Sunday, September 19, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #7: "Shattered Memories Brings New Soul to the SH Series"

In a meeting room deep in Castle Konami, located near Outer Heaven post #61 and about 15 miles from Tocola Lake and the Belasco Marsh, a handful of men sit in huge, Gothic thrones drinking blood red wine and pondering the fate of the Silent Hill series.

Someone suggests that they center the next game around a widowed man looking for his wife or daughter. Everyone agrees and starts packing up their dance mats and karaoke microphones, until a man with a tan trench coat and an eye patch points out that they already used that angle four times. Shell shocked, the team returns to their seats. It's been hours since pizza time and everyone is low on health. It's silent as the desperate designers attempt to generate just one more winning idea.

Then producer Tomm Hulet stands up, his infinite ammo bandanna fluttering in the sudden breeze. "Let's remake the original Silent Hill, only we'll take out the combat!"

Everyone nods their heads approvingly.

"As for the story, we can focus on both the characters' the player's mental state," Hulet says. "After all, what is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets."

"Yes, but what console should we release it for?" asks a man wearing a Goonies T-shirt.

"The Wii, of course," Hulet replies. "Everyone has one of those, even Bill Gates. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a plane to catch. I've got be in the Big Apple by 3 a.m."

*   *   *

When the news hit that the next Silent Hill game was going to be a no combat, Wii remake of the first title, it appeared as if Konami was deliberately trying to kill the series, perhaps for the insurance money or because "that damn disease was making her a total b*tch." Some even suggested that we had another Castlevania Judgement on our hands, though really the only way that could have happened is if Konami changed the setting to Boise, Idaho and remade the main character into an overbearing mother-in-law who serves a marginally passable meatsauce with every meal, even cereal. However, our collective shock turned to awe when Silent Hill: Shattered Memories turned out to be the kick in the pants the franchise had needed since 2004.

Instead of battling the monstrous inhabitants of Silent Hill with a variety of oddly-obtained weapons like guns, steel pipes and even rusty knives, all the player has to do in Shattered Memories is to run away like a tiny, tiny baby. (Screaming as you do so is purely optional.) In a way, it's a relief: There's no combat tactics to be attempted, scrapped or reworked, no chance of whiffing and no way to run out of ammunition. On the filpside, what little power you had in the previous games has been stripped away entirely; now there's nothing between you and having your appendix ground into some kind of Satanic sausage but your tennis shoes.

You'll wish he had the Hyper Blaster at this point.

Remember about eight years ago when the Silent Hill series used to be frightening? Thankfully, SH: Shattered Memories provides the creepiest plot since the early days of running and gunning through the Nightmare Town. By focusing on the player's psychological quirks as well as those of the characters in the game, Shattered Memories reaches a level of immersion that's both brilliant and diabolical. Depending on your performance - and frankly, how messed up in the head you are - the outcome of this short adventure could be a poignant tribute to love and memory that's truly worthy of your tears, or a maddening display of cruelty for which you have only yourself to blame. In the same vein, I've never seen a more effective use of the Wii remote than in Shattered Memories: "Phone calls" are sent through the remote's speaker, further enveloping you in Harry Mason's icy world.


Whether it was balls or blind luck that made the risky developmental direction of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories pay off, the bottom line is that for the first time in years, Konami created a SH title that attracted (and deserved) the attention of the mainstream gaming public. I'll always prefer the original, but this engrossing remake single-handedly saved the Silent Hill series from becoming a footnote in gaming history.

Let's just hope the next game can continue that trend.

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