A Belated Look at Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Posted by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -

The reason it's so belated is that this game is impossible to find in Australia, so I had to order it in from the UK. Nevertheless, here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the game so if you haven't played it consider yourself warned: I will put a warning when I get into the events of the game's storyline.
    
The brilliance of  Shattered Memories is that it incorporates into the gameplay one of the underlying influences of the Silent Hill series, namely its debt to psychoanalysis. As the player character, one is psychoanalysed throughout the game: it monitors the player's responses to questions given by the psychologist and interactions with the world during gameplay. Based on how the game 'perceives' the players psychological inclination, it alters the environment, monster designs, and characters accordingly.  For instance, a psychologist asks the player probing questions concerning one's atitutdes towards family, sexuality, alcohol use, and sociability. I've not seen such a direct incorporation of the player's self into a game since Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid, which is a shallow gimmick compared to how it's used here.
 
 It also appropriates another core aspect of the Silent Hill series, ontological confusion or the inability to separate psychological from physical reality, to structure its narrative. In this respect they remind me of David Lynch's films, especially Lost Highway.  However, instead of hellish, grimy, industrial settings, Harry Mason is placed in an eerily frozen world inhabited by "monsters from the id." These sequences are effective emotionally and tonally, creating a sense of fear and helplessness as the player can do nothing to combat them.                            (>>>>>SPOILERS, do not read on if you have not played the game<<<<).         
 

 
Im summation, I think they've revitalised the franchise and shown that the horror genre can still profitably be pursued in a more psychological direction. The game is probably too sophisticated in its handling of themes and its subject matter to make a serious impact on the industry, but I hope others will follow its example. In comparison, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a fairly faithful and playable tribute to the core SH series, but is too slavish to the formula without offering anything significantly new (at least from what I've played). For those that've stayed with me, how did you feel about Shattered Memories, the other more recent SH games, or the prospects of survival horror generally?
#1 Edited by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -

The reason it's so belated is that this game is impossible to find in Australia, so I had to order it in from the UK. Nevertheless, here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the game so if you haven't played it consider yourself warned: I will put a warning when I get into the events of the game's storyline.
    
The brilliance of  Shattered Memories is that it incorporates into the gameplay one of the underlying influences of the Silent Hill series, namely its debt to psychoanalysis. As the player character, one is psychoanalysed throughout the game: it monitors the player's responses to questions given by the psychologist and interactions with the world during gameplay. Based on how the game 'perceives' the players psychological inclination, it alters the environment, monster designs, and characters accordingly.  For instance, a psychologist asks the player probing questions concerning one's atitutdes towards family, sexuality, alcohol use, and sociability. I've not seen such a direct incorporation of the player's self into a game since Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid, which is a shallow gimmick compared to how it's used here.
 
 It also appropriates another core aspect of the Silent Hill series, ontological confusion or the inability to separate psychological from physical reality, to structure its narrative. In this respect they remind me of David Lynch's films, especially Lost Highway.  However, instead of hellish, grimy, industrial settings, Harry Mason is placed in an eerily frozen world inhabited by "monsters from the id." These sequences are effective emotionally and tonally, creating a sense of fear and helplessness as the player can do nothing to combat them.                            (>>>>>SPOILERS, do not read on if you have not played the game<<<<).         
 

 
Im summation, I think they've revitalised the franchise and shown that the horror genre can still profitably be pursued in a more psychological direction. The game is probably too sophisticated in its handling of themes and its subject matter to make a serious impact on the industry, but I hope others will follow its example. In comparison, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a fairly faithful and playable tribute to the core SH series, but is too slavish to the formula without offering anything significantly new (at least from what I've played). For those that've stayed with me, how did you feel about Shattered Memories, the other more recent SH games, or the prospects of survival horror generally?
#2 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

I like how you use a spoiler tag and then go on spoilering the hell out of the game without tags.
 
Anyway, yeah. My personal GOTY 2009. Clever approach, realized in a clever way, interactive visual storytelling at it's best, with interactivity used as a storytelling device, as it should be with all videogames. Very well-paced, beautiful game that demands several playthroughs and is a worthy successor of the first two Silent Hill games.

