Sunday, July 20, 2014

#DoubleFeature - Silent Hill 1/Silent Hill Shattered Memories

Today I'd like to do something a bit different, and that is reviewing the original PSX Silent Hill while having a look at its reimagining on the Wii!

Let's dig into this well renowned video game series from the start...

The original Silent Hill was a masterpiece of creativity.

Right off the first Alone in the Dark, which launched an entire video game genre, alongside Resident Evil 1 which popularized it, I'd dare say Silent Hill refined the entire formula and offered a true mature adult and intelligent experience, opening the door for better storytelling in gaming.

If Alone in the Dark was the smaller gritty 80s horror independent project à la Evil Dead, and Resident Evil was the B-movie zombie feature flick inspired by George A. Romero's Of The Dead series, Silent Hill instead was drawing a lot from the psychological thriller trend which was being explored a lot on the big screen at the time.

First and foremost the horror cult classic Jacob's Ladder, which the entire series would continue to use as source and inspiration.

The Silent Hill series was developed by Konami, following Capcom's very successful own 1996 title Resident Evil. The idea was to use a similar template to tell different sorts of stories back when 3D was only beginning to stretch its legs outside platformers and shooters. The game was created by Keiichiro Toyama, who worked before on Hideo Kojima's classic Snatcher at Konami prior to handling an entire development crew. He would also develop the underrated similarly innovative Siren series later on.

Following one very surprisingly successful Playstation game in 1999, it would be followed by the PS2 episodes Silent Hill 2 & 3 before the original studio being disbanded and more and more episodes released continuously over the years, including 2 movie adaptations.

Originally Toyama never intended to have monsters/foes to fight in the game, only wanting to offer a more purely psychological experience, but Konami forced him to use more traditional video game features, and a pretty straight forward Survival horror gameplay.

A decade later, in 2009, was released a special episode, Silent Hill Shattered Memories. Not entirely a reboot, nor a remake, more of an intelligent and original reimagining of the original, it aimed to be more faithful to that original vision despite the series evolving into action/horror, similar to Capcom's own latest Resident Evil games. Although they kept the monsters, this was a return to how the series was originally meant to be, how Toyama imagined the game. A sort of "Director's Cut" if you will...

VGR: Silent Hill also known as Silent Hill 1 
From Konami/Konami Computer Entertainment 
Played on Playstation
 Also available on Playstation Network

 Type Survival horror 
Year 1999

One of the very first survival horror games, along the original Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil.

Silent Hill was developed by one of Konami's internal studios which would be nicknamed "Team Silent". More than a mere "horror story", it's an attempt to capture at best a "psychological horror" feature.

Keiichiro Toyama's vision was to recreate at best a Hollywood-like quality and atmosphere in a video game, making the player's experience feel like a proper feature film. David Lynch's movies being a huge influence on him.

Originally he didn't want to have the player fight any enemy in his game, why should all video games summarize to simply mere fights? But Konami probably didn't want to take such a risk and a compromise was made to allow him to explore immersive horror yet keeping some traditional features like boss fights and whatnot.

The first game was released in 1999 on the original Sony Playstation.

The story takes place in the eponymous fictive town of Silent Hill. You play as the role of Harry Mason, a writer in search of his missing adopted daughter that disappeared afrer a car crash in the mysterious town.

The series would be known for featuring average everymen as protagonists, a staple of Silent Hill unlike all the other other military, cops and detectives you usually get from other similar games. 

On this very strange night, there's all this fog covering the entire town, like a ghost town. 

Harry quickly finds himself involved in a strange story, there's a strange cult trying to bring a deity to our plan of existence with a ritual, relating to his adoptive daughter's own origin.. 

The fog is covering the entire town, and then there's these dark rusted places taking him to face surreal monsters... 

Harry wakes up in a dinner and meets this officer, Cybil Bennet. She hands him a handgun and quickly Harry equips himself with a map, a flashlight and a knife, finds a radio which helps him located the nearby creatures.

The story will take him looking for Cheryl at the local sSchool, an hospital and even a resort area! Trying to understand what this "otherworld" is...

The idea was to feature less important emphasis on combat (even if it was forced on the game), but the gameplay actually boils down to your typical survival horror games when you get down to it.

You have to keep an eye on your short supply of ammo and health, and manage to survive through this horrific tale.

Something rare at the time was a lack of a proper HUD menu on screen indicating health and ammo, instead you had to either go to the pause menu or keep an eye on your character on the screen.

