A frozen Cheryl Mason on the box art of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

Silent Hill is the series that kept on giving…for a while, at least. While the first three (four, arguably) entries in the long-running survival horror franchise are universally beloved for their incredible atmosphere, thrilling gameplay, and engaging narratives, there was a definitive creative shift that accompanied Konami’s underlying franchise ever since the mid-2000s. Following the dissolution of Team Silent, Konami’s internal Japanese studio dedicated to producing the Silent Hill franchise, the reins were subsequently handed to a revolving door of contracted third-party studios stationed outside of Japan. It’s not a bad thing on paper, but it’s safe to say that these later games in the franchise generally fail to live up to the originals.

Silent Hill: Origins, Silent Hill: Homecoming, and Silent Hill: Downpour all saw mixed critical reception from the gaming audience at large, with near-total disdain from the Silent Hill fanbase as a whole. While some would praise these entries for their ability to emulate the original games’ presentation, as well as what they brought to the table in terms of unique ideas, everything from performance issues to broken balancing would ultimately sour what each game was trying to accomplish. Some attempted to stitch themselves into the canon established by previous games, whereas others attempted to do something wholly unique with the concepts and ideas already introduced to the audience. Of course, the less said about Silent Hill: Ascension, the better.

What makes Silent Hill: Shattered Memories so bizarre, then, is that it attempts to have the best of both worlds. Released in 2009 by Climax Studios, Shattered Memories took the franchise in a new creative direction. Billed as a re-imagining of the first Silent Hill game, Shattered Memories takes the first game’s characters and general plot and gives it a stylistic makeover, making significant deviations from the original in terms of both style and gameplay. But the scariest thing of all has yet to reveal itself: it was also a Wii game with motion controls.

In anticipation of the upcoming Silent Hill 2 remake, why not take a look back at the closest thing to a Silent Hill remake we already have? You may be surprised at what this modest horror title has in store.

Shattering Your Memories of Silent Hill

Silent Hill Shattered Memories Phone
Konami | Silent Hillside on YouTube

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories opens, bizarrely, with a bright red warning message. While it was customary for each game in the franchise to be prefaced with an ominous warning (“Some images in this game may be considered violent or cruel”), this time around, it’s as blunt as it is bold:

This video game psychologically profiles you as you play. It gets to know who you really are then uses this information to change itself. It uses its knowledge against you, creating your own personal nightmare.
This game plays you as much as you play it.

Overblown? A little bit. Unsettling? Also, a little bit. Granted, the act of the game profiling your behaviors isn’t exactly new. Those who’ve played Silent Hill 2 extensively will attest that the game’s ending is devoted solely to each and everything you do, down to healing yourself and examining something as simple as a photograph in your inventory. Whereas it was never directly conveyed to the player in Silent Hill 2, however, this type of psychological profiling takes center stage.

From as early as the first cutscene, we play as a (presumably) faceless figure attending a psychotherapy session with an older gentleman named Dr. Kaufmann, a man whose sense of humor is balanced by his intake of alcohol and overall bitterness towards seemingly everything. Meanwhile, a parallel story sees Harry Mason, a typical everyman author, ending up in a violent car crash in the dead of winter, with his beloved daughter vanishing from the scene of the incident. Left with severe gaps in his memory, he’s left to search for his daughter while being strung along by an eclectic cast of characters. All the while, Harry will have to contend with the “Otherworld,” an alternate reality that turns the land to ice and summons grotesque monsters.

The game itself takes several stylistic and thematic ventures away from its source material. A grainy VHS filter is laid across the screen, tying into the game’s frequent themes of memory. Harry Mason is no longer a gun-toting hero but a man shaped by your own actions via the psychological profiling mentioned before. Dahlia Gillespie, Cybil Bennett, and Lisa Garland — all major characters from the original game — are here and accounted for, albeit with significant changes to their position in the narrative, overall personality, and general appearance. More than ever, the game’s cutscenes and environmental storytelling are as essential to the overall experience as the act of actually playing it.

