Review by Eric-3

"Dr. Kaufmann asked if I enjoyed Shattered Memories. I answered yes."

The latest game in the Silent Hill series, Shattered Memories, has been described as a "re-imagining" of the first game. It brings not only changes to the original storyline, but also to the familiar gameplay that fans of the series have come to expect. Shattered Memories was first released on the Wii, but PS2 and PSP owners have been lucky enough to have a chance to play it as well. So how did things turn out?

Story
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I should probably mention that I've unfortunately never had the chance to play the original game. I do have a fair grasp on its story though. Shattered Memories starts out familiarly with the protagonist Harry Mason searching for his daughter after a car accident. However, it eventually becomes evident that this game is going to go in different directions than the original, both in plot and the roles that characters play.

I can't directly compare it to the original to say which one I preferred, but I can say that the storytelling here kept me interested all the way to the end. Bits of new information and developments pop up throughout the game to make you eager to see what happens next.

I do have some issues though. The ending seemed to be somewhat abrupt (though still interesting and overall satisfying). By the time I was finished, I still had questions unanswered. Perhaps that's just the nature of Silent Hill games in that it leaves some details up to the player to interpret and theorize over. Or perhaps the developers had players of the first game in mind when they wrote this in that they expect all players to be familiar with all the details to gain a better understanding of what happened in this game. Whatever the case, I thought some things were a little too vague and not explored or elaborated on enough.

Graphics
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The PS2 version is obviously going to be a step down from the Wii version, and it doesn't come anywhere near Silent Hill 3 (in my opinion, the best looking Silent Hill game on the PS2). It still looks pretty good though, especially considering how late in the PS2's life this game has come out. There's more effort put in than I expected.

Facial expressions are very believable and appropriate to the scenes and emotions. Movements are generally well-animated and well-directed. The falling snow in the outdoor areas looks really nice. Some environments and rooms are pretty large, but still maintain a fair level of detail.

The shadows cast from your flashlight are still pretty good, but perhaps not as good as earlier installments on the PS2. And I don't know what to attribute it to (low resolution? low-quality textures? I don't know what the proper term would be), but the shading of the lighting on the environment isn't very smooth. It's quite rough-looking.

There are some other aspects that seem technically sloppy to me. In various parts of the environment and on characters' faces during some cutscenes, you can very clearly see seams between the polygons. It's not too bad on the environment, but I found it somewhat distracting when characters' faces were animating and revealing all these cracks of black between the polygons.

The framerate also tends to take a hit when you open doors, as it's loading the next room. It's most evident when loading the larger, outdoor "rooms", and during Nightmare sequences. On the upside though, you rarely get a loading screen as you travel around the areas. And you'll probably get used to the lag soon enough anyway.

As is to be expected, there's a noise filter across this whole game. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an option to turn it off even after you've completed the game once. You're stuck with it, and I've never been a fan of it.

There are some other flaws, such as animations occasionally becoming a little jerky or the camera getting caught up on something, that will cause a slight hiccup in smoothness if you're observant enough. Also, some of the text you come across in the game, such as on your phone or on posters, is a little small and hard to read at times. But it's nothing too bad.

Audio
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If you've been playing this series for a while now, you should know what to expect: static, screeches, and other unsettling noises; great mood-setting music from Akira Yamaoka; a few cool vocal songs with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn...it's all here. The voice acting is also really well done and believable.

I have noticed a few glitches here and there though. When you examine certain objects, Harry may have a comment to make. Well, sometimes I had trouble getting the game to register those comments when I KNOW he should have something to say about the object. There are also a few instances of audio not playing when it should, like the static noise was missing from a certain scene where it was supposed to play. These instances are very few though.

Gameplay
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Shattered Memories makes some big changes and additions to the standard formula of the series.

The biggest addition is the psychological profile. At several parts of the game, a doctor will give you an exercise to complete. The choices you make will influence aspects of your game, such as characters' appearances and personalities, some things in the environment, dialogues and phone calls, your ending, and your psychological assessment. Another thing that affects these aspects is what objects and posters in the environment you choose to stare at, for example a pack of beer or a sexual poster. While it sounds really cool, the changes are actually mostly rather minor and don't do much to create a "personal nightmare".

The biggest change is the removal of combat, and frankly, I welcome that change. I've never played a Silent Hill game for its combat system. To remove it completely also removes the tedium and clunkiness that came with it, resulting in what feels like a more refined gameplay experience.

Of course, you still need monsters for a game like this, and you will encounter them during the game's Nightmare sequences which pop up at set parts of the story. During these sequences, there will be monsters that you must run away from while trying to reach your next destination. Aside from just running, you may pick up a flare along the way that can keep monsters at bay for a period of time, or hide in something like a closet to throw the monsters off your trail. If a monster catches up to you, you'll have to press a certain button within the given time to knock them off.

