Hands-on: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)

"I've heard 'Shat-On Memories.' That's a good one," remarks Shattered Memories producer Tomm Hulett, taking the complaints from the so-called "unreasonable" Silent Hill fans in stride. Remaking -- or "re-imagining," rather -- a horror classic is no easy task, least of all when the leading platform's scariest trait is its abundance of minigames. Calling it a re-imagining seems appropriate, with familiar characters and themes returning in unfamiliar ways, but that belies the fact that the upcoming Wii title (PSP and PS2 versions are also en route) is the freshest and riskiest Silent Hill game to come along in years.

Conveying an intense, unnerving experience in the din of E3 is like reciting a poem behind an airplane barreling down a runway. The packed show floor, filled with colossal sub-woofers and eccentric excessiveness, couldn't be a less ideal place to play a survival-horror title. And yet, despite the copious distractions and some truly awkward sensor bar placement, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories managed to fool us -- if ever so briefly -- into thinking we were skulking around the world's least hospitable and most perplexing town.
%Gallery-49995%

Some things haven't changed. The melancholy atmosphere and lonely environments that make up Silent Hill's eek-o-system are presented in surprising fidelity on the Wii, with shadows dancing across the walls as your flashlight probes abandoned halls and snow-covered streets. Akira Yamaoka's off-kilter soundtrack is the only thing accompanying protagonist Harry Mason in his search for his missing daughter. Press A and he'll call out to her -- a minor gimmick, but a big help in connecting you with the character.

Silent Hill's eek-o-system is presented in surprising fidelity on the Wii.

The same goes for the new over-the-shoulder camera system, which works remarkably well with the Wiimote-driven flashlight (point and illuminate!) and Harry's map- and camera-enabled phone. It came as a relief to hear certain E3 attendees bemoaning the game's lack of action and its slow pace, because it lends credence to our own observation: Shattered Memories has paid respect to the franchise's sense of immersion and isolation. Well, at least until the monsters show up.

Whereas previous Silent Hill titles allowed some measure of defense against assailants (usually in the form of a clumsily wielded pipe), Shattered Memories embraces the everyman conceit and runs with it. As in, running away from the town's twisted, meat-faced monsters is the sensible thing to do. And they're relentless this time, giving chase throughout nightmare sequences and grabbing at whichever of your appendages happens to be within range. Shaking them off (in the game's only gratuitous bit of waggling) or lighting flares will give you some reprieve, but only by climbing over fences and charging through doors -- all marked by a Mirror's Edge-esque highlight of blue frost -- will you survive. It's a terrifying, cinematic chase, especially if you press down on the d-pad and take a look at what's behiiiind youuuuuuu.



Running away from the town's twisted, meat-faced monsters is the sensible thing to do.

That isn't to say that things are particularly lackadaisical when the creature content subsides. Silent Hill's alternate dimension is now represented as a town gripped and encased in distorting ice. It sounds lame ... right until you see the transformation occurring in real-time. In a way, the frosty take on the formerly rusty dimension instills more fear than ever -- it's back to being an unknown element.

What isn't known about Shattered Memories yet is how much the original game's plot has been warped, or how much of it you'll inadvertently alter. Starting with a first-person psychological evaluation and monitoring your decisions throughout your scary sojourn (the game will even make changes based on which rooms you visit first), there's no telling which characters or situations it'll throw at you. A quick glance at the other E3 demo stations revealed not only different versions of characters, but different encounters entirely!

If the Fall release of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories can keep us off balance and avoid becoming formulaic (see: exploration, chase, exploration, chase), it has every chance of luring us back to the town that takes all. If you're a fan, "unreasonable" or not, that's great news.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.