For fear of sounding cliche, I hate to start a review of a well-done third-party Wii game by talking about the generally-low quality of such titles in the past. However, after having played through Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, I can honestly say that this is the first major third-party title for the platform that I can say is amazing in every respect, without adding the dreaded 'for the Wii' qualifier. It's also one of the rare titles that uses the system's unique capabilities to fantastic effect, genuinely creating immersion that is currently impossible on any other platform.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the much-publicized 're-imagining' of the atmospheric horror franchise, lets you know right off the bat that it's unlike any game you've played before. Upon booting up the game, the player is greeted with a warning screen letting them know that the game is 'playing' them just as much as they are playing it. This is in reference to the game's psychiatric profiling system, which subtly identifies certain aspects of the player's personality and uses it against them during gameplay. As gameplay begins, the player is placed in the office of a psychiatrist, who has them fill out a form asking about some of their habits. This serves as the basis for the profiling system, so it's important to answer honestly if you want to get the full experience. The perspective then shifts to Harry Mason, who has just awoken from a car crash in the eery town of Silent Hill, life in which has been completely halted due to what has to be the worst blizzard in history. To make matters worse, Harry's daughter, Cheryl, who was riding in the car, has gone missing.
Thus begins Harry's adventure through the worst town on the planet to find her. From here on, it's important to be mindful of everything you do in the game, as the profiling system is watching. So yes, that means it can see that you're spending more time looking at the posters of pretty ladies than you do looking at the map on the wall. These smaller details, combined with periodic jumps back to the psychiatrist for a new activity, can affect the story and environment in both minor and drastic ways. Certain characters may or may not be met, and their personalities may be completely different, certain buildings will be open or closed, and certain scenes, including the ending, will play out completely differently. This gives the game a great deal of replayability as the player plays through it a few more times with different choices to see what changes.
Get used to this guy - you'll be seeing a lot of him.
When the Wii was announced, it was with the promise that its innovative features, from the motion control, to the IR pointing, to the Wii Remote's built-in speaker, could be used to further immerse the player in the game world. Too bad they didn't have Silent Hill at the time, as it would have been a wonderful poster child for this promise.
There are two primary gameplay mechanics in Shattered Memories. The exploration segments of the game have the player, as Harry, exploring a portion of Silent Hill on the way to an objective. The camera takes a Resident Evil-4-style over-the-shoulder perspective, and Harry is controlled with the analog stick. In a genius bit of immersion, Harry's flashlight and the direction he is facing are controlled by pointing with the Wii remote, which adds a lot to the tension. If your hand is shaking, the flashlight naturally jumps around, making the dark areas you explore all the more foreboding. Any time there is an object to interact with such as a locker to open or a knob to turn, you'll physically point at it, grab it, and move it in the appropriate manner.
The pointer-controlled flashlight adds a lot to the stunning atmosphere.
At certain points in the game, the proverbial poop hits the fan, as the walls become covered in ice and hideous monsters start to pursue Harry. At this point, since there is no method of combat in the game whatsoever, it is time to forget everything else and focus on flat-out booking it to safety. Harry can climb fences, open doors, and hide in closets in an attempt to elude his pursuers. Don't get too comfortable, though, as they will pull him off fences, follow him through doors, and check all the hiding spots.
Should one of the monsters grab Harry, the player will have to make a throwing motion in that direction with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to push it off. Random waggle won't help you here--you must perform a genuine, exaggerated throwing motion in order to escape, which ups the intensity quite a bit. Harry does have some other tools of survival during these encounters. For instance, he can hold or throw monster-blinding flares, and (using motion) knock over various objects to slow down his enemies. Doors and ledges leading to the objective are highlighted in blue, making the question less 'Where must I go?' and more 'How do I get there?' It also helps that the monsters trigger the series' trademark radio static when they're nearby, courtesy of the speaker in the Wii Remote.
Ah, yes, the Wiimote's speaker. The tinny little sound box is used extensively here, and to great effect. Whenever Harry gets a call or voice message on his cell phone (a very common occurrence), the sound comes through the controller, adding to the feeling that you are a participant in the game world. Phone numbers are scattered throughout Silent Hill, be they on posters, graffiti, or otherwise, and dialing them typically leads to some unnerving or comical conversations. The cell phone has many other uses as well, ranging from taking pictures, to saving the game, to a GPS function showing a map of the whole town. Having all of these functions mapped to an in-game device (instead of the Pause menu) keeps the player immersed in the world. Be careful, though, because the monsters can still get you while you're snapping a picture of that damned toucan!
This would be about where the profiling system checks off the 'perverted' box.
The graphics in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories are not only some of the Wii's best on a technical level, but some of the best we've seen (in terms of atmosphere) this entire console generation. Harry animates very naturally, smoothly transitioning from walking, to running, to throwing some disgusting monstrosity. When he's taken enough damage, he limps along realistically, adding to the sense of urgency. Facial expressions on all characters are very believable, making you sympathize with Harry when he's frustrated with another character or get ticked off when Cybil the cop is clearly skeptical of your story. The lighting effects from the flashlight are incredible as well, with every little falling snowflake casting its own shadow and the beam lighting up what's in the center more than what is at the edges.
This is all the more impressive when you take into account the large, open-ended environments that you'll navigate without a hint of a loading screen or framerate drop. Typically, you'll have a detailed area of the town to explore at your leisure, with all kinds of unnecessary-but-welcome little details in every corner. Some graffiti in a far corner will house a phone number you can actually call on your cell phone 'for a good time', and the textures are high-resolution enough that you can actually read signs without having to 'select' them and have text appear onscreen like in other games in the genre.
The sound is fantastic, as well. The voice acting is superb, as Harry genuinely sounds like a worried father desperately searching for his daughter. The limited capabilities of the Wii Remote's speaker are minimized during the cell phone calls, as it makes sense that voices would come in all crackly due to the massive snowstorm. The little details, such as Harry's audible shivering when he's been outside in the cold for too long, and his desperate calls of 'Cheeeeryl!' really add to the series' trademark sense of foreboding.
This dingy monitor is controlled simply by pointing, clicking, and twisting.
Now, all this praise isn't to say that the game is devoid of problems. I definitely ran into a few unfortunate glitches. I encourage anyone playing this game to save often, as a couple of times I encountered a gamebreaking glitch after interacting with certain key objects. In these instances, I lost the ability to make Harry run, and the game no longer let me use the flashlight or the cell phone, or interact with any other objects. In these (rare) moments, I was forced to reload from my last save and hope the glitch didn't happen again.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories took me approximately six hours to complete on the first try (excluding restarts due to death), roughly the standard for the horror genre. I will absolutely be replaying it a few more times to see what changes when I make different choices, and the game even has its own genius way of tying multiple playthroughs together. There are also tons of little collectibles scattered around the game, such as pictures of Harry and his daughter, that make no sense in context but have a subtle, heartwarming effect on the end of the game.
When it comes to the list of attributes that make a great video game, Shattered Memories has all the boxes checked. It has the innovative and fun gameplay, immersive atmosphere, a twist-filled story, fantastic graphics, great sound, and that unidentifiable bit of extra chutzpah to make it even more memorable. Longtime Silent Hill fans may scoff at the more action-oriented focus, but trust me when I say this is a psychological thriller like no game before. After all, what other game watches your actions and tailors the suspense and horror to your personality? Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is not just 'a great Wii game' - it is an incredible video game. Period.