These sequences aren't too frequent, and the monsters aren't too challenging. You'll only do several of them throughout the whole game, and you can take quite a few "hits" before you die (I've only died once during my two playthroughs). Your health even seems to regenerate if you go long enough without being attacked again. Even if you die, you just restart from the beginning of the sequence.

The real challenge here is finding a path to your destination. There are usually a few doors or directions you can take in any one room, and you may not always have the time to consult your map to choose the right way if monsters are nearby. Even if you can consult your map, some paths are not so clear. So depending on your familiarity with the area, you could be wandering in circles for minutes and minutes trying to find the right path.

One of the downsides to no combat is the lack of monster and boss designs. You only see one type of monster during the whole game. Another downside? It removes a lot of the scariness out of the game. Because you only encounter monsters during set sequences, you know you're safe at all other times. There's very little tension when you know there's no way some freaky monster is waiting to kill you around the next dark corner.

Outside the Nightmare sequences, you're still exploring the town of Silent Hill with your trusty flashlight and solving some puzzles along the way. Some areas of the town are fairly large and the diversity of locations is pretty nice.

However, even exploration has changed. This game was designed for the Wii, and you can tell. You'll be doing a lot of interacting with objects in the environment, such as picking up a can and rotating it to spill the contents and grab an item. Translated to the PS2, an action like this revolves around using a button or two along with the analog stick. It works very well and is a fun way to interact with things instead of just going up to them and pushing X like previous games.

Unfortunately, something like picking up a can and spilling the contents to grab an item inside is about all there is to most puzzles in the game. There are a few more clever puzzles, but most of them boil down to finding a not-so-well-hidden key that's nearby and using it. There aren't really any cryptic riddles in your way that must be solved to obtain the key; you just have to search the environment and use some interactive actions.

Another new aspect of the game is the use of Harry's cellphone. It's used to make calls and receive messages that further the story along, give you hints, or even just give you some conversations with no greater purpose. Some of them are humourous, and all of them help make the town feel more alive and believable in that you can call all these numbers you come across and hear from the people or the establishments that populate the town.

The cellphone can also be used to take pictures. This is mostly used for photographing the optional "Echoes" in the game (apparition-like figures that will give you a little more insight into the story once photographed), but it's also used for a mandatory task here and there. You can also just whip it out to take your own random pictures and save a small amount of them to your memory card for later viewing.

Another feature of the cellphone: it saves your game! You can save at any time you can pull out your phone, which is really handy. It doesn't save your exact location though; it saves your last checkpoint, which are generously abundant.

The flashlight is still a big part of this game. It's handled with the right analog stick, and it gives you more control over where to look compared to previous games (I've only played 2, 3, 4, and 0rigins; if 5 had this, I wouldn't know). I've been wanting this kind of camera control for a while in a Silent Hill game, and it works well here.

Length/Replay
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This isn't a long game. I finished my first playthrough without any previous knowledge or assistance in under 10 hours (though that's an estimation as the game doesn't seem to keep a running clock anywhere). That was with me taking my time to explore every corner of the town and make a phone call to every number I came across. It also includes going around looking for all the echoes and mementos. The game doesn't really have consumable items or memos to pick up in the environment, so echoes and mementos are kind of the replacement reasons to explore the areas.

Speeding the game up more is the fact that key locations of interest that hold stuff like keys are usually pointed out with arrows. So unlike previous games, you don't have to press X at every corner, wall, table, etc to try finding stuff. Just look for the arrow.

While the actual game isn't long, it gives you good incentive to replay it. You can complete your psychological exercises differently from previous times in an attempt to get different character appearances and endings. You can try to find all the hidden UFOs to obtain the hilarious UFO ending. At a few parts of the game, you have to choose a certain room or building to enter, blocking access to the one you didn't choose; you can try out the other paths on a different playthrough. Lastly, you can replay the game just to look into the story deeper, now that you know what's going on.

Unfortunately, aside from gaining access to the UFO ending, there doesn't seem to be any unlockable content or special option settings here. There also isn't any difficulty setting to alter the puzzles or Nightmare sequences in any way.

Conclusion
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If you're a Silent Hill fan that's open to change, you may find quite a bit to appreciate in Shattered Memories. I'd say this is my third favourite of the series (out of what I've played). I think it's better than Silent Hill 4 and 0rigins, but not as good as Silent Hill 2 or 3. If you're a fan of story/character-driven exploration/adventure games, you may also like this game.

For a game that altered so much, I think the end result is pretty commendable. I wasn't really let down by this game. I think the developers should get credit for willing to take risks and change the familiar formula of a popular series like this. If they'd expand on their ideas (particularly the psychological profile), tweak and polish what they have (like the Nightmare sequences), make the puzzles more challenging and creative, and make it scarier, they could make a great game.

As is though, I think Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is still well worth playing.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/09/10

Game Release: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (US, 01/19/10)


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