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Five Things: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the PS2, months after it had already been released on the Wii, because I didn’t want to deal with waggle controls.  This is a common theme with me, and demonstrates my overwhelming apathy (bordering, in fact, on antipathy) regarding the new generation of motion-sensitive gaming; Kinect and Move may be wonderful creations for some people, but…. well, can I just have a controller, please?  In fact, most of the reviews that I read and comments that I heard about SHSM were, in comparison to most other waggle control-enabled Wii games and pretty much ALL third-party titles in the same category, practically glowing.  I don’t regret my choice, but I do find it interesting that, of all the bazillion and five titles third parties have dumped on the Wii since its release, one of the few to get it right is a survival-horror game, which doesn’t exactly target their core demographic of soccer moms and five-year-olds.  As I said, though, I played this game for the PS2, so the discussion is purely academic, and doesn’t really affect my Five Things…. I just thought it was interesting.

1. Re-Imagining– I may have ranted about this before, but it’s especially appropriate here; this is one of my least favorite terms for a recycled idea (be it video game, movie, or otherwise) ever.  I’m not sure exactly why it rubs me the wrong way… perhaps it’s that you’re not really re-imagining anything; the imagination bit came around the first time, so either you’re ripping off someone else’s creative vision with minor cosmetic changes or you’re applying a big name to your own (mostly) original idea so that it goes over better with a pre-established audience.  (Side rant: This was my problem with Rob Zombie’s Halloween “re-imagining.”  It was a fine film, but it wasn’t Halloween, and I didn’t really see the reasoning behind not just making it its own stand-alone piece, other than the benefit of having the name attached to it.  Waaaaaaay beside the point, though.)  Despite my own personal misgivings, which are mostly semantic in nature, Shattered Memories can (I suppose) be described as a “re-imagining” of the original Silent Hill game.  You play as Dad-of-the-Year Harry Mason, on a quest to locate his daughter Cheryl in the creepy town of Silent Hill.  Without that particular setting to connect it, the game would have little to do with the first installment, for reasons I’ll detail in some of the other Things; this doesn’t mean that I think it was bad (I don’t) or that I don’t think it belongs in the series (I don’t… mostly), it just means that I’m not so sure it really merits the badge of “re-make.”  I guess that’s why they went for “re-imagining” instead.  Hmmm.

2. Winter Wonderland– Now, correct me if I’m wrong here (it’s been known to happen), but I’m reasonably sure that this is the only Silent Hill game in which, instead of going into a sort of rusty industrial setting when things go all wonky and we transition into Evil Silent Hill, we go to a frozen-over version of the town.  I’m not really sure why this particular change was made, but it does work in its own way; while I personally don’t find it quite as unnerving as the traditional rust-covered venues for which the series might best be remembered, it does lend a unique air to the title (although, at the same time, this distances it from the series a bit, so… I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not).  The snowy surroundings do serve a more practical purpose as well, occasionally blocking off paths or posing different puzzles than those you might find in the “normal” version of the town.  As in other Silent Hills we have known, though, one thing definitely stays the same: when the shift between realities occurs, you’d better be ready to encounter some creepy creatures.  This leads me to my next point…

3. Like Alan Wake, If Alan Wake Were A Giant Pussy– I was a big fan of Alan Wake, as you may be able to ascertain by reading the Five Things I wrote about it.  SHSM shares a *lot* of features with Alan Wake, from its flashlight-wielding protagonist to the fact that you spend an inordinate amount of time wandering around in the woods faced off against badass well-protected critters who can only be called off by the use of said flashlight.  Here’s the major difference, though, and it’s my biggest problem with SHSM: you don’t have a gun.  In fact, you don’t have *anything.*  You can’t fight AT ALL; you just have to run away.  The light you carry will slow down your enemies to a point, and you do gain access to flares that, much like Alan’s, will keep the baddies at bay for slightly longer periods of time, but there is no permanent way to stop the monsters that constantly pursue you through the nightmare town.  Occasionally you can slow them down by pulling obstacles into their path, but ultimately, if you aren’t quick enough, they will catch you; if they do, you can shake them off…. but really, you can’t even punch one in the face?  I just picture Harry shrieking “GET IT OFF GET IT OFF” like a little girl trying to kill a spider.  I would have understood if SHSM wanted to solely get rid of firearms or… well, or anythng you wouldn’t normally find lying around streets not located in downtown Philadelphia.  It would have been nice, though, and saved a great deal of annoyance, if there were *some* way to effectively damage your enemies using your surroundings.  Can I at least have a plank of wood or something?  A tire iron?  Something?

4. Profiling- Perhaps the biggest departure that this Silent Hill installment takes from the rest of the series is that, periodically, you take the role of a patient in a psychiatric therapy session who seems to be Harry (spoilers: it isn’t).  As the story progresses, you answer questions and perform tasks designed to subtly produce a psychological profile of you as a player.  It’s far from unknown for games to screw with the player’s head (for my very favorite example of this, go play Eternal Darkness), but SHSM lends another element to the mix by using your own responses to determine what will mess with you the most; this means that each playthrough could potentially be different depending on what you do, how you play, and what responses you give in different scenarios.  Some of the changes are a bit heavy-handed and obvious, such as the colors of characters’ clothing changing according to how you color them in therapy, but some are surprisingly subtle and cool; I really thought this was a nice touch, if perhaps a bit rudimentary and unfinished-feeling in places.  I’d like to see a game really take this mechanic and run with it even further.  The whole thing culminates in a full psychological profile of the player at the end of the game; fans of the series will be aware that there are always multiple endings available, but this goes beyond even that.  After the game ends, a series of notes appear about ”the patient” (you) that purport to describe your real-life personality.  Of course, you can manipulate these responses if you are so inclined, but if, in general, you answer the questions honestly and play “as yourself,” you’ll actually get some interesting (and relatively accurate) results.  I did, anyway.

5. Brevity– I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories in a single sitting.  This can mean multiple things for a game; it can mean it’s incredibly gripping, it can mean that the player has nothing better to do, or it can just mean it’s short.  Given the title of the paragraph, I’m thinking you can figure out which one applies here.  My playthrough clocked in somewhere between four and five hours; I don’t necessarily think that the length of the game should count against it, but if, say, the developers might have added some combat, it could have drawn things out a little and solved one of my other major problems with the game as well (see above).  There were, admittedly, times when things just felt rushed; running away from enemies with absolutely no incentive to slow down and check out your surroundings will do that, I suppose.  Given that one of the strongest features of the series has generally been its tendency to reward exploration and puzzle-solving prowess, the whole RUN AWAY mechanic seemed like it mostly made you skip merrily along through sizeable portions of the game.  Don’t get me wrong; you still solve puzzles and explore some places, but I believe there was definitely room for fleshing out parts of the gameplay that felt a bit underdeveloped.  There’s definitely some replay value to be had here, though, so I suppose I’ll have to try that out as well.  You know, because I don’t have any other games to play.

Next time, put on your retro hats for God of War.  Yup, the first one.

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