#3 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4282 posts) -

Shattered Memories was, in my opinion, the true Silent Hill 4. Climax took what made Silent Hill work, discarded what didn't, and then crafted a memorable, mind-bending experience around that. They also went another ten miles with the sheer level of interactivity of Shattered Memories, and it was brilliant. 
  
It's a real damn shame that Climax will probably never get another crack at Silent Hill. Definitely GOTY 2009 for me.

#4 Edited by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -
@Meowayne: I did put a large warning to let the reader know where spoiler country began. But out of consideration I decided to tag over the most explicit summary of the ending as it was pretty close to the warning for those people who have a perversely wandering gaze. But you're right, it could've been misinterpreted and led to someone reading on after the tag.
In any case, I'm in agreement with your contention that the plot twist, and the explicit narrative as such, is not particularly revelatory. Personally, I admired much more the attention to detail that went into the environments and smaller fragments of narrative, especially the way it can morph around the psyche of the player.
#5 Posted by Jazz (2046 posts) -

.....told ya.

#6 Posted by Icemael (6271 posts) -

I've been thinking about getting this game, but I'm not convinced. You spend an entire paragraph talking about the psychoanalysis aspect of the game, but you don't really say anything about it, if you get what I mean. The environments, monsters and characters change, and that's cool -- but how does that affect your experience? If the game can figure out what scares me and then use it to scare me, it'll be my very next purchase, but all the psychoanalysis stuff I've seen -- stuff like sexy cop/non-sexy cop and the colour of your house -- seems completely meaningless. And it seems to me that the whole "enemies only appear when the world freezes over, and all they do is chase you" thing would completely kill the chance of any actual scares.

#7 Edited by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -
@Icemael:  How the game changes depends on the kind of responses you give - but it will change based on your answers to the psychologist's questions and the things that you focus on in the environment. It'll change the environment's appearance, the appearance of the monsters, the way characters behave, and so on. For the most part, the things that are changed are superficial, but effective nonetheless. Like for instance, in my playthrough the monsters became increasingly sexualised or distorted (holes in their bodies, chopped-up appearance), the environment tended to become more damaged or bloodstained, etc. It contributes to the mood and draws the player into the game more. It's imprecise of course, but the game did give a profile of me at the end that was reasonably accurate. It becomes a kind of environmental storytelling that is responsive what the player does.
The other way that it incorporates psychoanalysis is on a gameplay level: you interact with a psychologist, and that brings into the game explicitly what was only a subtext in previous Silent Hill games, namely that we're dealing with the relationship between psychological and 'actual' reality. The way that it ties into the gameplay experience itself is very clever and hasn't been seen before.
 
Anyway, I'm not sure if I should recommend the game to you or not. It's not mechanically perfect or exceptional: what is memorable about the game is its imagery, a well-executed interactive storyline, and the novelty of the concept. Gameplay-wise I think it can become repetitive and seemingly pointless; there are some reviews around on the net that make that argument. But if you prioritise the things it does well over anything else (as I do), then I would recommend it unreservedly .  And also what the game does has its value in relation to how it alters the Silent Hill formula and expands it in a new direction, which might not matter if you aren't already enamoured with the series.
 
@Jazz: Hey Jazz, long time no see. So you've played through SIlent Hill: SM? What did you think about it?
#8 Posted by Jazz (2046 posts) -
@owl_of_minerva:  
GOTY for me last year. It reinvigorated my love of videogames as more than just time wasters. The whole narrative of  Shattered Memories is pure genius and it's a shame that very few people will ever play it...mostly due to the lack of combat, which i think is the best thing about the game. I really would love to see Silent Hill 2 get the same treatment. 
#9 Edited by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

@Icemael
 
The game is not particularly scary. Do not play it if you want a scare-me-game. That is not where Shattered Memories shines. It is much more a moody adventure thriller than it is a survival horror game.
 
