Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

In an effort to steer the ailing survival horror series away from the singularly unscary lock-and-load action of the fifth instalment, Silent Hill custodians Climax Studios have chosen to abandon the canon completely and reboot the franchise instead. Shattered Memories is pitched as a ‘re-imagining’ of the original Silent Hill story. Harry Mason returns, missing daughter et al, and you must once again guide him across the titular town in search of his errant offspring. Harry is suffering from a case of plot-essential amnesia, and has to navigate through the snow-struck streets using nothing but a flickering flashlight and a haunted smart-phone. Punctuating his search-and-rescue story are cutaway sequences in which you sit in a psychiatrist’s office answering questions. The developers claim that these questions help the game to determine what your fears are. Once your answers are given the gameplay is tailored to hone-in on your personal insecurities, allowing the game to freak you out with maximum efficiency.

Shattered Memories makes sincere attempts to try and recreate the psychological impact of its predecessors. Harry receives unsettling text messages and voicemails at locations of emotional significance, messages that seem to come directly from the town’s collective unconscious. Harry’s phone will emit static when one of these locations is nearby, allowing you to trace the objects housing the bad ju-ju. There are also visible static shadows that appear from time to time. When photographed on your camera phone these visual anomalies reveal haunting figures and further text-based insights into the tragic personal histories of the town’s residents. It brings to mind the spirit-capture photography that formed the backbone of survival horror classic Project Zero, and whilst not entirely original, serves as a vehicle for some satisfyingly unpleasant imagery.

In a departure from Silent Hill tradition, heavy snowfall replaces the fog which usually envelopes the town. When the trademark dimension shifts occur, the spontaneous rust and decay that fans have come to expect give way to waves of crackling ice, which freeze characters where they stand and snowflakes in mid-air. When this happens, the faceless denizens of the town crawl out of the shadows and give chase. There is no combat mechanic in Shattered Memories, something for which the game deserves great praise. When you find yourself in the ‘other’ world you must quickly identify the next safe point and keep moving, for fear of being dragged to the ground by hordes of wailing deadites. There are chills to be found in these moments, and a sense of helplessness that crops up all too rarely in the genre nowadays.

However, for all its good intentions, Shattered Memories never manages to elicit the feelings of terror so convincingly evoked by its ancestors. When in the ‘real’ world, Harry will not encounter any of the physical abominations that could be found listlessly roaming the streets in previous instalments. Once you realise this, any threat you might have felt during these portions of gameplay dissolves. The geographically-triggered messages follow a set pattern: walk toward hiss; identify object; approach; object jumps/falls/flutters; message appears. It’s creepy the first couple of times, but once you suss out the formula it loses its punch. The ‘other’ world chase sequences also become repetitive, and it’s very difficult to be scared when you know exactly how an instance is going to play-out. The supposed psychological tailoring is largely aesthetic; for example, if you tell the psychiatrist you have a drinking problem, a cafe you enter later in the game might be re-skinned as a bar. Some characters will dress and act more flirtatiously if you deliver certain responses, but the changes never feel profound or personal enough to really tap into your innermost demons.

Disappointingly, the abominations in the ‘other’ world are all identifiably humanoid this time around. While this might make more narrative sense, it leaves no room for the Hieronymus Bosch-inspired shamblers or flights of quadriplegic fancy which elevated the previous games above their bland, zombie-infested peers. As for the puzzles that crop up throughout the journey, they are so rudimentary that the designers might as well have saved us the 15-seconds-a-pop and just left every door in the town unlocked. Having said that, the experience is already far too short, clocking-in at a meagre six-hours for an initial playthough. While the plot is agreeably character-focused, the personality of the town is criminally downplayed; Silent Hill itself feels more like wallpaper than the menacing entity it should be. This is not helped by the fact that the snow/ice dynamic is simply not as atmospheric as the signature fog/rust combo. The whole point of the snowfall in Silent Hill 2 is that it’s not snow – it’s the ashes of the dead townsfolk. Having actual snow falling gives the town a Winter Wonderland vibe entirely unbecoming of its incendiary history. This is Silent Hill for crying out loud, not Miracle on 34th Street.







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