Well, I just finished my first run through the game.
Final play time, according to the Wii dashboard: - 9h45min -
And I immediatly started a new game, which is even more heavily encouraged by the ending than I thought it would be.
I got the
There are some very strong themes told during the game, and each ending will only allude to some of them, making it even more preferable to go through the game a second or third time behaving as differently as possible.
As opposed to what others are saying, I did not feel that there was a very strong and shocking "twist" at the end; half of the "revelation" that comprises the ending I had already guessed and suspected; the other half, while not hugely surprising, was excellently told. But I do imagine that a different ending with a different theme (I'm thinking of some particular things here) as focus will have a stronger emotional impact.
Shattered Memories is without a doubt one of the best games ever made when it comes to interactive narrative that is not copying movies but does something great with the tools videogame have for storytelling. It is right up there with Silent Hill 2, Portal, Shadow of the Colossus or Half-Life 2. It might even be better than all of those in terms of playable storytelling. A unique experience that is otherwise painfully missing from modern gaming.
Gameplay-wise it is as flawed as the first three games of the series, though for different reasons. While I congratulate the developer's courage to not only remove combat altogether, but also remove any kind of threat during the exploration sequences, having finished the game I do not think this was the best of ideas. Spare, occasional encounters that can result in the player character's death during the exploration parts would not only have added length and value to the game, and made these sequences even more chilling and frightening as they are (and they are!), but it would also very much make sense in the story, and could have been easily implemented - Using the same weaponless mechanics that are found in the Nightmare sequences.
Which, by the way, I did not find frustrating, overly difficult or badly designed at all. They are very tightly designed, yet offer enough room for errors and experimentation, are immensely frightening and stressful (in a good way), look well, play well and feature the better puzzles of the game. And when you do die, the game offers fair and frequent check points. I would like to say that I understand how many reviews find fault in these sequences, but I really don't. Maybe that is because I am used to playing FPS games on the console and am a lot more comfortable with quick and precise player movement by IR pointer controls. Maybe.
My biggest and most painful gripe I have with the game is that most of the puzzles are insultingly easy, so easy that you can hardly call them puzzles at all. Most environment interactions are nicely designed variants of "Push a button to receive a key that opens a door of the room you are in." There is no inventory, there is little to no use of the in-game digital camera, there is only one puzzle that uses the shadow engine and flashlight - only one! - and three very simple puzzles that require you to input information gathered from the immediate environment into some form of input panel/tool. That's it! Wanna know what it is you do in the hospital or in the sewers other than following the path and experiencing the atmosphere and story? Nothing.
So while it is atmospheric, immersive, interesting and emotionally engaging to walk through the town of Silent Hill and uncover the story and the characters without any HUDs, Items, or text displays; while it is a unique and fascinating way of telling a story interactively, it is very difficult to call it a game. Between the nightmare sequences, there is surprisingly little that you actually do other than listening to messages on your phone, finding environmental clues and sequences, looking at and reading everything you can while listening to Harry's comments, sounds and voices from the past, and Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack and sound design. Again, I don't want to give the false impression: Doing this is absolutely great and engaging. But sometimes, maybe once an hour, you do wonder whether it is enough to carry a videogame that is nearly ten hours long.
I wished there was a sense of threat, and/or that the absence of combat would have given birth to frequent, intelligent and original puzzles and obstacles. This was not the case. It does not significally alter the fact that walking through the town watching and influencing the story unfold is a brilliant experience, but that is what Shattered Memories ultimately is: Walking and watching.
Well, except for the fact that even the little things you do change the narrative and the characters and the outcome, putting interactivity and the name game back on the table. I will not write much about the psych profiling, as it requires two playthroughs to really see where the games does what with information gathered from wherever, but I will tell you that the game summarizes it's impression of the player during the credits, and that is spooky. I played the game with my girlfriend, and let her decide what to tell the doc, how to approach the psyh profiling tasks, where to go, what to look at, etc.; and generally tried to play the way she wanted me to.
I have no idea how they did this, but the final psych profile description of the player was unsettlingly accurate. And I am not talking horoscope-building blocks that everyone can easily see him- or herself in here, I am talking about concrete information that I could, out-of-context, immediatly identify my gf with; things that everyone who knows her would very quickly point out as characteristic traits.
This is hugely impressive, and if they did such a good job at outlining the player's personality, I wonder what changes in the game will come from that?
I will have my second playthrough, this time as myself, to find that out.