Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

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Sometime before the year 2000, or maybe just after the first winter of the new millennium had settled in, I picked up a copy of Silent Hill for my PlayStation and sat down in my Chicago apartment to play. Assuming this was Konami's Resident Evil knock-off, I figured I was in for a couple silly screams and a few laughs. I wasn't prepared for what was to come. I brought a bag of Dorito's to Silent Hill.

See, the first time I heard a baby crying in Silent Hill, the first time I heard an air-raid siren, the first time I wandered through the fog to find the edge of the world -- these were the first times I was actually frightened by a video-game. Resident Evil had shocked and surprised me; dogs jumping through windows are the kind of cheap scares that are followed by a room-full of laughter. Not so with Silent Hill. Silent Hill's abandoned elementary school filled me with anxiety. Silent Hill's store-fronts were harrowing, their faceless fronts suggesting an anonymous dread. The creatures crushed into the margins of Silent Hill, hiding between dumpsters and desks, weren't recognizably anything. They were suggestions of something terrible, their limited poly counts serving as a framework for my more graphically sophisticated imagination.

I put down the controller and said to no one, "I don't want to play something that makes me feel this way."

Years later, Silent Hill 2 would be one of my favorite games of all time.

Konami knows that the first Silent Hill was special, but perhaps it doesn't know how or why. Recent attempts to bring Silent Hill into our homes have been conceptual and critical failures, full of half-aborted ideas and misplaced machismo. Perhaps that's why they're returning to the beginning of it all. Not the beginning of the story, but the foundation of the franchise. Konami is re-releasing Silent Hill.

We're getting our Wii-make, of course. Konami's press release states that, "Designed to make full use of the Wii’s unique controllers, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories uses the Wii Remote™ as a torch and cell phone as Mason looks for clues."

The press release explains, "The torch is vital for scouring the darkened, abandoned buildings of Silent Hill, while the phone acts as a secondary user interface, allowing the player to access maps via its GPS capabilities and take pictures of interesting elements. Likewise, the Wii Remote also can be used to pick up, examine and manipulate items to solve puzzles along the journey.

"Such technology was not available when the original Silent Hill was released in 1999, and its inclusion showcases Konami’s determination to enhance the playing experience with new, available technology."

Already, my stomach sinks. Silent Hill wasn't about an enhanced experience. If anything, the original game was defined by the PlayStation's technological shortcomings. The city of Silent Hill is shrouded in fog not just because the unknown disturbs us, but because the PlayStation wasn't capable of rendering that far in front of Harry Mason. Shallow draw distances were masked with a layer of cool grey, the constraints of the PSOne re-purposed for Silent Hill's triumphs.

Perhaps someone had played Turok on N64 and thought, "You know, if we made a game out of this, it would be really scary."

Likewise, the Wiimote's weaknesses should be employed to enhance the game's atmosphere. Sure, we can point at the screen, and shake the stick, and waggle ourselves around town, but what if the limitations of the Wiimote's technologies were harnassed to make the game scarier? The Wiimote is notoriously innacurate -- can't we use that to Silent Hill's advantage? If draw distance was the given in 1999, perhaps the Wii controller can be the fog between the player's intentions and the character's actions. Perhaps the inconsistent targeting can become the metaphor for Harry Mason's shaking hands. A challenge for Konami: Make the Wiimote an instrument of fear.

Whatever Konami decides to do with the WiiMote, the game will also come out for PS2 and PSP with a more traditional control scheme. Konami (and developer Climax, of Silent Hill Origins fame) promises enhancements for all three versions, but without a real preview of the game, it's impossible to know what they mean. My nervousness as expressed in this article is not baseless trepidation, but the result of a lot of thought I've put into the Silent Hill series.

Play readers understand that a game is not just a series of programmed events, but a sequence of moments that can, either by accident or intention, make for a remarkable experience. Sound, visuals, story, and perhaps most importantly, control, are all conscious choices that conspire to create the unique voice of each game. I'm excited, as you should be, about the upcoming Silent Hill revamp. Climax already has a great piece source material on their hands -- it could be argued that the less work Climax puts into Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the more incredible the experience could be. Or perhaps Origins (a worthwhile game on its own) was the practice lap for Shattered Memories' more extraordinary show. All I ask, all I beg, is that we don't just to play the game when it comes out, but think about it after, because only through the deconstruction of what these games are doing -- how they achieve their effects -- can we elevate the industry above barrels and health packs.

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