But the biggest deviation from the original Silent Hill has to be Shattered Memories‘ most contentious change: there’s no combat whatsoever.

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Harry Mason isn’t a fighter in Shattered Memories, with the gameplay being divided into two distinct portions: exploration in the real world and chase sequences in the Otherworld. The former sees you doing what you would typically expect, as you’re finding items, exploring the environment, and solving a variety of puzzles that come in a few different shapes and sizes. Simple physics puzzles make up a huge portion of them this time around, instead of more complex riddles and the like. The latter, however, sees you running for your life from Shattered Memories‘ one and only enemy type: the “Raw Shocks,” which are pink, fleshy humanoids that perpetually give chase until the sequence is over.

Also playing a key role in the gameplay is Harry’s smartphone. With it, you’ll be able to access a map that’s updated in real-time, take photographs of your environment, call phone numbers found in the environment, dial contacts, and even save your game at your own leisure. It’s a small addition, but it’s worth bringing up for how often it comes into play. If you’re playing on Wii, you’ll even be able to hear the phone through the Wiimote’s built-in speaker.

What you have is a stark change from what Silent Hill had firmly established up to this point. Gone is the mix of traditional survival horror elements crossed with puzzle-solving. Here, the two worlds are made into their own distinct halves: the calm before the storm and…well, the storm. It’s not a terrible idea, mind you, but it’s certainly a huge adjustment.

Silent Hill for a New Audience

Silent Hill Shattered Memories 1
Konami | Silent Hillside on YouTube

An excerpt from Sam Barlow, a lead designer at Climax Studios, gives us a bit more context behind such a dramatic shakeup in multiple departments. In an exclusive piece from Edge, which was later made available online via Gamesradar+, Barlow goes into greater detail about the conceptualization and development of Shattered Memories, specifically highlighting how the game’s planned exclusivity on the Nintendo Wii dictated several key design decisions:

“Combat didn’t fit the idea of selling a horror game to a broad demographic. For example, the point where my girlfriend would stop playing games was when she was asked to pick up a weapon and start fighting. It would conform to her idea of what a video game was and she would become very, very bored…
Of all the pressures internally, in the publisher reviews the question would always be, ‘Are you trying to make a game where you just walk around and nothing happens?’ I was like, ‘No, but that’s a valid experience”

Without diving too deep into the history of the Nintendo Wii, it’s important to recognize that a significant majority of the console’s users likely didn’t play the most popular titles on other platforms, let alone conventional horror games, too often. Because of this, an opportunity to give the audience on that platform a horror experience was more than readily available.

Barlow wasn’t lost on the conundrum of designing a Silent Hill game that appeals to both the original audience and one unique to the Wii. Financial concerns would prompt additional ports to both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, with each one sacrificing some graphical capabilities and unique features found in the previous version.

“It was a catch-22. Its problems, commercially, were that it was a Silent Hill game and it was on Wii. But if it hadn’t been a Silent Hill game and if it hadn’t been on Wii, it would have never existed the way it existed.”

That’s the biggest cause of strife here. Shattered Memories is probably the farthest thing from a traditional mainline Silent Hill game, yet it was seemingly marketed as such. But it’s not as if Shattered Memories is devoid of anything good, even if it doesn’t neatly fall within the confines of what a Silent Hill game “should” be.

For one thing, being a later title in the Wii’s library, it looked absolutely fantastic. Barring a small stutter that accompanied the opening and closing of doors, the game’s lighting looked fairly natural, the level geometry was surprisingly complex, and there was a substantial amount of detail even in the tiniest of objects. Though the Wii’s hardware was limited compared to other prominent consoles at the time, there’s no denying that it was a visual marvel compared to other third-party titles on the platform.

Plus, there’s the whole “psychological profiling” aspect. As much as it comes off as a blunt marketing gimmick, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the game actually uses this to not only affect your playing experience but affect it in substantial ways. Aside from simply changing the coat that Harry wears after a certain point in the game, the appearances of other characters change. Their personalities shift and adjust to your actions, and even small portions of the game world change to reflect the personality you demonstrate. Even the Raw Shocks morph into different forms based on your actions, acting as a potential representation for one of four distinct endings you’ll receive.

