Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review
Learning to let go is never easy—a truth that few gamers know better than Silent Hill fans. Following the release of Silent Hill 4, the series has been jostled around, toyed with, dissected, experimented on and reconstituted time and again, each new creation yielding a new pound of warm, breathing flesh. Each has been taken upon introduction as something fans could hope to nurture and bring forth into the world, a new and worthy successor in psychological horror.
This hasn’t really been the case, however.
In reality, it’s been a long and painful process for most of us. Some of these re-combined organisms have been tolerable, and we gave them the necessary attention obligated from surrogate parents. But the direction of the series since the departure of Team Silent has been much less of a shot upwards than a muddled groping towards evolutionary achievement, sometimes backward or flopping from side to side, gasping for oxygen and unsure of any one ‘right’ direction. While generally not terrible, each passing entry has seemed to stray further and further from the path set down by the ‘adult’ themes and psychological complexity of Silent Hill 2 (and to some extent, SH3). Compounding the problem, flip-flopping development studios (as well as some passing influence from Christophe Gans’ truly execrable film) have left the series in the lurch of identity crisis. Whether in terms of mechanics, narrative, or series interpretation, Silent Hill fans have had to learn to let go of the past and accept change.
Maybe it’s fitting then, that Shattered Memories—which may very well be the last worthwhile trip to Silent Hill—is so much about these two concepts. Differences are evident everywhere: the game’s mechanics have been completely overhauled, dropping combat entirely from its design. The otherworld has also been entirely remade, with a blue, frozen wasteland taking the place of the rust-and-chain-link purgatory we’ve come to expect. Finally, as a ‘re-imagining’ of the original game’s story, Shattered Memories’ narrative unfolds through a series of therapy sessions that bring Harry Mason back to the events of the original Silent Hill, but the story has severely warped, with many elements twisted, altered or removed entirely. Some may cry foul at such a significant re-interpretation of the series, but if Silent Hill has in the best times been about the journey into the deep recesses of the psyche, and it has, then Shattered Memories is easily the most psychologically complex entry since SH2. Whereas in the original game Harry was just looking for his lost daughter in a demonic town, very little is what it seems in Shattered Memories. Harry himself may be driven by more than just desperation in his search for Cheryl, whose disappearance becomes somewhat secondary to Harry’s own internalized psyche. In classic Silent Hill style, this makes the game’s true focus that of a man slowly losing his grip on reality. As a result, there are some bizarre David Lynch-style moments that will have you seriously questioning what is reality and hallucination (not unlike Cursed Mountain, another underrated Wii horror adventure).
The supposed split between reality and nightmare is dealt with by the onset of the icy otherworld, which separates Shattered Memories’ two distinct gameplay styles. When Harry is in the ‘real’ world, he explores by probing his flashlight (controlled in real-time with the wiimote) through the deserted streets and buildings of Silent Hill. Choosing to look at something may elicit a comment from Harry, and simple environment interactions give these segments of the game the feel of something close to a point and click adventure. Aside from his flashlight, Harry is also able to use his cell phone, which is needed now and then to advance in the game. Emotional signatures of past events of strangers’ lives, whether mundane or tragic, often crop up throughout Harry’s travels, manifesting in the form of text messages, voicemails or photos which Harry can listen to through the Wiimote speaker or view through his phone’s camera. Phone numbers encountered on signs or scribbled on walls can be called as well, and add an optional layer of depth to the town’s narrative.
The appearance of the otherworld means Harry is entering a nightmarish realm populated by grotesque, fleshy-skinned creatures that relentlessly hunt and chase him. Harry’s prerogative here is simple: run like hell. Rather than being able to kill or even fight the creatures (which may in itself be telling to Harry’s psychological struggle with his problems), his only option is to keep moving. Occasionally he may come across an obstacle to throw down or a flare that will ward away the creatures, but these are temporary fixes at best—there are no weapons here. Drawing an escape route on your GPS map is your best bet for survival, aside from evasive tactics such as hiding or, as a last resort, knocking the creatures off of Harry. In any case, fleeing with a pack of monsters at your heels can be a particularly nerve-wracking experience, further augmented by Akira Yamaoka’s wonderfully claustrophobic score. Since Climax has eliminated the need for mechanics that might slow down the pacing of these prolonged chases, the effect is pretty terrifying. While the division between reality and the otherworld seems to be pretty clear cut, there are instances where elements of the other will spill over. Nightmare sequences end with a simple puzzle or obstacle based in reality, while the narrative doles out some pretty screwed up goings-on even when Harry is ‘safe’ outside the otherworld.
But what exactly the narrative entails, how it plays out and even what may or may not be real is to some extent up to you. Over the course of the game you’re administered a series of psyche evaluation tests, which affect what the game chooses to show you. The game also monitors what you spend your time doing, what Harry looks at, which phone numbers he calls and other things. The changes that result can be cosmetic, such as differences in someone’s appearance or which doors might be locked in a building, but bigger things, like how characters interact with Harry, or even what kinds of themes the game presents, can also be affected. Depending on your actions, Harry may not even be the perfect daddy, or even as good a human being, as might you might think originally. Silent Hill has always had its fair share of possible events in its trademark structure of having several endings, but Shattered Memories takes the idea of change to a whole new level; whether or not it’s actual canon to the series becomes less critical than what interpretation you take from it. It’s a game that demands to be replayed at least once—my first playthrough was rife with sexual themes and imagery, to the point where even some of creatures’ appearance could be considered over-sexualized. In my second game, this was far less common, giving Shattered Memories’ narrative a notably open interpretation, though the game’s wink-nudge self-reflexivity (the appearance of holes, wheelchairs, sexual themes and similar subject matter to past games) keep it firmly anchored to Silent Hill universe, despite the far-reaching overall changes. Shattered Memories is in some ways a true return to form for the series, although with recent news of Akira Yamaoka—whose music and vision has consistently defined the series—leaving Konami, it may be the last true Silent Hill game, period.
Whether or not this is true, or if Konami intends to flounder on soullessly without Yamaoka remains to be seen, but if this is to be the series’ swan song, it’s a great note to go out on. And to all my fellow Silent Hill fans, I say this: at least we’ve already learned to let go.