Shattered Memories is the most exciting Wii game I've played all year, and by quite some distance, too. On paper, it's just a remake of the first entry in the Silent Hill series - but rather than simply going over old ground with a new lick of paint, Climax Studios has used this opportunity to tear up the rule book completely. The end result is a braver, more streamlined Silent Hill, and on the basis of what I've seen so far, it could well be a vital shot in the arm for the whole franchise.
I first encountered Shattered Memories at E3 in June. At the time I was fairly impressed with what I saw, but a bustling convention centre is hardly the best place to assess a project like this. This week, with the benefit of time, our own preview code and a decent pair of headphones (essential for any survival horror outing, in my opinion), I've been able to fully appreciate the game's prowess. For a start, it looks brilliant - and not just in a cop-out "pretty good for a Wii release" kind of way. The lighting effects are superb, particularly when using the all-important torch, while the voice acting and ambient music are of a consistently high standard. Shattered Memories is easily one of the most technically accomplished games to show up on the Wii, and yet it's the changes to the gameplay that have really caught my attention.
As with the original Silent Hill, Shattered Memories is the story of a troubled writer named Harry Mason. At the start of the game Harry crashes his car after hitting a patch of icy road, and when he regains consciousness he discovers that his daughter, Cheryl, is missing. He immediately sets out to find her, ignoring the fact that he may have serious head injuries. The town of Silent Hill is almost completely snowed under, but it soon turns out that this is the least of Harry's problems.
So far, so traditional - but Shattered Memories mixes things up with the introduction of what I presume is a flash-forward subplot, in which Harry discusses his ordeal with a psychiatrist. These interludes take the form of interactive cutscenes, viewed from a first-person perspective. At select points your therapist will ask you questions that must be answered by "nodding" or "shaking your head" with the Wii Remote, and he'll also get you to undertake other activities as part of the therapeutic process. But these exercises aren't just there to add to the atmosphere; your responses in these sections will determine the way the game treats you, altering everything from level layout to the way you are treated by other characters.
These choices are brought into play right from the start, and one of your first actions in the game will be to fill out a short questionaire of yes/no questions. Among other things, you'll be quizzed about your drinking habits, how sociable you are, and whether or not you enjoy roleplay during sex. I was sceptical about just how much impact these choices would have, but having played through the first section twice, giving different answers each time, it seems that they really do make a difference.
On my initial run-through I played Harry as a booze-loving socialite who values his family; during my first half hour of play, I was forced to move through a dressmaker's store, where a prom dress played an important role in an early puzzle. Soon after I met my first NPC - a friendly bar lady in an empty pub. On my second attempt, I played as a cold and sober introvert, and this time my path took me through an electronics store where someone had been making porn films; a TV replaced the dress as the object I needed to find. Instead of the barwoman, I ended up meeting Cybil the cop in a deserted diner. Cybil was cold and unhelpful towards me, ostensibly because I told the quack that I found it hard to make friends - and yet when I met her in the other game, she was as nice as pie.
I don't have time to list all the differences I spotted, but take it from me that there were a lot of them - including everything from billboards to Harry's reaction to in-game objects. In theory this automatic customisation is a reflection of a psychological profile that the game builds for each user, and there's even a cute little warning screen about this when you first boot up the Wii. I'm not sure whether all this will really result in a scarier game, but it's certainly unnerving when you turn up at your house to find it looks almost exactly like it did in the badly-coloured-in drawing you did for your therapist.