Silent Hill: Shattered Memories – “Gimmick Hill”
If “Homecoming” was a desperate attempt at winning over the “Resident Evil” crowd, “Shattered Memories” at first, seems the logic step backwards: try to win back “Silent Hill” adepts. Climax did choose to re-imagine the first “Silent Hill” in a clear sign of reverence for the past of the series. They also appealed to the adventure crowd by removing combat from the game, and focusing it on exploration, as well as shifting core narrative themes from the dreary occult to the realm of the human psyche. Climax knew what every “Silent Hill” fan desired – a mature storyline in a survival horror focused on ambiance – and aimed at pleasing. But, whilst the marketing angle was perfect, everything else was not. But blame what we will, and we will blame many things, let us assure you, it’s undeniable that their purpose seems well-intentioned, perhaps even moved by a genuine love for the original Team Silent creations. Nonetheless, in the cruel world of the arts, such good intentions do not a work make… let alone a good “Silent Hill”. Back in the now distant days of “0rigins” you could already perceive Climax’s limitations. Their simple-minded and to the point interpretation of narrative ambiguities, surreal aesthetics and symbolic undertones, their utter lack of creative spark in the visual art department and their greatest sin: the inability to understand that “Silent Hill” had always been an authorial work inconceivable of franchise treatment. These claustrophobic maladies of the heart are now increased tenfold by greater authorial control of the Climax team, now seemingly liberated of any weight the Konami staff ensured during the transition period from east to west… and hell is it painful to watch the end-result.
In “Shattered Memories”, the series is, using popular video game journalism terminology, re-booted, which means that no “Silent Hill” cannon is reprised. Now, even “Homecoming”, and may god punish us for speaking on a positive tone of such an ill-begotten bastard, had an occasional semblance of a “Silent Hill” atmosphere, with its dreary fog and eerie vacant streets and hellish red-rusted otherworld. But despite this being a remake, Climax thought, in a momentary lapse of arrogant folly, that they were capable of coming up with something fresh to replace what defined its predecessors. One look at the early artwork of the game was enough to understand how unprepared Climax was for this task. And so, they came up with a new aesthetic theme to “Silent Hill” – a blizzard stricken town, rendered in dark blacks (it’s dark and scary), vibrant blue ice (apparently it’s the colour of ice in Brittain) and covered in a whitish snow blanket (well, snow is white). The resulting artistic direction is bland, lacking character, detail and meaning, so woefully uninspired and understated in a video game that used to be known precisely for its emotional impact.
And what could Climax possibly add to compensate for such an outrageous aesthetic? In a nutshell, a modern, gimmick oriented style of gameplay. There are the mini-game-like puzzles with that familiar shallowness that the Wii has accustomed us to, a labirynth-like running game to replace combat that feels like a stripped down, trial and error version of “Clock Tower”, and a useless “GTA IV” cell-phone that delivers back-story in SMS or voice-chat format – it’s the twitter angle on narrative. Now, all these could be sufferable, had the aesthetic any flash of creativity that would allow for the surreal ambiance to shine. But there’s not. Even the plot, while decent and interesting, has its delivery falling flat. Characters and events from the original “Silent Hill” have lost all the details that made them unique, reduced, as is common in game-to-film adaptations, to mere names and archetypes in a sprawled out synopsis that bears no relationship with the source material. Gone are the surreal elements, the bizarrerie, the allegoric and metaphoric… In the end, nothing is left that could possibly stick out in your memory – a character, a dialogue line, an image, a sound (even Yamaoka seems unusually melodic and uncharacteristic), a place, an object, an ambiance… an idea. “Shattered Memories”, like its environments, feels vacant and soul-less, an empty puppet stand-in lying in the place of a once great masterpiece.