Shattered Memories is a breath of fresh air.
I have been a great fan of the series ever since I began playing the games about 6 years ago (wow has it been that long already?!) That puts me about mid-life on the franchise as a whole, but firmly before the Hot Topic popularity picked up, so I take no shame in saying that I am not a Bandwagon fan.
The very morning Shattered Memories hit shelves, I was first in line to pick up my copy. Shattered Memories is commonly referred to as a 'remake' of Silent Hill, but it is more accurately viewed as a re-imagining. The skeleton of the story is the same, Harry Mason crashes in the town of Silent Hill, and when he wakes up his daughter Cheryl is missing. In his search, he meets many familiar characters including Sybil the policewoman, Lisa the nurse, and Dahlia. Fans of the original will even recognize the significant locations: School, Mall, Hospital, Sewers, Amusement Park, Lighthouse.
That is where the similarities end, however. While the theme of the locations is the same, the layout and look is completely different. The characters have been given makeovers (in some cases more than one makeover), and the "fighting" system has been given a -complete- overhaul.
Shattered Memories was developed by Climax Studios (NOT the studio responsible for the first Silent Hill games), and appropriately has a fresh outlook on what was fast becoming a tired and cliche franchise but they have done so while remaining remarkably faithful to the fans of the series. I imagine the formula goes something like this: Survival Horror is one part psychology, one part anticipation, one part panic, and three parts unexpected. Throw in some cleverly veiled referenced to the Silent Hill universe and that should make an OK Silent Hill game.... Well in this case, Climax Studios got the formula EXACTLY RIGHT.
Imagine being chased by packs of howling, screeching, violent, abstract men who run stooped like werewolves. You can't kill them... You can only run. This is the scenario behind action sequences in Shattered Memories. Harry cannot do anything except run and try to find his way out of the hellish nightmare reality, and with the addition of gameplay mechanics such as "hiding" and looking over your shoulder, the result is an absolutely terrifying experience. I found myself dreading having to wander anywhere that I knew I would have to run.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this game is going to be the very aspect that makes it famous. A tongue-in-cheek "psychology warning" at the beginning of the game warns the player that "this game plays you as much as you play it." An ingenious in game system catalogs your play style and the choices you make, occasionally throwing in a test in the form of a therapy exercise (the games chapters are punctuated with therapy sessions in which the player must nod or shake the wiimote to converse with a psychoanalyst) all in the name of profiling you, the player. Yes, this game truly makes an effort at understanding what makes the player tick, and modifies the events within the game depending on how you play.
Fans of Silent Hill: YOU MUST PLAY THIS GAME.
Fans of Survival Horror looking for something new: YOU MUST PLAY THIS GAME
Everyone else: Even if you aren't a Silent Hill fan, or haven't played all the games you can still get the full experience out of this game. If you enjoy Survival Horror games even just a little, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is sure to go down in history as one of the greatest games in the Silent Hill Franchise. Perhaps even one of the greatest games in the genre at large.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories gets a 4.5 out of 5 for being everything I love about Silent Hill, nothing I hate about it, and a faithful re-imagining of one of the best Survival Horror games of all time.
The downsides: Far too short. Predictable enemy encounters. Not enough scares. Monotonous gameplay.
The upsides: Unique focus on running rather than fighting. Professional believable voice acting. Unique psychological profiling. Faithful non-disruptive re-imagining of the Silent Hill Mythos great for fans and newcomers alike.