The series would become popular for its numerous endings depending on your actions, and this first installment is not in rest. There's several endings you can get, including two good ones and two bad ones. And there's also a secret harder to get-pretty silly weird "UFO" ending explaining all these events thanks to aliens! Because, why not! It's the only one that doesn't use CGi cutscenes but instead a different art style altogether, a comic book-style video.

The game mimics the aesthetic of Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, a huge influence on the horror explored in Silent Hill, such as its storytelling and design. As such there are several references to Jacob's Ladder in the game itself, such as using a similar type of "spinning wheel" imagery (which referred to Jacob's dead son's bike in the film), like on wheelchairs left in the streets used as a similar gimmick. The game also owns a lot to Clive Barker's cult horror film Hellraiser, in both its aesthatic and alternate world setting.

There was a great attention given to the sound direction in the game. Such as the radio's static, leaving sounds out whenever in the presence of these strange creatures. The music was mostly influenced by Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti, composed by "Team Silent"'s original composer Akira Yamaoka, also responsible for Konami's Sparkster series. His impressive captivating score featuring outstanding compositions.

It's a very original and unique game.

The flashlight being the one and only source of light for most of the game.

It's the fascinating story of a a father literally going through hell and back for his daughter.

There's some intriguing revelations regarding Cheryl's true mother and this other mysterious little girl that appears like a dark twisted reflection of Cheryl. 

While trying to cash-in Capcom's Resident Evil series, Konami actually put a lot of effort into making it their own game. 

There's a lot of details put into the game, such as Silent Hill's big map of this confusing little town where a lot of roads and path seem mysteriously broken. 

Unique and creepy creatures, a story effectively told and gorgeous graphic for the time, if cleverly hidden by this plot device-fog. Clever. The monsters while creepy get really easier to kill over the time, there's also several puzzles in your path. You can save this game at fixed places. 

Overall: It's an all-time classic, and defintiviely Highly Recommended! 

The game was received to huge success at the time, managing to not only impress a lot but also eclipse its rival Resident Evil for a moment. Showing what could be only achieved through video games . 

An immersive flawless and really original Resident Evil clone, moving away from all the usual cliché B-movie horror tropes and going for a more intimate mature and surreal direction. 

The game also used actual proper real 3D-environments, which was also rare at the time.

The original Silent Hill would spawn an entire franchise and would be followed by a proper direct sequel set 17 years later in 2003's Silent Hill 3 and more recently explored again via a prequel Silent Hill: Origins. Besides the below re-imagining, Harry Mason's tale would sort of be used again as part of the plot of the 2006 live action adaptation, the Silent Hill film.  

I give it:
3 / 3 Invaders!

VGR: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories aka Silent Hill Wii, the Silent Hill Reboot or also the Silent Hill 1 Remake (I like to call it Silent Hill 1: Director's Cut personally) 
From Climax Studios/Konami Digital EntertainmentPlayed on Wii 
Also available on PS2 & PSP

Type Survival horror/Adventure game 
Year 2009

Released as a 10-year Anniversary special game-of sort for the series, Silent Hill Shattered Memories was released on the Nintendo Wii and much later also ported for the PS2 and PSP.

The game was developed by Climax Studios, also responsible for other Silent Hill episodes at the time..

Originally, the game started as a completely different original installment in the Silent Hill series. It was supposed to be called "Silent Hill: Cold Heart" and would have featured a university student protagonist named Jessica who was studying psychology when she ended trapped in the town of Silent Hill. That game would have only used melee combat and a body temperature system where the player would to scavenge for food and clothing in the cold. But those plans were sadly scrapped altogether (I still wish we could get this sort of gameplay at one point or another) and merged with another long-in developed project.

There were actually plans for a Silent Hill remake as early as 2006, following the release of the Silent Hill film.

After mimicking the design and gameplay elements of the original SH game in Silent Hill Origins, the guys at Climax wanted to explore something radically different, while trying to stay as much possible away from the usual stereotypes you see from horror/slasher films nowadays.

"Shattered Memories" can be seen as a remake of the original 1999 PSX game with a modern twist. It works as both a remake, a reboot and a re-imagining of the series. It starts from the same basic plot with what mostly appear as the same characters but then deviates in a completely new directions and exploring new story ideas.

Yet it keeps an eye on what was important in the original, and keeps the same overall feel and experience intact.

