It's fair to say that the Silent Hill franchise has suffered a bit of an identity crisis over the past half-decade or so. Silent Hill 4 toyed with a first-person perspective for half of its duration, forcing the player to skulk around in a dingy apartment (at the time one editor - who shall remain nameless - got so confused by this that he spent an hour in the very first room, waiting for something to happen). After that Konami's own Team Silent surrendered control of the series, passing the development baton to Western developers. The most recent effort, prior to Shattered Memories, was Double Helix's Silent Hill: Homecoming. It was a fairly decent attempt to ape the feel of the old games, though its only real claims to innovation were an increased focus on melee combat, and the occasional shock of grisly, Saw-like violence.
Shattered Memories takes a very different approach. New ideas are to be found in abundance here: there's no combat, for a start - only occasional Nightmare sequences in which the player must flee or hide from pursuing monsters. Much of the game is spent exploring creepy, abandoned locations, solving puzzles and picking up messages from what appear to be haunted parts of the environment. Rather than a gun or club, your principle tool is a mobile phone - a handy bit of kit that gives you both a map and a camera for detecting ghostly presences, as well as the ability to call the numbers that appear on posters throughout your environment. Most impressive of all, Shattered Memories features a genuinely mature, original approach to survival horror - unfolding a disturbing and yet affecting narrative over the course of six or seven hours play time.
These departures from the norm are particularly surprising when you consider that Climax's first foray into Silent Hill - the 2008 PSP title Origins - did very little to rock the demonically-possessed boat. In fact, they're even more surprising given that Shattered Memories is, in very loose terms, a remake of the first Silent Hill game. The basic setup is the same: author and all-round normal guy Harry Mason is involved in a car crash, and upon recovering consciousness he discovers that his young daughter has gone missing. Cue a frantic search for the missing sprog in the abandoned streets and buildings of Silent Hill, just as a massive snowstorm blows into town.
It all sounds like a quintessential Hill experience, and yet it plays completely differently from any of the previous games. You still find yourself creeping through the same kind of deserted institutions - a school, a hospital, a shadowy shopping mall - but this time you're largely alone. There's no true inventory system, no weapons or health items to store, just you and your oppressive surroundings. Occasionally your progress will be barred by a puzzle. The answer is always close at hand, eliminating the need for weary backtracking, and as a general rule the teasers are extremely well designed - jumping to a first-person perspective to allow the player to manually grab and manipulate objects with the Wii Remote.
One early example requires that you retrieve a key from inside a drinks can, but later efforts are far more memorable and cleverly-plotted, requiring the player to carefully observe their surroundings; at one point you'll have to retrieve a password for a computer by answering the owner's security questions. It's worth pointing out now that there's no "interact" button to use here; instead you're forced to actually look at the office you're standing in. It's a principle that applies to Shattered Memories as a whole: you look around with the Wii Remote, zoom in with the B button, and inspect for yourself the detail of Climax's artful (if thoroughly oppressive) world.
The trademark Silent Hill radio static makes a return, guiding you towards hotspots that trigger some kind of sudden paranormal activity: you'll be creeping towards a dusty TV set, the static whining in your ear, and suddenly - BAM! - it'll burst into life, and a new voicemail will appear on your phone. This won't be some cheerful note from an old friend, mind you; it'll be a brief snippet into the life of someone who lives - or perhaps who lived - in the town. The snippets of story cover many tones, but they're frequently marked by sadness, anger and fear. Explore an empty brothel, and you'll hear a seedy client attempting to sooth a crying hooker; go down to the woods, and you may uncover the tragic results of a practical joke gone wrong.