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Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 4 May 2010 12:00
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As regular readers/viewers should know by now (and by Christ should they know by now), I have an interest in horror. I've designed a few horror games in the past (although there's a lot in them I would do differently now). When someone tells me they couldn't sleep after playing my games I feel the same sense of satisfaction as when I get a big laugh from a knob gag. I'm a student of both horror and comedy because they're different sides of the same coin: Both are about using emotion to provoke an instinctual, physical response, and if you're lucky, spontaneous evacuation of bodily waste products.

I still maintain that games are one of the best forms of media for horror, and that's why it's disappointing that there have been so few decent horror games lately. It's usually cock-swinging action where monsters jump out of cupboards a lot (as in Dead Space), but going "BOO" is at least a scare of some kind, even if it's just scraping a passing grade. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories didn't scare me at all. Maybe my academic interest in horror has granted me some immunity to artificial fear, but I could think of a lot of ways to make it scarier. So here they are.

1. Stop telegraphing the scares

In all the other Silent Hill games, monsters could show up anywhere. You were always in the evil version of the town, but sometimes you were in another, even more evil version. In Shattered Memories, the world is either "normal" or "frozen," and monsters only show up in the latter. For the rest of the game (a majority) all tension is completely undermined. So, suggestion number one: monsters everywhere.

On top of that, it's too obvious where the monsters are coming from. The iconic fear moment of Silent Hill is standing in the middle of nowhere with about six feet of visibility, your monster-detecting radio going berserk with static, frantically looking around trying to see it before it sees you. In Shattered Memories, you can always tell what direction they're attacking from (the radio gets louder when you point at them) and visibility is quite high. You know that bit in Austin Powers where a guy holds up his arms and screams when the steamroller is still about fifty feet away? That's who I think the game is mistaking me for when I see a squealing figurine scampering towards me from the middle distance.

2. More gore

I said in the review that it's a shame there wasn't more blood around. Now, I don't say that as some kind of juvenile gorehound who can't get wood without seeing an open wound, but as one who appreciates grotesque imagery (like the art of Giger or Francis Bacon) as a sort of horror intensifier. The Shattered Memories monsters felt like clean wooden puppets, while SH2's monsters glistened with filth and sweat, their animations pained and unnatural. What I'm saying is that the town in Shattered Memories felt very "dry," and frozen, but Silent Hill at its most effective has always been very "wet," and organic, whether it be the twitching, bleeding intensity of SH3 or the damp, acrid decay of SH2. If nothing else, a few bloodstains and butchered corpses around the place might have at least given the player a sense of being under threat.

3. Less linearity

I was quite pleased with myself that I got through the Shattered Memories review without directly comparing it to Silent Hill 2, but I guess I'm done holding back now. In SH2, (and 1, but 2 is the better game) there's a strong exploration element in which you explore the streets of the town, discovering what streets are blocked or caved in and crossing them out on your map. Being essentially lost for as long as it takes to find the route that the various roadblocks are pushing you into gave a greater sense of isolation and loneliness. Shattered Memories was extremely linear, since the game's psych testing element railroads you into a sequence of binary decisions. But surely it could have analyzed my personality by what I do in a more open-ended environment. Like whether I go straight to the critical path, or faff around a bit, or climb inside a bin and cry. Which reminds me:

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