It makes sense that Climax is spending a lot of time tailoring its world, because it's arguably playing an even more important role than in previous Silent Hills. In past games your environment would frequently shift between its usual state and a demonic, Hell-like doppelgänger, but either way you'd still be getting up to the same stuff: walking around, shooting or bludgeoning monsters, and solving the odd puzzle. Now there's a greater distinction between the two dimensions. When things are normal - or normal for Silent Hill, at least - the gameplay will emphasise puzzling. You'll steer Harry around with the Nunchuck, using the Remote to guide the camera, which is synced to your impressively pretty flashlight. Holding the B trigger will zoom your vision, the A button lets you interact or inspect things; pushing the two together will allow you to "pinch" and manipulate certain objects, indicated with subtle white arrows. I've only played the first two hours or so of the game, but so far the puzzles have largely been tied to specific locations. There's no dedicated inventory system, so if you need to find a key it will usually be fairly close by. The puzzles I've encountered have been pleasingly logical, and there's always a sense that Harry is simply trying to do what he must to continue his search.
Aside from his bare hands, Harry's main tool is his smartphone - a gadget that fulfils several roles. For a start it acts as a sort of detector for ghostly activity, spewing out interference noise in the same manner as the radios in previous Hills. The GPS function gives you a map and helps to steer you towards objectives, and you can use your mobile to dial any number you come across on your travels (while stumbling through the town's high school I found a piece of graffiti about a slutty student who would perform "favours". Naturally I called the number, but the end result was a bit creepy, and it made me feel like a bit of a pervert). Finally, the phone's camera function can be used to detect ghosts, revealing what the human eye can't see. As you might imagine, this often results in a jump or two.
You may have noticed that I've not yet mentioned combat or monsters; that's because Shattered Memories is a bit of a departure from its predecessors - and indeed from survival horrors in general. While you'll frequently encounter ghost-like spiritual echoes and other supernatural goings-on, Harry will only directly face enemies when the world shifts to the Nightmare Realm. At this point the world freezes over completely: ice spreads over the entire world, frozen walls arise to block your progress, and snowflakes are left hanging motionless in the air. But you're not alone in this icy wilderness: the world is full of faceless white creatures, freaks that look like something from a Guillermo Del Toro film, and they're disturbingly good at hunting you through the slippery wastes.
To make matters worse, Harry has no direct way to fight them. That's right, folks - your only option is to run for your life. From time to time you'll find a flare that can keep your foes at bay, Alan Wake style, but other than this, your only options are to hide or to keep moving. If you find a bed to crawl under or some other form of protection, you'll be forced to watch your pursuers through a restricted view as they stalk about the room. If they leave, you'll have an opportunity to get away, but if you wait too long the monsters will sniff you out. In other words, hiding is a short term solution. In the long run your only hope is to find the exit door by dashing headlong across the map, desperately searching the horizon for the blue outlines that give clues to paths you can take.
I've no doubt that some gamers will baulk at the absence of combat, but personally I think it's a great idea. By depriving you of weapons, Shattered Memories forces the player into a position of weakness. Most survival horrors eventually turn you into an efficient killing machine, but here you should always be the terrified quarry. Anyone who's played any of the early Clock Tower games will know how scary this setup can be, and since the Resi series has turned itself into an action franchise, it's refreshing to see Konami and Climax putting fear first. Even the Wii's motion controls work well: when a monster grabs Harry, you'll have to throw it over your shoulder by making similar gestures with the controllers - an action that actually feels natural, for once.
The only concern I have with Shattered Memories is that it seems that you can't actually die; if the monsters do drag you to the floor, you'll have to start your flight again from what appears to be some form of invisible checkpoint. Player death and the accompanying fear is a major ingredient of the horror genre, so this is a controversial design choice. Still, the rest of the game has been handed immaculately, so for now I've got faith that Climax knows what it's doing. Everything about Shattered Memories screams of quality, from the sleek graphics to the strange, home video-like presentation of the menus - a touch that feels like a nod and a wink to Austrian director Michael Haneke. In short, I'm dead eager to play more. The game is due out in the US before Christmas, but here in Europe we'll have to wait until early next year. Something tells me that it'll be worth it.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories will be released on Wii, PS2 and PSP in early 2010.