June 5, 2009 – Silent Hill has always been one of the most terrifying members of the survival horror genre. Whether it has been disfigured nurses or the always-terrifying Pyramid Head, the series has always been over the top when it comes to complex thrills and scares that will make you leave the lights on. However, even though the combination of story, visuals, and audio has almost always delivered a satisfying experience, the game has always been a directed affair, with only minor changes to the game that depend upon your actions. However, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories will feature evolving gameplay that not only changes depending on your actions, but also gets inside your head!
We were recently treated to a hands-on demo of the Wii version of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories at E3 2009, and so far, this title is truly terrifying. The biggest draw to this game is the way that it psychologically profiles the user. As we started up the demo, the game made us aware that it was watching the way we played, in order to determine what will scare us the most. For instance, if you are the type to focus in on items and clues, the game will change to fit this gameplay style, using your comfort level with the investigation aspects of the game to its advantage.
The demo starts off with you sitting in a therapist’s office, where you are given the usual “we are here to help” pep talk. He also gives you a survey to complete. This survey is the most obvious way that the game will change based on your actions. For instance, one of the questions asks if you use drinking as a means to calm down. If you answer yes, you will probably be offered a drink later on, and if no, the opposite will probably happen. Of course, this is a minute aspect of the changes to the gameplay that will occur, as it seems that there will be more frightening elements of the gameplay designed to heighten the sense of fear that you experience.
Speaking of gameplay, the actual mechanics are very interesting. In the level we played, there were no combat elements whatsoever. The thrills in this title come from your character’s ability to escape from the creatures that prowl the dark shadows of Silent Hill. The Wii controls are very intuitive, and you point the Wii-mote at the screen to look around with your flashlight as well as investigate items.
When you are investigating, it is also a good idea to wave your wand over pretty much everything. While things will sometimes pop out at you and demand to be investigated, sometimes you can only see crucial parts of the environment by mousing over the screen. For example, and empty swing set in the level just looks creepy by itself, but when you point the Wii-mote over it, an even creepier little girl can be seen on the swing.
Even though the atmosphere certainly gives this game a lot of its fear factor, the creatures are where all the sudden thrills come from. When you are attacked by a creature, your only option is to run, but one of them will inevitably get the best of you. When this happens, you will need to put the Wii-mote up and shake it to get them off. The use of the motion controls is smartly done, and from what we saw, the controls are very responsive.
Although we didn’t get to test drive the PSP or PS2 versions of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, I have to say that I am optimistic about the Wii version of the game. The focus on investigation over combat is certainly an interesting choice, but I think the inability to fight the creatures, or anything else for that matter, gives the game a new kind of fear factor, and the fact that the game adapts to your play style makes it just that much more intriguing. Look for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories to drop later this year.
The Hills Have Eyes
April 15, 2009 – When it comes to scary games, players have quite a variety to choose from. However, three powerhouse franchises have risen among the masses to claim dominance over the survival-horror genre. With Resident Evil, you can expect heavy doses of virus-infected undead, and the Fatal Frame games are infamous for eliciting sheer terror, arming the player with only a camera. But the Silent Hill series has always been more about psychological fear, and Konami is now turning to Wii to bring the franchise back to its roots.
With Silent Hill: Origins under their belt, Climax Studios (Overlord: Dark Legend) have been asked to return for the “reimagining” of the Silent Hill that started it all. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories isn’t being touted as either a port or a remake of the PlayStation title, but rather a completely new telling of the original tale. After briefly glimpsing some of the differences, we now understand the distinction.
The story revolves around Harry Mason who, after awaking from a car accident, sets out to find his now-missing daughter, Cheryl. Harry makes his way to the nearby town of Silent Hill, and as the game’s namesake implies, it’s here you’ll be confronted by your own personal hell. Though Shattered Memories retains many of the characters and core elements of the original game, new situations, environments, and gameplay mechanics ensure a wholly new experience for folks who’ve already braved Silent Hill.
Shattered Memories begins with a very cinematic juxtaposition between the aforementioned car-wreck scene and Mason being evaluated by a psychiatrist. These early parts of the game are designed to help carve out a unique experience for each individual player. You’ll be required to answer a series of personal questions, and depending upon your responses here, as well as your reactions throughout the game, many elements of the gameplay and story will change, including the creatures you’ll encounter.
So, just how far have the developers taken this idea of customizing a player’s fear? In a recent interview with Nintendo Power, director Mark Simmons explains, “I’ve pulled in academics from universities, including professors and students of cyberpsychology to help us with the science.” (Nintendo Power, vol. 241)
During a recent demoing of the game, the developers had Mason come upon a local bar. However, it’s explained that had they responded differently during the psychological evaluation at the beginning of the game, the bar might actually be closed, allowing the player to instead enter a small-town diner and experience a completely different scenario.
Shattered Memories changes constantly in response to a player’s specific actions throughout the game, and it’s the developers’ intention to use those actions against the player to ramp up the scares. They also do this by taking away your ability to fight back. Unlike the original game, Shattered Memories uses an “escape and evasion” approach to dealing with enemies and truly tasks you with survival.
As the Resident Evil series moves toward being a more a straightforward, action experience, Climax Studios aims to bring Silent Hill deeper into the realm of fear. Removing the last vestiges of offense from the player and arming them only with a flashlight and cell phone, Shattered Memories is a survival-horror experience in the truest sense. This idea carries over to the way in which Harry interacts with environments and objects as well, such as having him mumble to himself about what he’s seeing or dealing with, rather than having text pop up to remind you you’re playing a game.
You’ll move Harry with the analog stick on the Nunchuk, and the flashlight is mapped to real-time movement of the Wii Remote. Interacting with objects often calls for pressing both the A and B buttons together, as though Harry were clasping an object with his fingers. The other main tool you’ll rely on throughout the game is Harry’s phone, which also acts as a camera, text messenger, and general hub. The device features many of the same perks and necessities you’d find in a typical cell phone these days, and it seems like a great mechanic to help keep players immersed in the experience.
Adding to that sense of immersion is a visual presentation that is truly pushing the technical limits of Wii. Though character models aren’t quite “next-gen” in appearance, they exhibit a generous amount of detail for the system. However, Shattered Memories has received ample attention where it counts the most. Lighting effects will, of course, play an integral role in setting the mood throughout the game, and the use of Harry’s flashlight makes for some seriously unsettling contrasts as you make your way through Silent Hill. The developers are also quite proud of their achievement in creating a snow effect in which each snowflake reflects light and cast its own shadow. This and other such subtle visual nuances promise to lull players into a truly terrifying world never before experienced on the Nintendo console.
Though you may have already taken the journey through Silent Hill with the original PlayStation outing, Shattered Memories is still a game worth getting excited about. It’s a complete reimagining of the original, and a host of deep gameplay mechanics, along with a return to the essence of “survival-horror,” promise to offer a rebirth for the genre. The dynamically changing story and gameplay are pushing the envelope in terms of customizing player immersion, and it could end up becoming the new standard for these types of adventure games. Check back for more as we near the game’s release later in the year.