As for the psychoanalysis part, let me put it this way: (Mild spoilers) Towards the end of the game, you find out who one of the game's characters "truly" is. You find out who he/she truly is and what that means for another character. What the personality of this character ends up being depends on how you play and all of these changes run into this particular theme. So no - the game does not use the knowledge it obtains about you to scare you. It merely incorporates the things it gets to know about you into the environment to confront you with (that is what psychoanalysis is), whether or not you are comfortable with it. There are several dozens of different ending sequence combinations depending on what the game thinks is your personal fitting relationship between these two characters.
 
 
An example that goes beyond the often cited costume and color changes is this: There is a room towards the end of the first third of the game that belongs to a hunter and his son. Depending on how much you care or pay attention to the information about these two, the interior and mood of this room will change. Depending on whether or not you, as a player, tend to look other characters in the eyes during conversation or not, the first thing in this room that you see when you open the door may or may not be a huge, dead, stuffed, bloody bear with a wide open mouth staring directly at you.
Another example is the death of a character later in the game. Depending on what the game thinks of you, it will either try to make you feel you were responsible for this death or it won't. 
 
Know how in Silent Hill 2, your protectiveness of Maria and how often you look at Mary's letter influences the ending that you get? Shattered Memories is that, only it does that constantly and everywhere. 

So the psychoanalysis is not used for scares, but for mood. You certainly need 2+ playthroughs (preferably one with a different person making choices) to notice just how much the game changes everywhere. But it absolutely is more about mood and story and tension than it is about scares.
 
You could also check out me review/blog about the game on my profile.

#10 Posted by Icemael (6271 posts) -
@owl_of_minerva: @Meowayne: I still think the psychoanalysis business seems kind of shallow and superficial, but you've convinced me to at least check the game out for myself.
#11 Edited by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

A look into your blog reveals an absolute and obvious disliking towards non-explicit, visual or interactive storytelling*. You won't like Shattered Memories.
 
*or rather, the unability to find enough enjoyment in games that do not manage to back up their narrative with modern gameplay

#12 Posted by jonnyboy (2920 posts) -

Hadn't played a SH game since the first one, that said it was easily my Wii game of the year for 2009. Not that it had a ton of competition though. Desperately tried to get all my friends to play it but to be met with a chorus of "Nah I prefer Resident Evil". Their loss.

#13 Posted by Icemael (6271 posts) -
@Meowayne: I dislike poorly executed visual, interactive storytelling.
#14 Posted by owl_of_minerva (1455 posts) -
@jonnyboy: I would recommend Silent Hill 2: 3 and 4 are more divisive but also have their merits. Resident Evil comes off badly in comparison, except for the amazing #4.

 @Icemael:  What would you consider good examples of interactive storytelling, out of curiosity?
#15 Edited by Icemael (6271 posts) -
@owl_of_minerva: I don't think there are any I'd consider good, actually. Odin Sphere's story emotionally affected me (partly) because of the interactive parts, but all the actual storytelling was done in cutscenes (the interactive parts were just combat), and I don't think the effect the game had on me was intentional. I do like the fact that Dead Space, Half-Life 2 and others let you retain control of your character at all times, but really, that doesn't make the storytelling better -- it just heightens immersion.

The best use I've seen of interactivity in storytelling is probably Persona 4. The fact that the S. Links are voluntary and contain minor interactivity makes it much easier to connect with the characters than it would've been in regular cutscenes. Most of the "choices" are fake and don't actually affect the events of the S. Links, but they give you a feeling that you're there (whereas in film -- most film, at least -- you feel like an external observer; like a god looking down at Earth for entertainment, watching people and events that don't really concern you).

So yeah. That's one game. Or, to be more accurate: one game's optional side-"quests". The main plot is kind of rubbish.

@Meowayne

said:

*or rather, the unability to find enough enjoyment in games that do not manage to back up their narrative with modern gameplay "

That's not true at all. The Project Zero games, for example, are anything but mechanically modern, and I love the shit out of those. And while I find Odin Sphere to be a piss-poor beat 'em up and don't plan to ever finish it, I still absolutely love its stories and the way they intertwine, and think it's miles ahead of the rest of the industry in terms of narrative.

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