A phone, a flashlight, and a fistful of flee
April 30, 2009
I should know better, but advance publicity for an upcoming game can still penetrate my hype-resistance shield and set my flinty heart racing. I'm vulnerable to a big letdown when such a game disappoints; but occasionally - No More Heroes comes to mind - a game delivers, and my giddy anticipation feels rewarded.
We'll see if it unravels, but for now I'm excited about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, due later this year for the Wii. I'll explain why in a second, but first here are the reasons I must be crazy: 1) It's a remake; 2) Konami farmed it out to another developer (Climax); 3) It's being released simultaneously for PS2 and PSP; and 4) It looks like a cash-in from a franchise on life-support.
And am I the only one who thinks the promo shot looks like it's for a Harry Potter game?
Despite all the alarm bells, I remain excited about this game and here's why: it puts the survival back in survival horror. Or it claims to anyway. SHSM eschews the trend toward action shooters that most survival horror games have become. In this version (which Konami is calling a "re-imagined" edition of the original Silent Hill, ala Battlestar Galactica's reinvention of its source material), Harry Mason's only tools are a flashlight, an iPhone-like device, and his/your wits.
Combat has been stripped from the game altogether, leaving you with no choice but to flee or seek shelter. As producer Tomm Hulett and lead designer Sam Barlow describe it in the May edition of Nintendo Power:
For the nightmare world, the focus is on escape and evasion. We don't want the player to feel empowered; we want them to feel helpless...If you sat down, watched a ton of horror movies, and then asked, 'What is the action mechanic here?' you'd come up with what we did--the "action" is the chase. It's the classic nightmare. As a child you don't dream about beating up on zombies with pipes. You dream of being chased, of being unable to escape. We wanted to make our nightmare sequences just that--nightmares. You are chased. You run, you try to put distance between you and the creatures, try to find your way out of the labyrinth.
This approach appeals to me, as does the developer's decision to eliminate onscreen text and contextual button pressing. Fix your view on an object, and Harry comments on it vocally. Environments stream, so load times are gone; and running away - barricading or busting through doors, climbing fences, jumping through windows - is all controlled by the player. No quick-time events and no preordained pathways.
It seems like a little thing, but I'm especially interested in the flashlight. When the Wiimote was first revealed, lots of people saw it as a potential lightsaber, but I recall thinking "Hm. That would make a great flashlight," yet surprisingly few games have made good use of it. Lara Croft got one in the Wii version of Tomb Raider Anniversary, but it didn't add much to the gameplay. According to its designers, SHSM will make the device much more central to Harry's survival and his exploration of the game's environments. Likewise, the Wiimote will also function as your phone, its speaker employed ala No More Heroes.
I'm not going to bet the farm on a rehashed (or re-imagined) Silent Hill, but I'm choosing to be hopeful. I want a survival horror game that makes me feel vulnerable, desperate, lonely, and nearly helpless. Here's hoping Silent Hill: Shattered Memories will be that game.