The main new feature being, you won't fight enemies anymore...!?!

The original was already a deviation of the whole Survival horror genre; instead of going for the usual B-movie tone used at the time, it went for a more serious intense psychological horror aspect.

Kind of like going back to the original ideas introduced along the genre back in Frédérick Raynal's Alone in the Dark, Climax decided to ditch the usual SH formula and go back to the drawing board. Trying their best to re-capture what Silent Hill was supposed to be when Keiichiro Toyama first imagined while still offering some twists and turns to long time Silent Hill veteran players.

The basic synopsis is the same as the original Silent Hill 1 game, but there's a lot of surprises in there for everyone.

The game still begins with a car crash. Harry Mason wakes up to find his daughter Cheryl missing. He goes looking for her in the middle of this massive snowstorm that just caught the little town of Silent Hill.

The players will find themselves taking part in these therapy sessions in first person view set some undefined time, a couple years maybe, later. Talking with Dr. Kaufmann, those scenes are used by the game to better understand "you". Revolving around questions aimed at the player, about subjects as diverse as they are mature, such as sex, life and playing out a couple of scenario. It's a way the game has to "profiles" you as it is. To which there's no right or wrong answers.  

Then the game will revert back to Harry's third person perspective, during the events in Silent Hill.

While Harry's looking for Cheryl, you are led to believe you're actually replaying through the original Silent Hill "through Harry" flashback. But actually it's a lot more complex than that...

Usinig this great gimmick to profile the player as well as the choices you make here and there, the game will evolve and diverge from one player/playthrough to another. (One of the earlier examples include filling colors on a picture which ends up actually reflecting an actual house you will found later)

It's probably one of the better examples of an interactive story out there. The first person psychiatrist office scenes undercut the narrative while the third person segments consist of the proper "game".

The story is framed by those therapy sessions, starting at the beginning of the game's story, then cut down by the in-game actions which often result from your psych profile established here and there. You will progress to the next therapy session, followed by more exploration and story scenes, culminating in these chases that take you to this nigthmarish take of Silent Hill that pops up every now and then.

Shattered Memories is mostly an adventure game.

During the exploration, Harry will also interact with several other characters in town.

The story is really great and the first moving force in Shattered Memories. Things are left ambiguous on purpose.   

It's not only the story of a father going deeper into hell to find his missing daughter, but also the tale of this young Cheryl dealing with the much later loss of a father as well. The trauma she is going through as we witness Harry's journey.

Is Silent Hill real or not, it's left up to interpretation.  

Looking at suggestive posters or "staring" at certain characters will change how differently they will treat you. Some characters can even take on completely different appearances!

The game is a reflection, an exaggerations of our own actual flaws. 

The game's main message seems to be that "people aren't monsters". Harry will have to acknowledge his actions were hurting his very own daughter. 

As you go through the story, nothing seems to be making any sense anymore at first. The game is jumping back and forth between what appears to be when Harry original lost Cheryl one night in town and some later point in life. Then, it goes for a completely different unique direction than originally expected... 

The game revolves around "realistic" scary, in a true return to psychological horror.

It's not perfect, mind you. The puzzles can be a bit too simple to solve. The adventure element could be pushed a bit further.

Silent Hill Shattered Memories is a game that begins like a sort of remake of the original SH (a remake in the true sense of the word, not like one of those HD re-releases), but ends up as this quasi-prequel to SH3! And without spoiling the ending much, most discrepancies in the plot can be explained by our "protagonist's" own point of view.

It's a clever re-imagining, like producer Tomm Hulett said "It's not a remake or a port. That's an important distinction.

The series has always been known for it's parallel dimensions, surely fans could accept an alternate retelling? 

Shattered Memories is as much a story about alternate worlds as true horror. The real story with this series' never been about its surreal hellish realm as much as the feeling of dread and what transpired behind Silent Hill. And this game tries to give an idea of horror you could actually experience in our "real world". It splits the story, and then the gameplay. into two different approaches. 

Now, I know some people complained how it differed too much from the original SH, but actually I found it to be very true to the original title. It's a re-imagining of the first game, it just simply avoids mentioning the entire dark cult aspect from Silent Hill, validated by the story choice since the perspective if gives these events of the first game turn out to be more different than expected. 

But overall it's a basic retelling of the first game from a third person view, controlled this time via Wiimote and Nunchuk.. 