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Without spoiling anything major, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that makes all these deliberate changes. The psychotherapy sessions with Kaufmann are easily the most blatant indicator of this, with your answers to his various questions and scenarios having some of the biggest impacts on the potential ending you get. However, while it’s difficult to determine how much its weighed overall, the actions you perform as Harry while you play are just as important, if not more so. This means everything you do, mind you.

Taking time to slowly look around and explore, ogling bottles of alcohol or otherwise lust-laden imagery in the environment, ignoring everything but the act of finding your daughter—all these actions play a key role in shaping the perception of Harry as a person. It’s engaging, and there was clearly a lot of thought put into its implementation. The same can be said for its utilization of motion controls within puzzles, though the puzzles as a whole have taken a significant hit in the difficulty department.

Of course, speaking as someone who’s more used to traditional Silent Hill games, the actual “playing” part of Shattered Memories is a little harder to stomach.

Shattered Scares

Konami | Silent Hillside on YouTube

While Shattered Memories‘ biggest strengths lie in its presentation and intriguing concepts, the actual horror game portions of Shattered Memories pale in comparison to what came before.

It’s not so much that there’s no combat. Shattered Memories was a little too quick on the draw with such an approach, as Amnesia: The Dark Descent would be released only a single year later in 2010. Not only would the latter seemingly revolutionize the world of horror games, let alone independent games from the genre on PC, but it would also make the genre more accessible to a wider audience who’ve yet to fully experience it for the first time. Not being able to fight things is an annoyance, sure, but it can be made engaging in a plethora of ways.

Shattered Memories has issues here. For one thing, each chase sequence boils down to running down a series of linear corridors that occasionally form labyrinthine pathways until it decides to abruptly end. It’s less of a chase and more of an exercise in finding the correct doorway to burst through while occasionally throwing the Raw Shocks off your person. You can slow them down via interacting with the environment, like climbing fences, jumping over large gaps, or even throwing down obstacles for them to trip over, but these are few and far between. They will eventually catch up to you, and repeatedly throwing them off again and again as you stumble through an Otherworld composed of blue, blue, and more blue gets a little tiring.

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You’ll rarely find any deviations from this formula. While the game does introduce some mild variety with additional objectives in the Otherworld, like taking pictures of specific things in the environment, the two worlds of puzzle solving and handling monsters just don’t intersect in a meaningful way outside of these. In other games, the two things worked in tandem with each other to make them mutually stressful. To solve puzzles, you have to repeatedly encounter monsters without dying to find specific items and clues. To fight monsters, you have to hone some skills beyond your brainpower in order to survive. It was a careful balance in most instances, rewarding your ability to memorize specific rooms and enemy patterns to achieve a better rank at the end of the game.

Again, the absence of this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that the absence of it, without anything meaningful to replace it, is a little tiresome. The game’s length doesn’t compound this, coming in at around the same length if not shorter than previous entries in the franchise, but it’s still something that nagged at me throughout.

If there’s any reason to replay Shattered Memories, at least, it’s that the psychological profiling really opens some interesting narrative opportunities. Again, we won’t spoil the ending for you here, but it easily re-contextualizes everything you’ve experienced leading up to it. It’s a narrative structure that would be later recreated in a worse fashion via Silent Hill: Downpour. While that one would seemingly shift and change the entire story at a whim based on your moral decisions, Shattered Memories‘ psychotherapy framing device makes it feel a little less obnoxious in comparison.

Did Shattered Memories Deserve Better?

Silent Hill Shattered Memories Hug
Konami | Silent Hillside on YouTube

Being the only non-Japanese studio to receive not one but two separate cracks at the Silent Hill IP, it’s safe to say that Climax Studios certainly fell within Konami’s good graces — for a while, at least. As mentioned previously, Silent Hill: Downpour would be released in 2012 by the incredibly short-lived Vatra Games, who made a total of…a single game prior to being involved with Silent Hill. It goes without saying by now, but it wasn’t particularly great at the time. Or now. Vatra Games would then declare bankruptcy the same year Downpour was released. Climax Studios, meanwhile, would later be acquired by Keywords Studios in 2021, per a press release provided by Keywords Studios.

