Hands-on at E3 / Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

As of my writing this, one of the more compelling horror experiences I’ve had on the Wii is Resident Evil 4. The trouble here is fairly obvious. When a five-year-old game with redone controls is what will prove to be the winning title in a particular genre for your recent-gen console, one can only hope that an original experience comes at some point. Dead Space Extraction had some initial promise upon announcement, but then we learned that it was an on-rails shooter and it then moved into the “Cool, might be fun. Hope it looks good!” category of game awareness. So we all now turn our eyes, ears, skipped heartbeats, and hopes to Konami for employing Climax Studios to develop a brand new Silent Hill to the system. After being given a short walkthrough of the nightmare portion and a little hands-on time of my own, I think it’s worth our while to keep watching and hoping.

It, too, is a remake of the original game, but it’s more appropriate to call it a retelling, as they’ve gone and changed the entire experience, right down to the character interactions. The game supports Wii controls like pointing the flashlight where you want, and of course some unannounced features. One that sounds particularly interesting, though, is that the game makes a “psych profile” of the player before starting the game, and this profile will go toward affecting the play experience. This is things like your fears, or things you’ve done in your past leading to characters reacting to you differently. I’m not sure the extent of this feature, but the logic would suggest that if you admit to hating animals, then the horrors would play on that and other things you mention. This profile also evolves as you play, watching what you notice and do in the game world.

I started with the nightmare sequence on display. I’m controlling the protagonist Harry Mason, and walking about a small street corner. It’s night time and everything’s covered in snow. My cell phone, which, to maintain immersion, is my source of communication and all game mechanics such as saving, rings and I press A to answer… no voice on the other end of the line. As Mason vainly calls out for a response, there’s something odd about the environment. It’s moving, and in an odd way. Trees are more twisted and mangled than they looked a second ago and, oh look, everything’s getting covered in ice and the very ground seems to be turning an odd shade of black. The effect is really cool to watch, and one I’m guessing we’ll see a lot of in the full game, so good thing. It also sets high hopes that more experiences like this will abound in the full release.

There’s really only one place to go from here, and that’s inside a door with a blinking light sitting before it. It’s a dark hall, and what you first see is that pointing the wiimote is where Mason shines the flashlight, and that it looks and feels really good. Walking down leads to a cutscene that then shows a couple of those creepy faceless creatures spotting and hunting me down. Time to run. The rest of the demo was me running away from these things. There are some ledges to climb, and this is handled simply by running up to them. Much better than the awkward door mechanic which had me run up to it, and then wait for me to press A even though it cut to a shot that suggested it was going to handle that task on its own.The best part of the chase is looking behind you with the D-pad. Mason looks back and shines the flashlight, and you can see the creatures on the prowl. It’s a great suspenseful little feature, as well as useful.

I actually started to get a little frustrated due in part to having absolutely no idea where to go, and doors leading to dead ends meaning guaranteed health loss, as you have no means of fighting back. This was a design choice to give the player a fear-through-defenselessness feeling throughout their experience, and to not of any empowerment that a gun or any weapon might give. I’m not sure how I feel about that on the whole yet, but at any given dead end I was starting to get damned frustrated to have little more than a visual cue on what direction to swing my wiimote after they’d climbed on my back to kill me. This, and my having to adjust to the control scheme, meant Mason was limping in no time flat. I was lucky to find a road flare at the bottom of a pool, which wards them off, but doesn’t stop them from chasing you at a distance.

Eventually I was out, and the nightmare flashed away. Next thing I know, Mason is standing on that street corner. Things are brighter, and not skewed and creepy looking. He’s looking about as confused as you’d expect as the screen fades to black and the demo ends.

Not bad, I just hope that hitting dead ends aren’t guaranteed to be punished with damage each time like I experienced. That aside, I’m definitely interested in playing the game. The psych profile and strong efforts to keep players in the game world leave me looking forward to a game that will freak me out thoroughly, dynamically, and enjoyably.