Our journey begins like before by venturing into a desert town covered in snow, when suddenly Harry finds himself captured in this frozen Otherworld (instead of the usual fog-dimension preceding the rusty Otherworld). He later wakes up in a diner to meet Silent Hill cop Cybil Bennet. Harry then goes looking for his missing daughter at the nearby school, trying to call her home he then experiences another shift to the nightmarish dimension following which he finally meets Dahlia Gillespie (who later turns out to be Cheryl's mother). Next stop is the hospital, a shopping mall downtown and finally the Lakeside Resort Area and Amusement Park. A boat trip finally takes Harry to Silent Hill's Lighthouse, finding Cheryl and learning the truth..!! 

When it's all said and done, it basically covers the entire original title.

Sure, characters might look different at first glance, but they're actually very much their same-self, appearances might differ radically depending on your playthrough, that's all.

Shattered Memories is only really missing the character of Alessa, although we do get to see a mysterious silhouette of a "shadow girl" which is probably used here to mirror the original.

The game is carefully paced, the story slow but mature, the storyline intriguing using a great creepy atmosphere.

The game asks more from the player than your regular mainstream video game these days. Questionning where real horror comes from. The usual surreal creatures and blood-covered places are this time kinda left aside for bits here and there regarding real disappeareances, accidents and murders which you get in the form of clues via the settings or telephone calls. 

The Wiimote basically serves as a proxy to Harry's flashlight first. It's a really brilliant use of the remote, usual left for cheap waggles or motion gimmicks. But here the flashlight feels like a natural extension of the player's hand and your direct input in the game's world. It really looks great to these shadows warp around the environment in real time. 

But the remote also serves as your stand in for Harry's cell phone, Shattered Memories' other main gimmick (made better by the use of the built-in speaker). It builds this immersive atmosphere. The phone is used as in-game main menu and hub for the game, you can save via the phone, check on the map, your messages and even take pictures! At several points you will receive some calls and voice mails, really making use of the built-in speaker (like I rarely see in Wii games). You are also able to call all the many random numbers you find on advertisements, posters, etc. It's really effective.! 

The game doesn't feature any traditional combat. You can't fight monsters back! Whenever the world switches to the other dimension, you will have to run away! And fast! The only downside to those segments is that it's kind of apparent where the division lies between the nightmare and the exploration sequences, it can be annoying to some purists, but I thought it well done and clever..

Finally most puzzles revolve around putting together some nearby clues, forcing the exploration 

It's an original mix, the game wants to leave you running for your life, but it kinda loses some of the slower impact from the previous more realistic scenes. It's just that this game is more of an adventure game. It's a great mature character study, one of its rare examples of such in video games. Dealing with real mature subjects, like obsession, death and sex. 

In that regard, it's kind of a role-playing experience. 

Probably the best entry in the entire series since the second game, going for a proper psychological horror, while actually psychologically profiling the player. 

The story sees our main protagonist having to acknowledge the world does not revolve around us. Others are also affected by own actions as well at the end of the day.

While the original used a demon-worshipping cult as plot device for that effect, this one ditches it altogether (although it's still kinda alluded to, simply not overly mentioned). Giving us a much more nuanced character compared to the original bland everyman Harry. His memoriy gaps used as a framework for exploration (Harry lives in SH but doesn't remember his own house there). The game keeps you on purpose in the dark. A lot of interactions are merely experienced via the phone.

The game dares showing us the ugliness of the real world we all live in. Exploring halls of this high school where the events that happened could actually happen in real life, and do happen in many places around the world. It's a more realistic view on moral. 

By answering these psychological tests at beginning the game warns us with a "psychological warning" when you start. The game plays you as much as you play it. While it leaves your immediate thoughts at first, it comes back in full forced over the course of the story, where it does play up in the game actually. It's a clever a way to get into your head. It is really recommended to try to be as truthful and honest as possible (at least on a first playthrough). 

Some of the downsides now. The game is kinda short. But at least it does feature about 5 different endings as usual. These several endings will result in different final conversations and ending cutscenes which depend on your playthrough, many possible outcomes as well as the usual crazy UFO ending only possible through a second playthrough. In the pure tradition of the series, this alien ending makes a comeback, only this time it uses for this occasion an anime art style.

Well-paced great effective in-game storytelling which offer even the most die hard-fans of the original Silent Hill some great surprises, twists and thought-provoking scenes. 