Did Shattered Memories deserve to be the last Silent Hill game produced by Climax Studios? Did it deserve to be left in the past, with skyrocketing prices for grey market copies arguably surpassing its legacy in its own surrounding franchise?

Shattered Memories came during a very, very strange period in Silent Hill’s history. The franchise itself had undergone a sort of identity crisis, with the earlier games in the franchise jumping between personal stories of torment that shape the titular town into a nightmarish version of itself to the supernatural happenings being the work of a persistent cult. Seeing as how Silent Hill 2 remains the most culturally pervasive of the original Team Silent games, it’s no surprise then that numerous studios that became attached to the franchise opted to lean more towards the personal stories over the cult stories. Except for when they didn’t, opting to meld the two together in some bizarre hegemony a la Climax Studios’ Silent Hill: Origins. Unlike something like Resident Evil, which leaned firmly into its action-oriented traits and persistent focus on monstrous biological weapons, you could argue that Silent Hill‘s lack of consistency in its cerebral subject allowed for these gigantic peaks and valleys of overall quality.

For a time, it really seemed like Konami didn’t really know what to do with one of their most iconic — though not incredibly financially successful — franchises, hence the period of shopping future games out to contracted developers. While it certainly allowed for a degree of creative freedom under Konami’s watchful eye, the same type of freedom that allowed for Shattered Memories also led to Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a PlayStation Vita-exclusive action RPG that doubles as a giant piece of fan service for the entire franchise. Whether anyone actually wanted something like that or not is hard to say.

Looking back at what Barlow wanted to accomplish with Silent Hill, however, he was onto something. Those who love the Silent Hill games likely remember the massive media frenzy and subsequent controversy that came with P.T. — short for “Playable Teaser” — that showcased a terrifying first-person horror experience with ample secrets to find. It ultimately led to the stealth reveal of the now-canceled Silent Hills, which featured the involvement of acclaimed director Hideo Kojima and beloved actor Norman Reedus. That entire event is a whole other can of worms, however, so we’ll just leave it at that.

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From there, after a long, long hiatus between entries, there seemed to be a resurgence in interest from not only Konami but from the horror audience as a whole — even if we’re following the same slightly worrying trend as before. A short horror game released for free on PlayStation 5, Silent Hill: The Short Message, largely followed a similar gameplay structure to Shattered Memories, featuring no combat with a greater focus on avoiding threats and solving a paranormal mystery. Likewise, the upcoming Silent Hill 2 remake is currently being developed by Bloober Team, a studio whose narrative-driven horror games formed their most recent output in the past few years.

While Konami may not be leaning wholly into the type of horror game that Climax Studios envisioned for Shattered Memories, the kind of audience they were aiming for would be eating good for years afterward. Beyond just Amnesia: The Dark Descent, dozens of good (and not-so-good) indie games would capitalize on the idea of not fighting back in exchange for compelling narratives, thematic horror elements, and mind-bending puzzles. An audience that doesn’t want to fight things but wants to be scared was sufficiently found.

Does this mean that Shattered Memories needed to exist? Is it still worth experiencing 15 years later, removed from the context of its original environment and reasoning for its existence?

Well, you could certainly do worse. A lot worse, actually. Shattered Memories somehow captures a similar feeling of disconnected, dreamlike storytelling found in Silent Hill 2, and while its actual gameplay may falter a bit if you’re a veteran of the genre, it’s a good enough standalone entry in a franchise that tends to hit or miss. Suffice it to say, if you enjoy the “horror” in “survival horror” more than the “survival,” Shattered Memories is worth giving a shot.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is currently unavailable on contemporary platforms. Second-hand copies can be procured for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo Wii.

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