This generation hasn’t been a high point for the horror genre. Most horror games lately, with Resident Evil 5 being the best example, ditch the scares almost entirely and replace them with intense action. So perhaps in an attempt to rediscover what once made horror great, and to rekindle interest in the genre, publisher Konami and UK developer Climax went back to the first Silent Hill for inspiration. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a re-imagined exploration of the frozen, desolate town filled only with your personal demons, is both new and familiar. And most of the time, it succeeds in pulling in and scaring players open to its unsettling fun.
On paper, the plot is fairly similar to the first Silent Hill: a man named Harry Mason gets in a car accident, wakes up and has to find his daughter Cheryl. And though there are winking nods for fans of the original, with familiar names and locales popping up, the story has been completely rewritten, which is a welcome departure in an age of ports and Wii-makes. Not only is Harry's quest a significantly different affair, the story is told with more clarity, as opposed to the (sometimes maddening) murkiness of the earlier games. Not that it isn't packed with mystery, but once an answer is revealed, it makes sense and won't leave you saying, "huh?"
As you explore this newly refurbished Silent Hill – which features impressive graphics and some of the best natural-looking people on the Wii – it’s difficult to not be constantly creeped out by the spookily empty, snowed-in burg. Nearly every room is lit only by your flashlight, with eerie background noise and a moody soundtrack that sets the tone for Harry's search (though the music doesn’t reach the intensity or inventiveness of some of the past games). The puzzles are pretty clever, with logic and observation usually being key, without the obtuse or silly solutions that plague so many survival-horror games. The devs made it a point to have the solution to every puzzle be in the specific room the locked door is, keeping your inventory free from insane piles of crests or keys.
Shattered Memories also really takes advantage of the platform’s abilities in some really clever ways. Whether turning a knob on a radio, shaking empty cans to find a key, or some other tricks we'd rather you be surprised by, the "waggle" doesn't feel tacked on – although a few puzzles call for finer manipulations than the Wii Remote was intended for. The game also has what is perhaps our favorite-ever use of the Remote's speaker: when Harry talks on his phone or listens to a voice mail, you hold the Remote to your ear and listen just like it’s a real phone.
The iPhone-esqe device used by Harry in-game is pretty handy throughout, whether for menu navigation, taking photos which are often needed to unlock pieces of puzzles, or checking the map while keeping the screen nearly HUD-free. Still, we enjoyed the phone calls most, even if it was used for the often-pointless action of calling every number we come across during our search. Though only a few numbers advance the story, usually with vague hints or a spooky voice telling you a door is unlocked, and the rest of the time you’re hearing answering machines, it makes the world feel fuller, while at the same time reminding Harry he’s alone when he’s so often met with recordings. We can only see the game suffering in the planned non-Wii versions, as the Remote features add so much.