If I had to choose a game with a good story over one with good gameplay, I would pick the former. There are infinite arguments over the merit of either (story or gameplay), but a good story gets the blood pumping in my brain – and my genitals.
So, when I discovered the Wii would feature the next Silent Hill game, my speculation raged. I assumed it would be another motion controlled fiasco that would further cement my distaste. I was wrong. Climax created an excellent entry into the series that proves motion controls can enhance narrative.
The jury is out on the game; we loved it, but the real draw here is the trail that Climax blazed with their combination of motion controls and storytelling. It’s the first time a Wii game was able to accurately allocate the controls to increase immersion and avoid being gimmicky. Metroid Prime 3 comes close, but its controls are more a method to progress through the game, instead of being part of the storytelling.
The flashlight, cell phone, puzzles, escape techniques, conversations and much more are all directly linked to the motion controls. Players aim the phone to take pictures. The flashlight feels like an extension of the player’s hand. Conversations take place in first person, giving the player the ability to simulate not listening, or steal glances of exposed cleavage. Phone conversations happen through the Wii-mote’s speaker (Yes, No More Heroes did this too).
To their credit, Climax did a great job at writing a thoughtful and semi-sophisticated storyline to go along with the gameplay. However, it is enhanced exponentially with motion controls that transcend average button presses. You aren’t always watching Harry respond to pressing A or B.
Instead, you are sliding puzzles around or throwing monsters off your back. The input/output relationship between the player and machine is significantly more meaningful because of a deeper link in Harry’s actions.
It’s a wonderful experience that requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The Wii’s hardware isn’t perfect – not every command is solid – and players degrade the controls by “waggling” through the game when it isn’t required. This is apparent in a swimming section of the game, where shaking the controller back and forth works just as well as the simulated swimming strokes. However, it’s more exciting – and isolating – when the gamer plays along.
To further integrate the gameplay and narrative, Climax created a profiling system. It monitors the way the player interacts with the game, not just their explicit actions, and shapes the narrative landscape as a result. If a player looks at the characters alcoholic drink while they are talking, it will register that interest. If you zoom in on naughty pictures or call different numbers it will note those as well. These actions and choices affect the way that characters interact with you, the way they dress, and, ultimately, the ending.
But there are a few shortcomings. The Wii isn’t the system that will create a dark and foreboding environment, such as Silent Hill. It lacks the power to create immersion through imagery. A player could be deeply entrenched in the game, only to be violently ripped out as Harry phases through a door. Climax pushed the Wii’s hardware to it’s limits in SH:SM, and it looks great for a Wii title; but, in doing so, they proved that the Wii is limited, and it isn’t enough.
This makes the upcoming cavalcade of motion controls revealed at 2009′s E3 more exciting. If the Wii was able to pull off a thoughtful weaving of gameplay and narrative through motion controls, what can Sony and Microsoft do? If the mechanics visible in the Milo demo are any indication of Natal’s actual “power”, then the transition from gimmick to sincerity is only a clever developer away. For the record, motion controls will never substitute a well told story. Climax did a fantastic job of creating a compelling narrative and implementing motion controls as a boon, rather than a burden, and the future is looking bright for developers to continue that trend.