Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
For: Nintendo Wii
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, drug
reference, language, sexual themes,
By Billy O'Keefe
It's always exciting when a game like "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories" takes complete liberty not only with the franchise that bore it, but also the system on which it runs.
It's also a downer when problems that have regularly haunted the franchise creep in yet again and debilitate the mood to a potentially eject button-pressing degree.
"Memories" purports to re-imagine the original "Silent Hill" game by resurrecting its main character and introductory plot. Harry Mason has once again awoken in a snowbound town after a car accident knocked him unconscious, and once again, his daughter has mysteriously disappeared.
From there, though, most everything changes. For starters, "Memories" is combat-free: It controls like a third-person shooter, but the only aiming Harry does is with his flashlight, and encountering a monster triggers a pursuit sequence in which players' only options are to escape or die trying.
The precise flashlight control is the tip of an iceberg's worth of clever uses "Memories" devises for the Wii remote. An early puzzle, for instance, has players picking up cans and overturning them until a key falls out of one. "Memories" never tells players what to do: It places the cans prominently, and real-world curiosity and motion take over from there. It's a perfect mix of obtuse and intuitive, and similar tricks permeate "Memories'" puzzles in numerous simple but inspired ways.
"Memories" also crams the bulk of its user interface _ camera, GPS, some storytelling _ into a virtual cell phone, and whenever Harry makes or receives a call, the game uses the Wii remote's speaker as a cell phone speaker players actually hold up to their ear. The gesture looks predictably silly, but as an immersion tactic, it's pretty great.
"Memories'" best trick, though, is its attempt to mentally profile players through a series of psychological evaluations that take place after the events of the storyline but are intercut throughout the game. How players complete these evaluations partly dictates what they see, what they can access and how Harry behaves when "Memories" resumes the action. Regardless of the game's ability to read players, it's an awfully clever way to mix up the scenery and engender a second playthrough.
Unfortunately, "Memories" fumbles some classic conventions en route to devising so many new ones.
Per series tradition, navigation is needlessly laborious, with visibly open paths from A to B getting arbitrarily walled off for no believable reason. Getting lost among arbitrary blockades would mean something if there was danger in doing so, but "Memories" strictly relegates monster encounters to alternate-dimension portions of the game, and if you're not in one of those zones, you're in no peril whatsoever.
Not only does this make "Memories" a frightfully unscary game, but it turns getting lost into a dull session of backtracking, trial and error that will frustrate some into losing interest completely. Lots of amazing little reasons exist to keep pushing ahead, but it's hard to think about those when you're wandering fruitlessly with no way out in sight and no reason to be alarmed by that fact.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.