drrandle's Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii) review

A little game with big, well executed ideas.

"She's 7, short black hair." 
Silent Hill has lost a lot of favor with most fans in recent years. Silent Hill 4 divided the fan base up, with people liking it taking a vast minority. Silent Hill 0rigins was released with little fanfare, despite being a perfectly sound title. Homecoming was a damned train wreck of a game that didn't have a single original thought in it's head. (Not that I'm making my feelings on these games to obvious...)  Shattered Memories comes to us from Climax, and is a breath of fresh (albeit cold) air into the lungs of Wii games, the Silent Hill franchise, and the survival-horror genre all at once.
 
Above all any Silent Hill game is about the story, and Shattered Memories puts a spin on the classic tale that started it all. It's the familiar story of Harry Mason searching the dreadful town of Silent Hill for his daughter Cheryl, but this isn't a step-by-step remake. The names and faces have changed (and will continue to throughout the game and subsequent replays) The famous "Dark Side" segments instead show the town being encompassed by ice (in a technically impressive real-time conversion).
 
I can't really go on about the story for two reasons. The first is purely technical: things change a lot in this game between playthroughs. Climax has built in a "Pscyh profiling" mechanic into Silent Hill. Between the way you answer your evaluations in the doctors office (which are cut-away segment that breaks up each "chapter" of the story) and tiny nuances in the way you handle yourself in the game (Are you searching every bathroom (do you look at pictures of  hot ladies on the wall?), Silent Hill will warp the world and the story to fit your actions. So for your first playthrough, I recommend that you take it seriously and don't dick the game around. Be honest to both yourself and Silent Hill. It will be more rewarding that way. The second reason is that any attempt to show why the story is so great would ruin that great moment for you. So you just need to trust me. It's damn good. 
  
 This wasn't MY Cybil...
The original Silent Hill team learned how to use the technical limitations of the Playstation Uno to craft an interesting world. Limited draw distance became a suffocating fog or all-encompassing darkness. Fitting, then, that Climax chose the Wii, the most technically limited hardware of the generation, for it's newest title. What impresses me isn't that this is a good looking game on Wii, but that it's a damn great looking game that boasts extraordinary details that most 360 games don't have. Almost every sign, book, and picture in the game is a clear and readable texture, where in most games these details are left as dull or muddy.. Aside from that, Shattered Memories has one of the most brilliant lighting engines I've ever seen. (Which is of little surprise as they managed to squeeze out a fairly impressive lighting system on the PSP in 0rigins). On the Wii they've managed to pump out a shadow engine more detailed and responsive than on most games on other consoles. It's clear that Climax is working on a smaller budget, but has a lot of technical know-how. They're a studio to reckon with. On a side note, the lip-synch in this game is brilliant, and comparable to Valve's work in the Half Life series.
 
If there's anything else Shattered Memories does right, it's drag you into the world. This is what a Wii game is supposed to do: pull you into a highly interactive world with motion controls, not make you waggle to attack your foes. You navigate Harry with the nunchuk, while using the Wii remote's IR to guide his flashlight around. Using this you can quickly and easily navigate the corridors of buildings, looking over every inch for clues and puzzles. Honestly, some Silent Hill fans will be turned off by the lack of the series' trademark abstract puzzles. For the most part, they're puzzles that revolve around manipulating items with the wii-mote. One of the best examples of this is an area where you need a key to progress, and it appears to be hidden in one of three cans. You simply grab the can by holding A and B together, shake it around, and if your Wii-mote speaker rattles, tip the can upside down to get your key. Simple, but interesting. The game also replaces document-hunting from older survival-horror games in favor of a camera-phone that can take pictures of "ghosts" and receive messages that are echoes from the past. It's very immersive, much more logical, and still creepy as hell.
 
Another great use of the Wii Remote is in the lack of combat Silent Hill provides. When the ice world cometh and the monsters crawl out to play, all you can do is run like hell to your exit through a cold maze. Finally someone decides that since they can't make a Silent Hill game with good combat, to just skip over it all and make the game more gripping, and also avoiding the "too actiony" pitfall that Resident Evil sank into. Along the way you're bound to be jumped on by a monster or two, in which case you have to throw them off by gesturing with the Wii-mote and nunchuk. Doing so seems gimmicky and stupid in theory, at least through the eyes of a jaded Wii player, but in the end it fits the hectic struggle better than one might think. And maybe it's not meant to, but it seems like your gestures don't always work, and that you have to struggle more to get the beastie off of you. Whether a purposeful design choice, or an accidental oversight, it's a bonus in the end because it immerses you into struggling your way through encounter, and no, you're not going to shake off an attacker with just one clean sweep. Shattered Memories also makes great use of the speaker, as it mimics Harry's in-game cell-phone for any of the numerous phone-calls you might be making.
 
Shattered Memories isn't without it's technical shortcomings, but compared to what you get, I wouldn't call them problems. Most the time you open a door into another room (especially during the ice-maze sequences), you get some sudden framerate chug. You'll also get a small framerate drop during larger areas, but for the most part the game actually runs at a very solid framerate, I'd estimate it about 40 fps. It's more of a larger contrast than a real problem. It's also incredibly short, maybe 6 or 7 hours, but it has a lot of replayability when you start to learn how to manipulate the mechanics to alter the game.
 
It may be short, but Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has so much going for it that it needs to be experienced. It's easily one of the best games on Wii, and one of the best games to have come out in recent memory on any system. It's perfectly tailored to it's console, it's technically impressive, and it has an intentionally and intelligently confusing story that all ties together nicely. Climax has done an amazing job reminding me why I fell in love with Silent Hill all those years ago.  (Note: endings may vary, and there may be better ones than others, but mine was really damn good.) 

The psychiatrist
Fun Fact: The Psychiatrist is voiced by the same guy who voices Kel'Thuzad and The Lich King. Try and trust him now.
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Other reviews for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)

    Shattered Memories: A Spectacle for the Wii 0

    In its own idiosyncratic ways, I see Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as doing something similar for its respective series like what Resident Evil 4 did nearly six years ago as well. I'm doubtful that it'll trigger as widespread of a revolution outside its franchise as the GameCube action-horror game managed, but just look at a screenshot or watch a video and it becomes pretty apparent that it's taking the series in a direction that's certainly new for it, but not without also being prone to trig...

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