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Hands-On With The Wii's New Silent Hill

A survival horror game without guns? The heck you say!

The flashlight exploration feels really natural.
The flashlight exploration feels really natural.
A couple of months ago, I gushed over the new Silent Hill reboot/remake on the Wii, Shattered Memories, after it made a big impression on me at a Konami press event. As E3 closed out last week, I got a chance to briefly play the game for myself and verified that, yes, this does look like a very interesting rethink of what Silent Hill should be. After all, how many survival horror games can you think of with no guns in them?

The game's free-form exploration--which has you pointing directly where you want to shine your flashlight with the Wii-mote--feels perfectly natural, and the real-time lighting effects look extremely good for a Wii game and are roughly on a par, I'd say, with the lighting in Doom 3-era games. (That's in terms of general fidelity, not the specific lighting tricks being used.) Harry's tendency to comment on things he has something to comment about is also a nice touch; it makes the exploration feel streamlined.

After checking out an abandoned, pitch-black building to see how these controls worked, the E3 demo jumped ahead to a combat scenario--or what passes for combat in Shattered Memories. One of the bizarre conditions afflicting the town of Silent Hill in this game is a pervasive deep freeze, where everything around you becomes suddenly and violently encased in ice. I started fleeing the ice as it spread, only to come face to face with some of Silent Hill's trademark repulsive monsters.

As mentioned, there's no gunplay in this game, so the only thing I could do--at least at this stage of the game--was flee from them. The game has a specific button for letting you look over your shoulder, which tells me you're going to be fleeing from monsters a lot, and the over-the-shoulder perspective has a good horror-movie vibe to it as you watch the beasts closing the distance on you. If they manage to grab you, the best you can do is shove them off, which you do by shoving the Wii-mote and nunchuk in the direction they're attacking you.

Like the flashlight, the defensive controls felt natural and actually tied into the frenzied panic of what was happening onscreen, which--if you'll allow me a Wii cliche--drew me a little more intimately into the action. The developers at Climax seem to be distilling what makes a survival horror game scary and focusing directly on those elements, finding ways to make the Wii's controls work for those elements rather than allowing them to be an obstacle to good, direct control.

These scenes were shown at the Konami event a few weeks ago, so I'm merely verifying for you that they play as well as I hoped they would then. But here's your brand new information about Shattered Memories, a truly unique and sort of creepy technique for personalizing your experience that I didn't expect. Essentially, the game has its eyes on you at all times, watching what you're doing and recording what sounds like an enormous array of minutiae about how you're playing. The game starts with a psych exam, which you can see a bit of in the trailer below, where the doctor asks you increasingly personal questions about your likes, dislikes, bedroom behavior, and other strange topics.

Somebody's watching you.
Somebody's watching you.
That exam is explicit, but later in the game, according to a company rep, the game will more invisibly track your every move. The sole example involved that first deserted building I was exploring. When I came to a hallway junction with a sign indicating the exits were to the left and the bathrooms to the right, the rep pointed out that the game would remember whether I went right to investigate the bathrooms or went straight to the exit. And if I did hit up the facilities, it would further remember whether I went in the men's or ladies' room first. How all this data will manifest later on the rep mostly wouldn't say, though he did let slip that your cumulative choices will determine what the monsters will look like. Presumably, the game will attempt to get inside your head, figure out what scares you the most, and then do precisely that.

Shattered Memories seems like an ambitious game, from the eschewal of standard survival-horror tropes like shooting, to the quality of the graphics the Wii is crunching here, to the application of data-mining to a psychological horror context. I really hope Climax pulls it all off; if it does, this seems like it could be one of the better third-party games from a traditional "hardcore" genre we've seen on the Wii yet.


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