With Halloween fast approaching, I’ve taken some time to revisit some of my favorite scary games. It’s a tradition I keep every year, along with watching my top five horror movies.
The horror genre has always particularly thrilled me because I am incredibly susceptible to almost all scare tactics, be they standard jump-scares or slow-burning psychological frights. That’s one reason I loved Gone Home so much (one of many). It so brilliantly toyed with conventional horror game expectations that I nearly fell out of my chair when I encountered the one moment that was classically startling. Dat lightbulb!
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was developed by Climax Studios specifically for the Wii, though it was later ported to both the PS2 and PSP. It presents an alternate history of the original Silent Hill, retelling the story of Harry Mason’s search for his missing daughter with several details and game mechanics changed, most notably that all combat was removed.
Full disclosure: I adore non-combat survival horror games. Talk about true immersion—I hope I never find myself in any kind of survival horror situation, but I get the distinct impression that when it comes to me fighting or flying, I’m going to fly. It might be all the high school track talking, but I know I’ve got the ability to run like the wind, and you’d better believe I’m going to use it if one of these shows up:
Shattered Memories is not a perfect game, but I have yet to play a game that made such great use of the Wii’s hardware and controls. First of all, the game looks gorgeous. Really. Insert Nintendo hardware limitation joke here, but in much the same way The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker looked gorgeous on its native Gamecube, SH:SM hits that sweet spot where the console’s limitations are pushed just enough to render impressive graphics, but not enough to slow the whole procedure down. I won’t go so far as to say I was looking forward to the moments when the town would transform into a frozen hellscape, but I wasn’t exactly dreading them either.
The controls are where the game really shines, though. The Wii remote is ingeniously used as both a flashlight and a cell phone, and it feels incredibly natural to use it as both. An early area of the game finds Harry exploring some abandoned cabins in a densely wooded area, and just like the real woods, the flashlight beam can’t quite penetrate the darkest shadows between the trees. I was swinging that thing wildly around my living room, jumping out of my skin at every tiny snap of a twig or gust of wind.
Then there’s the cell phone function. You can call every number you come across in the game, and you should. When you do, the voice you hear will come out of the Wii remote’s tiny, tinny speaker, and you’ll automatically bring it up to your ear. If you’re me, you’ll probably try talking back to the voices on the other end. Not every number leads directly to voicemail, which is effectively freaky. Major protip: call Konami’s official customer support number if you want to be really unsettled.*
While Silent Hill: Shattered Memories suffers a bit from clunky gameplay mechanics, especially during the combat-less monster encounters (they can’t all be Amnesia, I suppose), it really is quite the underrated gem and definitely worth a playthrough. It also happens to boast a mind-blowing ending that even its strongest detractors have admitted to thoroughly enjoying.
I really wish more Wii games had figured out ways to utilize the controls as well as this game did. Using it for sword slashing or as various sports equipment is obvious enough, but Climax Studio’s way of bringing us into the world of Silent Hill by transforming the remote into the mundane gear we all use in real life was incredibly artful, and raised the bar to a level that I’m not sure any other developer ever reached.
*Note: Some cursory research has indicated that the Konami Customer Support number has changed since the game was released, so no guarantees this easter egg will work.