Saturday, January 23, 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, on making horror scary again

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the game I've wanted to make ever since I played my first survival horror game and was left excited by the idea but utterly let down by the implementation. Sure, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame were scarier than any games I've ever played, but they all boiled down to combat, at which point they elicited the same emotions as the FPS games to which I was more accustomed. There was a comfort zone there, even if I was so frustrated by the experience that I threw down the controller and never played the game again (which happened with pretty much all survival horror games I played before RE 4 on the Wii), and that comfort zone drew me out of fear and dread that the games created. I wanted to see a game that was different, that turned into gameplay the main thing that comes into my mind when I think of "survival" and "horror": running like hell.

I love the concept of this game. Flashlights, ghosts, psychological elements that change the game according to your answers, and "combat" that consists only of running away from enemies. And Silent Hill to boot! It should be perfect. But as close as SH:SM gets to my ideal, it fails in such a major way that the game is only of academic interest to me at this point. Its fatal flaw is that it is completely modal: you are either safely exploring, or running from danger, and the transition is clearly delineated in cutscenes. You are never in any danger while exploring, and there is no risk of attack. As creepy as the environments are, there is absolutely no danger, and therefore no scariness.

I've long wondered how to make a game about running away from enemies, and SH:SM is as good as I could have imagined. First, to anybody who plays this game, I have one piece of advice: when it's time to run away, turn off your flashlight. If you don't, you will attract so many enemies that the running sequences become unbearable (the first version of this article was a scathing condemnation of this mode). However, if you turn it off, and use the couple of neat game mechanics intelligently -- knocking over objects behind you to impede pursuers, hiding in cupboards, and letting your attackers catch up to you and grab you just in time for you to throw them off into walls -- it's not too bad. I'm sure there are many people who will reject this type of gameplay outright, but I think it deserves a lot of credit for its efforts.

Despite the problems I have with the modality of the game, although I'm only five hours in, I've been excited by the psychological profiling elements, the gimmicky but cool puzzles, and just the overall ambiance of the game. This is breath of fresh air and a great new direction for the franchise, and I really hope they get the change to really nail it in a sequel.

No comments:

Post a Comment