I kept telling myself that the existence of a re-imagined Silent Hill 1 on the Wii wasn’t a bad thing. Somewhere, in the wide world of sports, someone would be able to bring the classic back to life, and instill into it a kind of force that only Gods or Chuck Norris could stop.
If you haven’t seen the screenshots or watched any of the videos, go watch them after reading this. Climax’s new rendition of Konami’s storied franchise happens to be one of the best looking games on the Wii, and perhaps the most promising.
With more ambition than Donald Trump tripping on two package of M&M’s, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is exactly what Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was: a fantastic new take of a popular title that stands on its own and does things that the original could only have dreamed of.
The game opens up with a mysterious man sitting in a chair. He recognizes you and asks you how the therapy has been going and, after a bit of small talk, passes a multiple choice test over to you, prompting you to answer truthfully. The seven questions cover your ability to make friends and your faithfulness to your spouse. According to Konami, and tons of previews until E3, this profile alters the way the monsters look and how Harry and yourself experience the story. My two play-throughs of the game, one with my own choices and the other with someone else’s (I walked into the middle of a game), weren’t completely different, but there were some big differences.
The first difference was a tape recorder in a building along the way to a diner; both times there was a different voice on the machine. Once I got to the diner, there were two different people waiting to talk to me. Remember, these are two COMPLETELY different play throughs and Konami is promising that you can play through the game numerous times without getting the same results. This isn’t entirely because of the first seven questions in the game, but because the game is constantly watching you and keeping tally marks as you play. I asked the Konami exhibitor when the games does this and he confirmed that it can be as subtle as entering the women’s restroom. He didn’t elaborate anymore but the fact that the game records something as minuscule as that was impressive.
After filling out the questionnaire, you start the game face down outside your wrecked Jeep. There is nothing that indicates what caused the wreck, but what we do know is that Harry’s daughter is involved. The game utilizes the chic over the shoulder camera system and you control Harry with the nunchuck joystick while you aim the cursor at the screen to move the flashlight and to turn. Once you gain control, you can begin your quest to find the missing seven year old, and start taking in the wonderful environments Climax has put together.
Snow is constantly falling from the sky, the character models are well done (a bit generic, but they are supposed to be regular Joes), and the town is rendered really well considering the Wii’s lack of power. However, this power has ultimately come at a price. It’s a wonderful looking game but zooming in on characters causes the polygons to tear and the flashlight depth detection tends to fly out of whack every so often, but these are all fixable problems before launch.
As I explored the quaint little town, I noticed some of Silent Hill’s finer details. When Harry comes up to a locked door he will try to open it, and if unsuccessful, he will tell the gamer. Climax is pushing for a more cinematic experience so text has been pushed to the way side in favor of voice mails, recordings, and Harry’s responses to the environment. Another interesting gameplay mechanic is the ability to open doors at your own pace. Once you interact with a door you can choose how fast Harry moves through the door, this way you can open it slightly to determine if danger is harbored on the other side. It doesn’t have much use during the real world sequences, but its beneficial when running through the nightmare.
Their take on the puzzles has a motion controlled twist as well. Instead of (so far) the conventional move the cursor and select things puzzles, SH:SM utilizes a pinch system. You pick up objects by pressing both A + B and sliding or shaking them. The two examples in the demo are a dead bolt puzzle and a can puzzle. The dead bolt was just a matter of pulling it out and sliding the lock back, but the can puzzle was a little more complicated, but not by much. You just have to pick up one of the cans and you can shake it, and if it makes noise you turn it over to reveal a key. It will be great if they can incorporate some more difficult puzzles, like the older games, and put their motion controlled twist on those.
Now, I was extremely skeptical of how ambitious their take on combat was going to be, because they have eradicated it. Instead of fighting back, Harry must run away from the monsters of the alternate Ice World (the chosen template for this game), by barreling through doors, climbing fences, pulling down soda machines, and jumping short walls. The nightmare sequences are scripted so it will be interesting to see what Climax does to keep the game from pulling a F.E.A.R and creating pockets of exploration and terror. The best part about them is that Harry is controllable the entire time, so it is up to the player to determine how he is going to escape. Little blue lines lay atop doors and walls which guide Harry, but the paths through those are up to you.
The only weapon we have seen so far is a flare, which can be held to keep the monsters at bay, or dropped to cut off a running point. If you don’t have the flare, the only option is to run and throw off enemies via motion controls which consists of throwing both the nunchuck and Wiimote in a certain direction. It doesn’t 1:1 the motion but it feels much cooler than just waggling everything to death. However, I can honestly say that the nightmare sequence is one of the more intense events in any Silent Hill game. Avoiding the monsters doesn’t have the same atmospheric feel as the older games but its more than made up for with creepy and thrilling music played at every turn.
Harry’s other big tool, besides his feet, is his phone. He can make phone calls to numbers that he finds, take pictures of breaches in reality, and use it as a map. It’s a nifty segueway that prevents players from having to constantly shift to a black screen while pulling out their map. It’s also the command center for you voice mails, which by the end of the game should be a decent library list if Climax stays true to the no text element.
My experience with the game was surprising. I knew I wasn’t playing a conventional Silent Hill but the new ideas that have been implemented into the game: no combat, no text, and psychology profile have created a unique experience that is minimalistic, but at the same time extremely deep. The only problems the game is facing right now is keeping the story interesting and relevant to Harry as a character, making sure they don’t seperate the fear of the monsters from exploration, and making the motion controlled puzzles more challenging than shaking a can or unlocking a dead bolt. Besides that, the game is shaping up to be one of the best titles on the Wii, and a great addition to the franchise.
If you’re interested in reading about more games that we played at E3, have a little snoop around Gamer Limit… we were lucky to check out rather a lot. Register here.