Climax did a great work and impressive storytelling. Sure the gameplay might have some ups and downs, the game does its best when going into a full blown adventure game with an heavy focus on exploration, it's at its best when not actually trying to having you scared from its monsters.

From time to time, during key scenes, the world then freezes over into this nightmarish take on Silent Hill. And running in those darkly-lit frozen streets, attacked by hordes of monster with no mean to attack you can only simply flee, exploring these environments and looking for clues for the following puzzles and looking for light (the interactive elements and escape routes are lightened by these blue overlights). You can only shake the monsters off you when they grab onto you, as long as they don't overpower you. You can also push down some furniture. These scenes do get a bit repetitive and also frustrating later on (particularly the maze-like mall). You can also turn off your light to not attract as much attention or hide for a couple seconds (but be sure to get out of there quickly and have  your lights off). 

Without a faq or playthrough video you never really know when these might happen, as your only clue is your phone which gives the same static sound effects as the hidden horrific tales that happened in Silent Hill or the nearby remnant ghost image from long-deceased people.

Graphically it looks fairly nice and imprressive, more so for the Nintendo's Wii console. While the lower resolution was to be expected, the lighting is very nice and greatly contrast with these dark areas. There's also no loading time during the entire game. 

Series classic composer Akira Yamaoka returned specially once more for this occasion. He did a great overall score as expected. Using some vocal songs and creepy atmosphere, joined by very effective realistic sound effects. Maybe a more minimalist approach this time, but it works great in this situation.

Overall: Silent Hill Shattered Memories is one of the best episodes in the series to have come out in ages.  

While some later chase sequences get a bit more tedious as they are made longer and less linear (it's kinda confusing running in these dark twisted places), it still is a technically great Wii game, one of the better looking games seen on the system. Using very impressive shadows, great voice acting.

Sure, the game has some minor problems, but nothing that detracts from the very enjoyable experience.

The game controls really well via the Wii-remote and nunchuk, one of the best uses of Wii remote I've seen. There's some distracting moments that only serve for the immersion, such as the controls via the Wiimote you get when you try to open a storage case, a closet, a bag or wallet (to find some keys for example), which kinda loses impact on the PS2 and PSP ports. But illuminating the environment with the flashlight always looks great, despite it not providing that much light on screen actually. It answers your motions precisely and really helps put the player in Harry's shoes. 

Speaking of, the game would a mere year later be re-released on Sony's systems. But I can't truly recommend those versions, since they lack most of what made this experience so immersive. It's the little details (such as the flashlight's control). And they were really downgraded visually (also the PS2 version is known for its numerous bugs and glitches). 

Harry's phone was one of this game's other big original feature. The answer to the puzzles can often be found in the same rooms. There's a very effective car drowning sequence.

Your psych profile is a great original innovative element I wish people would try replicating in some other games.

If you're willing to accept changes from the standard Silent Hill formula, this is one of the more original concepts I've ever seen. I like how Climax tried to the usual cliché and trappings of survival horror games, like getting the better of monsters over the course of the games and jump scares. 

The game was well received enough, even though it also got some critical mixed reaction from fans (of the last few games mostly, no doubt). Some people had their opinions divised regarding the gameplay and weaponless chase scenes.

The game is a direct return to its source of inspiration, Jacob's Letter. Including the game's final twist and revelations at the end. A return to true psychological horror. A story about different kind of stories (which you get in the messages and spirit remnants you can "collect").  Actually the game's original cover art was going to be a direct Jacob's Ladder homage before it was ultimately changed. 

It's an attempt at a different sort of survival horror, one that doesn't really rely on cheap scares and enemies overthrowing you, but more on actual tension and eerie atmosphere.

Told via "Harry Mason's memories", recalling the events of the very first SH game. Which is a great way to present this "spinoff"/remake/reboot.

One of the best episodes in the franchise since Silent Hill 2! Highly Recommended!

I give it:
3 / 3 Necronomicons!

And that is it for this DoubleFeature!

Nothing can really compare to the shock, and sheer originality of the very first Silent Hill, that is except maybe this Silent Hill Shattered Memories.

It's a creative re-imagining of the first game.

Both are Highly Recommended games in my eyes, for different reasons.

The original is an all-time classic, partially responsible for shaping up the genre, innovating and was quite a brilliant achievement in storytelling at the time.

And Shattered Memories is a very original experience on its own, more adventure game than true survival horror, another perfectly fine example of amazing storytelling gaming can offer. Highly immersive and quite unique.

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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