I finally managed to play through Silent Hill: Shattered Memories a while back. Being a huge SH fan over the years, this one really put me off initially. I’m not a fan of Wiimote waggling at all, and it seemed like this new SH was about to take it to all new pants-shitting levels of annoyance. And while I wasn’t entirely wrong with that initial assessment, I’m glad I finally took the time to play through it. Overall it’s probably one of the more unique games you’ll play regardless of all the frustration you may have with it. It’s such a strange game in overall concept that it will probably take a few days of going over it in your head after you’ve beaten it to really rein in the things you saw and did in a way that will make sense. And even then, there’s going to be a hazy cloud of uncertainty sitting around. This is a good thing, BTW. Just in case you were wondering. Well, except the waggling.
Ignoring the gameplay, the plot is easily as intricate as Silent Hill 2′s, but not immediately so. It’s not until you beat the game does everything you just played fall apart and rebuild itself in a way that makes some sort of sense. And even then, you’ll need the help of a good plot synopsis to put the remaining pieces of the puzzles together. There are some deep, deep things going on in Shattered Memories. Taken at face value, those things resonate hard with people who have dealt with them. Dig deeper, and it gets even more disgusting in that “I should probably take a shower now” way. This is layered storytelling as good as it gets in gaming, made even more surprising that the guys at Climax, and not the original team is responsible for it. But first, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, which is basically every other part of the game besides the storytelling.
Shattered Gameplay and Graphics
What isn’t so surprising is that the gameplay is pretty awful at best. While Climax brought it hard with the plot, the gameplay falls off a cliff at points. Most of the time, you’ll be running around Silent Hill exploring the town, which is generally fine. Then about halfway through, you discover that what you can explore is on such a linear path that it makes it almost worthless to search for nooks and crannies. There are collectibles to find, but I stopped caring about them fairly quickly since nothing about the environments made me want to explore them. Why should I sit and fight with King Wagglemote when a great piece of storytelling is just beyond that gate over there? I suggest you do the same.
It also doesn’t help that the graphics can be quite muddy and unattractive. I realize that SH has never looked “pretty,” but most of Shattered Memories looks very badly modeled. For example, just look at pictures from Silent Hill 2 or 3 on PS2, then check out Shattered Memories. There’s no personality here. Everything seems as if it was taken from very basic models, and then made to look a little dirty. Nothing about the town looks as if it had been lived in save for a few select scenes. This is one of the things I miss most about the old Silent Hill games. Few games ever looked so dirty and disgusting. It set the mood just as much as the story. Shattered Memories had none of that. Literally, sitting here a day after I beat it, I cannot think of one environment that stood out to me. I still vividlyember dozens from SH2 alone.
The Parts Where You Shake The Wiimote Around Until You Have A Seizure
So far I haven’t even mentioned the action stages, which have you running from monsters with no way to fight back. These are by far the worst parts of the game. While the idea is admittedly cool (running for your life with no way to fight back), it just doesn’t work here at all. The scenes are supposed to create tension, along with that great “running for your life” sense that few games try to do. What you end up with though is no clear path of where to go, while monsters that are far faster than you chase after you like a clingy ex. If they manage to grab you, you’ll have to do an annoying waggle with the controller to push them off, which by then has caused the four other monsters to catch up and beat your ass down. And if you die, it’s back to the start of the goddamn level. Worse, there are a couple of sections that are labyrinthine in design, which makes it all the more of a trial and error situation. Halfway through the game, I got so angry at these sections that I knew I wouldn’t finish the game unless I started watching Youtube runs through them. That’s not the sign of a fun game.
The Good Part: The Psychology Behind Shattered Memories
So here’s what makes Shattered Memories worth your time. I’m a huge fan of psychology. It fascinates me like few things can. The human brain is an amazingly complex thing, and sitting someone in front of a man with a pad of paper is almost a disservice to what is being dealt with. What most psychology patients don’t realize though, is that man with a pad isn’t just taking each individual problem on their own, but instead using all of them to build a profile. This profile needs to cover as many areas in the patient’s life as possible, because each one could contain a detail that could change the entire profile. Expert psychiatrists can put together profiles that are so accurate it’s scary. Shattered Memories tries to do this through sessions with you in between each chapter, and it does it so well that it deserves its own breakdown.
What should come off as extremely hokey is pulled off in a way that is absolutely convincing. The setting of you sitting in front of the Doctor is eerily accurate in the way that he interacts with you. Even the activities presented are basic versions of actual exercises that could be used in a real life session. Many of them are used to simply play with the patient’s mind. To make them rethink the things they think are fact. For instance, one activity has you placing pictures of people on the table. You are supposed to pick out the pictures of people that are sleeping, and those that are dead. You spend a few minutes going over them, certain that some are dead and others are just sleeping, placing them on the table accordingly, Come to find out, none are actually dead. It was just a mind game. Something used to make you realize that some things are never as they seem, even if they are presented that way. After all, he never said any of them were dead. You simply inferred that some were because the option was mentioned. It also gives the Doctor a look into how you think. Why did he pick these people as being dead? Is there a common thread linking them? What does this tell me about the patient that I didn’t know before? It also makes the player stop and ask the same questions about themselves.
So what does the game accomplish with all of this? It actually changes the game based on what you do in the sessions. Some things are obvious (The house and car in the game will be the same color you used to color them in the session), others are less so. Clothes will change based on how you react. Characters will be presented differently. Locations will change entirely based on likes and dislikes. If the game sees you focusing more on sexual things, then the game will become more sexual. If it sees that you are introverted, characters will react to you in a way that makes you seem as if you aren’t being forward enough. Some things are so small that you won’t even notice (keep an eye on Harry’s coat). The game is essentially changing itself to play to your fears, likes, dislikes, and what you consider to be normal. It works amazingly well, too. In fact, you probably won’t even notice it while playing. But take a look at some Youtube videos after you beat it, and you’ll find an almost entirely different game at points.
Even more amazing is the fact that all of these sessions, and the things you make the game to be, all work into the ending of the game. What you find out at the end makes everything you just went through make sense. It’s something you won’t see until the very end, but when you do, it hits you like a ton of bricks. I’d love to get more into the plot and just how it all works together with the psychiatry sessions, but I don’t want to get into writing plot synopsis type stuff. There are enough out there for you to read if you look. Just be sure not to shortchange yourself on the story by not looking at one after you beat the game. It makes all of the psychology stuff even scarier in a way that isn’t readily noticeable to the player as you play through it. There are definitely very real issues the main character has that can be sorted through. Some of which are pretty disturbing. I’m actually amazed that they found their way into a video game. Especially on the Wii.
Oh, and don’t forget to sit through the credits to be presented with your own psychological profile. If you did all the activities honestly, this can be just as scary as the game itself. There’s something entirely creepy about seeing your brain pretty accurately deconstructed by a game that has had no input but your own. But I guess that’s what psychology is really all about: being able to understand the patient through their own admissions, and then put it all together to make the patient understand as well. Even if they don’t readily want to. And I think Shattered Memories does a Hell of a good job of doing just that.
As long as you can actually stand playing through all the bad stuff, anyway.
Jeremy is a quiet, steadily mortified man hailing from Indianapolis.
Contact him this way: email@example.com (hint: it’s email)