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:


4. Use that psychological element

Before playing SH:SM, I assumed the psych testing thing would figure out what made me nervous and use that against me – trap me in a tiny room if I show claustrophobic tendencies, for example. But all Memories seems to do is reflect your personality directly. For example, if you display an obsession with sex, some of the characters wear sexier outfits. Surely this is something a sex obsessive would quite like, not be scared by.

I know it was part of the hype but I felt this element would have been more effective if it hadn’t told me that I was being psychoanalyzed – I went through it paranoid about my actions and trying to predict what the game would take from the choices I made. As a result, Psycho Mantis unexpectedly calling me out for being a big save scumming bastard in Metal Gear Solid felt rather more unnerving.

5. Kill my dumb ass

I do like the whole “run away from enemies” concept. It’s a third corner of the conflict-in-gameplay triangle – stealth fighting, direct fighting or evasion – that doesn’t see much deliberate use. But as I said in the video, I didn’t feel terribly threatened by the things chasing me. Personally I think being pursued by something unknown and amorphous but clearly hostile – see the first-person chase scenes from the Evil Dead movies or the sequence in SH3 where a red light pursues you down a corridor – would have been scarier, even more so if it felled you immediately with no quick-time-event escape route, and even more so if the thing actually killed you, rather than teleport you to the start of the section.

A lot of games have used alternatives to dying (as in Prey, Bioshock, the new Prince of Persia etc) because frequent autosaves ensure that dying is little more than a brief delay in games these days. But here’s the thing: it’s still dying. And above all else, especially in horror, the threat of death has to be real, and one that the player should want to avoid. It should look like death even if it doesn’t have the effect. Getting your head popped off like a champagne cork and having to roll back the clock to before you made a bad decision still feels more like a failure than getting rescued by circumstance and continuing from the same moment in time. And lest we forget, gore heightens tension.

Don’t get me wrong, the original Silent Hill games were far from perfect, and the attitude of the developers of sequels and remakes often seems to be to keep the imperfections as some kind of museum piece, refusing to change anything lest they be accused of dissing the franchise. Shattered Memories proves that developers Climax are willing to do what most aren’t and go back to formula. But in re-rolling the dice, some of what made the original games so compelling was lost. I will definitely be interested in any future adaptations of the IP by Climax, as long as they toss a few more coins in the dismemberment budget next time.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is

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