Posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 at 8:15 AM by Joseph Butler-Hartley
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is not a Silent Hill game. It really isn’t. Silent Hill games are characterised by their oppressive, heavy atmosphere. They are characterised by their awkward, panicky combat. Most importantly, they are characterised by being scary. WayForward Technologies took these factors into consideration and then completely ignored them, and what they made was a simple, top-down, four-player dungeon crawler. I’m not against developers taking franchises in completely new directions (Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for example), but this is like the new Mario game being a bullet-hell shooter.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories was released exclusively for the PS Vita and it suits the handheld console. It has well-optimised controls and it incorporates touchscreen into gameplay without it feeling forced. The game breaks away from Silent Hill tradition as soon as you start the game by having the player create their own character. Consequently, the game lacks the tight story focus of its predecessors which usually revolve around one very well-realised protagonist and his sinful past. Instead we have to create our protagonist from the most limited and clichéd character sets I’ve ever seen in a dungeon crawler. It’s like they’ve took the character sets from Canis Canem Edit. Will you be the preppie with a blue jumper, or a rocker with a long-sleeved t-shirt?
The story involves the player character with a name of your choice (we’ll call him Steve) receiving a book that contains the story of his life to date. He decides to re-write bits of his life that didn’t go the way he wanted, whether that is fixing it so that he achieved promotion instead of his colleague Derek, or fixing it so that his childhood sweetheart fell for him instead of a love rival. This is an interesting concept and the game handles it rather well. If we had the ability, we would all re-write bits of our lives, but what about the consequences this has on other people? Through-out the levels, Steve finds notes detailing the effects that changing history has on the people he is cheating out of opportunities.
Unfortunately, the story takes a complete back-seat to the fairly bland gameplay. After cut scenes, in which the poor voice acting doesn’t detract from the intrigue of the story, the player is dumped into a ‘zone’, which is a randomly stitched together group of rooms in the same vein as Diablo and other dungeon crawlers. Each zone contains a puzzle which blocks the exit and is solved by finding differing numbers of objects through-out the levels (statuettes of small rabbits etc.) and by finding the puzzle note which gives a ‘cryptic’ message. The message will rather unsubtly instruct you to place the objects in a certain order, whether by size or colour and I’m boring myself having to write about it. It’s safe to say the gameplay won’t set your world alight.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories feels like a game made by somebody who has perhaps watched someone play a Silent Hill game for a few minutes, or who has perhaps seen ten minutes of the film. The result being that they understand the ingredients but not the concepts. The levels are plagued with monstrosities just begging to be turned into mush by steel pipes, but the baddies play out like a who’s who of previous Silent Hill games. You’ll fight hundreds of zombie nurses and the like, and for the first five minutes there was something of a novelty to be had in bashing icons of the series about with fire axes, but it soon wore off when another ten popped up in the next room, and then the next room. Repetition is the word of the day here. And I’m sorry, but I can’t look favourably on a game in which you can fight and kill Pyramid Head with a giant fire-sword.
The combat itself is functional and even fun at times. You can hold one big weapon and simply button mash the square button, or you can hold two smaller weapons and alternate between button mashing square and triangle. Even if this doesn’t sound too riveting, it can’t be denied that there is a satisfaction to be had in slashing your way through enemies, only to breathe a sigh of relief when they drop to the floor twitching. However, that only applies to the melee combat. Using guns in this game is frustrating and fidgety. On the occasion when your entitled, middle-class protagonist will fire at the grotesque beings shuffling towards him and not the empty space three foot to the side, the damage the guns inflict is pretty pitiful. Top tip: just find a big pipe and stick with it, only you can’t stick with it because the weapons degrade rapidly. This has its pros and cons as a game mechanic. On one hand, it means that tension is heightened as you wait for your weapon to snap any second and pray that the next room has a kitchen knife or something that you can wield. On the other hand, it means that half the game is spent finding weapons or being chased around a room, feverishly checking cupboards and drawers for a blunt object of some kind. It also means that the weapons you receive as a reward for completing each zone’s assigned side-quest are less valuable when they snap after wading through two rooms of freaks.
Along with the gun mechanics, the puzzles and the weapon degradation, there are some truly annoying features that niggle as you play. The most maddening of these is the flying, wasp-like enemies that hover about half a foot away from your head, continuously damaging you a considerable amount, that are incredibly hard to hit even if you swing your weapon wildly in their direction. For some reason, only one in ten swings will hit the little gits, and in the time you’ve spent trying to shake them off they’ve drained most of your health bar. It gets even funnier when they are also on fire and set you alight constantly. Unless they are the ghosts of wasps that met their end to a roll of newspaper long ago, there is no reason why my weapon should pass through them, you silly game!
Silent Hill: Book of Memories attempts to do something new and it largely fails. Compared to other games in the series, it is a low-point. Compared to other dungeon crawlers, it is average. Taken on its own merits, it’s a flawed, repetitive game with some interesting concepts and fun ideas, but which leaves you disappointed. As I said in the first paragraph, I’m all for developers taking old IP in new directions. It is such actions that gave us games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but if you’re going to attempt something so bold with a venerable series like Silent Hill, it has to be well executed or you’ll have a bunch of angry horror fans staking out your house, and nobody wants that.