Forget Everything You Know About Silent Hill
When I heard they were making Silent Hill for a portable platform with an isometric view, I was skeptical. Add on multiplayer, and I couldn't help but wonder where they were going. I'm a huge fan of the first three Silent Hill games, and thought the last outing, Silent Hill: Downpour, had some chilling moments, it was far from perfect. The series is about psychological horror, twisted menageries, a mind split torn asunder. When I saw that Silent Hill: Book of Memories was playable on the show floor, I had to try it out. I'll be honest in saying I came away with mixed feelings.
As the game starts, you can customize your player from male to female, adjust hair color, clothing styles, class (like jock, bookworm, and preppy), and pretty much everything about them. I played as a goth girl with green hair. The main character receives a book for her birthday with an address from Silent Hill. The protagonist claims she doesn't know anyone in the eponymous Silent Hill, but the mailman tells her cryptically that all sorts of people go through the city. She jumps back into her bed, starts flipping through the pages, and realizes the pages describe all of her memories up to the moment she received the gift. She then scribbles some new text to try to change history, at which point she is plunged into her first dungeon.
The third-person isometric view of Silent Hill: Book of Memories does a lot to take away any sense of horror the game might have had. The camera is so far above, when the horrifying Nurses with their distorted faces attack, they're not at all intimidating. I still remember whacking at them in Silent Hill 3 and trembling because I wanted to get away from them. A lot of that had to do with the fact that they were so close on screen. In Book of Memories, it felt more like Diablo, as I slashed away with a knife and a pipe I found. Other confirmed enemies include the Needlers, Double Heads, and of course, the Pyramid Head, which should be pleasing news to fans.
There are RPG elements that include equipping artifacts to raise stats. These items can be shared with other players to encourage teamwork. There are also several puzzle elements. For example, many of the doors were locked and necessitated searching the drawers for keys. That's a staple of Silent Hill, so I welcomed their return. The SFX are, as always, chilling and somber, and the voice acting that I heard worked very well.
After spending about fifteen minutes with the game, I can't say that I didn't like it. In fact, if it were an action RPG with another title, I would probably have praised it for its unique spin on the genre. Which brings me to my quandary. Should I judge it as a Silent Hill, or a completely different spinoff? If you can let go of its horror background and accept it for what it is, it's a very solid action RPG with lots of promise (which is what the developers intended). But if you're like me, longing for an amazing Silent Hill to question human nature and every element of sanity, you may be more conflicted. Maybe the key is opening up the Book of Memories, then changing history so that preconceptions can be erased and Silent Hill can be more readily accepted in a different genre. In any case, we'll have to wait until we play the final product to decide. Look for Silent Hill: Book of Memories this fall of 2012 exclusively for the Sony PS Vita.
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He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
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