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Silent Hill Reborn On The Wii With Shattered Memories

Konami and Climax are giving the classic psychological horror series a from-the-ground-up makeover with motion controls that appear to really make sense.

Yep, still creepy.
Yep, still creepy.
I try not to give in to hyperbole when writing about games, especially ones that were shown to me under carefully controlled conditions by the people who make the games. That said, the new Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii looks like it might make the best use yet of the platform's unique controls. Most "hardcore" games on the Wii tack motion controls on top of existing designs; Shattered Memories, by contrast, looks like it's being designed around them.

Konami's sales pitch for this "reimagining" of the first Silent Hill game goes something like this: Like in the original, you're still Harry Mason, you're still getting your bearings after a car crash, and you're still looking for your daughter Cheryl in the quietly terrifying town of Silent Hill. Oh yeah, and series creator Akira Yamaoka will return to deliver the game's score. Other than those basic facts, the developer insists everything about the story, characters, and setting are different and will surprise even veterans of this well-known series.

So what about the demo of Shattered Memories got me all riled up? In short, the game integrates the Wii's motion controls straight into its fundamental mechanics rather than tacking them on like many games do, rendering them an obstacle to what would otherwise be direct control of the action. There's no stilted point-and-shoot combat here. The exploration, puzzle-solving, and equipment all look like they're integrated together in clever ways that--at the very least--made for a really impressive demo.

Want to peer into the darkness and hear what Harry has to say about what he's looking at? Just use the Wii remote to point the flashlight there (no "look" icon or button press required) and listen to his commentary. Need to open a cabinet? Move an onscreen hand and physically pull the doors outward. An example puzzle involving a lost key presented three empty soda cans, and the player simply picked up the cans from a first-person perspective and shook them around until one of them rattled--then turned the can upside down to dump the key out. Sure, this was a canned, publisher-driven demo, but it would be hard to fake this sort of direct game-world interaction just for the benefit of the press. I'm hoping you really have as much freedom of exploration in the final game as it appears you do.

Your motion-based interactions with the environment look really impressive.
Your motion-based interactions with the environment look really impressive.
The in-game cell phone will also avail you in some nifty-looking, hands-on ways. Just short of an iPhone in its feature set, the phone has a camera with a real-time viewfinder you can look through to take pictures of the environment (and reveal ghostly afterimages of past events in the process). There's a map in the phone you can annotate with the remote to help you find previously visited locations later. Oh yeah, and you can make calls on the phone to characters you've already met. Developer Climax wants all of the gameplay functionality--activities involving the phone, flashlight, and other gear--to happen within the game world rather than inside abstract menus. And it looks like they've found reasonable ways of accomplishing that goal.

In lieu of traditional survival horror-style shooting, Shattered Memories will throw you into true survival situations, in which you're fighting for your life not with shotguns and grenades but with quick wits and, seemingly, a little luck. It seems Silent Hill's typically ghastly enemy designs haven't gone anywhere; one scene showed Harry fleeing from a couple of spindly, pale attackers, and it looks like you can actually turn around to look backwards (flashlight and all) while continuing to barrel forward. Direct enemy encounters look like a matter of careful evasion, and using the environment to get away from your attackers rather than fighting them head-on.

Shattered Memories looks like the most direct combination of survival horror and classic adventure gaming I've seen in a  while. It doesn't hurt that the game also looked gorgeous by the Wii's standards; from what I could see, the lighting and shadow effects emanating from the flashlight were head and shoulders above the fidelity you've seen in other games on this platform. I hope Konami gets some gameplay footage out there soon, because it really helps to see this game in motion.

Outside Nintendo's own contributions, the Wii hasn't exactly been fertile ground for the sort of deep, involving gameplay you find far more frequently on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But from what I can see, I think Shattered Memories will offer me just as many enticing reasons to play it as games on those platforms do. And I'm not even a Silent Hill fan!

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