sharing only the names of characters and first few seconds of introduction with the original Silent Hill.

The game starts off with an incredibly ominous video of an un named young girl and her father going for a day trip to a theme park. Showing a perfect world just begging to be ruined by some horrible tragedy, the video even ends with the girl exclaiming, “I love my Daddy!” After this, the game briefly asks you a few basic and incredibly personal questions justified as a psychological examination, questions such as “Have you ever enjoyed role play during sex?” After this introduction, the actual game begins.

You play as Harry Mason, a father who wakes up after a car crash, in the middle of a snow storm and finds his seven year old daughter Cheryl nowhere to be found. As he goes through the town of Silent Hill, he finds strange things happening around the area, most buildings appear to be abandoned and then there are times where the entire town turns to ice and strange monsters chase after him.

Game play usually follows one of two types, exploring and running. Exploration is more the meat of the game, you walk along the path that is pretty much set for you, solving puzzles and interacting with objects to get through each section and using your torch to examine the finer details of the town. The game apparently takes note of all the little details even down to what order you visit rooms, it then uses this information to change the surroundings of the game in an attempt to creep you out by having a tailor made horror. It's also in these sections that you make the most use of the in game mobile phone. With this, you can make calls to characters, check the map and your objectives. It's also through this that you will recive strange text and voice mail messages at certain times which add to the mystery of the town and help to flesh out the back story.

Running sections involve you being chased around the town by some creepy screaming monsters that want to smother you in their numbers, there are no weapons in the game, so they can’t be killed, only held off by knocking over things behind you or throwing them off if they manage to grab you. These sections are clearly marked out by the environment completely changing to a frozen blue wasteland, with the entire town morphing into ruins. The running sections, while providing some very tense moments for me, often feel like the game is just trying to scare you for the sake of it. They are never really justified in the story, but they do provide a much needed change in pace to a game that would probably feel quite boring without them. At times, these sections are interspersed with more psychological examinations. These usually involve brief mini-games such as one where you are told to separate a bunch of pictures between pictures of dead people and pictures of sleeping, how you answer impacts what happens in the rest of the game.

Graphically, the game is absolutely stunning, every character has the details and features one might expect from a 360 or PS3 game. This game clearly pushes the PS2’s hardware though it can show in some places. I did get the occasional hitch or loading screen while playing but nothing major that made me want to stop playing. It is worth noting however, that when the world changes and turns to ice, it happens in real time, no FMVs or off screen transformations. You see ice form and buildings deform in front of your eyes, which when you consider what you are playing on, is amazing.
The story is told brilliantly, many elements are implied and left for the player to interpret. Nothing is really explained until the end, the strange goings on, the weird text messages and voice mails and the psychiatry sessions in-between each act. While most questions are answered by the end, there are still lingering threads and a big twist that will leave you thinking for a long time after playing. That should not be seen as a negative, the game will certainly have a lasting effect on you, should you see it through to the end.

However, this game is by no means perfect. The game play can get a little formulaic and stale. Towards the end, I found myself starting to hate the running sections purely because I wanted to see more of the town rather than run through monsters. The idea of transforming the world also gives off the impression that I am being told, “This is where you must be scared, go on, be scared!” when I just felt bored. They manage to change this up slightly in the final hours of the game but the same tactic of “Just run forward” still holds true.

The game also makes no bones about being obvious it was made for the Wii. Interacting with objects involves moving a cursor around the screen and moving parts around, like unzipping a coat or turning the knob on a safe. You also hear garbled sounds on occasion which sound designed to come out of the Wii remote’s small speaker. It is very clear that the PS2 was not the intended platform for this game.
The voice acting can be a little off at times too. Lines are sometimes delivered a little flat but overall, the acting is just as good as what is needed, nothing amazing or Oscar worthy but it does the job well.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a great game and probably one of the last major games to be released for the PS2. While it does have its flaws, it’s certainly a game that should not be overlooked by any means. If you don’t have a Wii and your PS2 has a lot of dust gathering on it, it would certainly be worth your while to fire this game up and show your PS2 some love. However, the best experience is to be had on the Wii, this game was clearly designed with motion controls and a controller speaker in mind and while the PS2 version tries to overcome this, it can’t beat something the game was designed for.


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