The Silent Hill series has become a bit of an enigma. The once pinnacle series of the survival-horror genre has gone through a metamorphosis as development shifted from disbanded Japan-based Team Silent to numerous studios implanting their own interpretations on the franchise.
Enter Silent Hill: Book of Memories, quite possibly the biggest shake-up to the series so far as the first Silent Hill title for PS Vita with a top-down view and multi-player elements. It’s enough to make Silent Hill purest cry foul play but has WayForward captured the chilling Silent Hill heritage?
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Vita (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Survival Horror
Release: (AU) November 8th 2012, (EU) November 2nd 2012, (NA) October 16th 2012
Book of Memories begins rather uninspired with a character creation process limited in any real customisation options. Once you’ve crafted your character, the story unfolds with a mysterious mailman knocking at the door delivering a peculiar package. The parcel turns out to be an unusual book filled with the memories of our main protagonist’s life. Attempting to re-write history, our lead character scribbles down new memories, thus plunging us into the nightmare world of Silent Hill.
As the ninth title in the series, Book of Memories is the first Silent Hill game to abandon the survival-horror blueprint. In its place is a top-down view very much detached of anything resembling past Silent Hill outings. Gone are the eerie locations of deserted, misty towns and hollowed buildings. The story now takes place in the alternate dimension “Otherworlds”, a vast catacomb of dungeon zones varying from hell-forged backdrops to more tranquil surroundings. Each zone contains multiple rooms to explore, filled with enemies to kill, loot to collect, a library to save progress, and a local shopkeep where you can spend your hard earned currency in the form of ‘memory residue’. Within each zone are mysterious “Forsaken Rooms” in which a crying little girl resides. Players can either help, hurt or do nothing; each action affecting the conclusion of the game.
The Otherworlds dimension is a strange experience to say the least, shrouded in mystery for the player to unravel. Nothing is clear cut here with cryptic notes scattered from room to room, and TV recordings intermittently blasted through the speaker revealing the story a piece at a time. Early on in Book of Memories, I found myself feeling quite perplexed by the general absence of direction and narrative lacking coherence. Only after delving deeper into the story and Otherworlds does the story begin to make sense, but it did leave me feeling like I was playing a dungeon crawler more so than a survival horror.
Within each zone are Challenge Orbs and when broken, unleashes an outbreak of enemies with special objectives to meet, such as defeating all enemies within sixty seconds. Upon competition, a puzzle piece is awarded. Collect all the piece in each area to gain access to the end zone puzzle. Solving these zone puzzles tend to be challenging and becomes progressively more difficult, however there is help on hand with a lever at your disposal which highlights incorrect pieces. Of course this has its drawback as each lever pull comes at the expense of Memory Residue reward. In addition, a note written in riddle can also be found hidden in each level providing clues to solving the puzzle within the respective zone.
Where Book of Memories shine is in the combat system, starkly similar to what you’d find in Diablo-esque games. Enemy encounters and combo chains are enjoyable to execute, further enhanced by the option of two-handed or dual-wielding weapons. Attacks are mapped to the square and triangle button, with each button corresponding to each hand. Arsenal of weaponised goodies include guns and melee weapons such as steel pipes, wood planks, knifes, cleavers, daggers and other vicious methods of inflicting damage on the ghoulish residence that call Otherworlds home. By holding down either button, a heavy hitting charged attack can be built up to dish out massive damage.
Two-handed weapons deal more damage at the expense of speed and variety. Pressing the L button targets a single enemy, perfect for unloading a finishing blow on a weakened hostile in a crowded room. Weapons degrade with use and the occasional tool kit will be required to repair damage. Although not necessary for your more common armaments, special weapons with stat modifiers are harder to come by and worth preserving so a keen eye on your weapon status is essential. Although combat is largely enjoyable for the bulk of the game, the repetition does wear thin towards the end. Boss battles are a welcome departure and fairly challenging affairs that demand strategy to overcome.
Collecting and looting feature heavily with items littered inside chests and dropped from slain enemies. Items vary from health packs, to weapons and in-game Memory Residue currency to purchase improved weapons, special artefacts and cosmetic upgrades such as hats and other decorative pieces for your character to wear. In campaign mode, it’s a fairly empty exercise since the top down view doesn’t really provide much opportunity to appreciate your new fashion pieces. Multi-player mode may be better suited for certain items with other players able to admire your loaded toon.
The survival-horror theme isn’t forgotten with health conservation playing a critical role in Book of Memories. Health packs can be found and bought at the store to mend wounds however aren’t always readily on hand, particularly if you’re abusing the packs that you do manage to collect. Going gung-ho is strongly discouraged and strategic ‘kiting’ is advised when caught in a tight jam, particularly in the later stages.
It wouldn’t quite be Silent Hill without your standard Silent Hill enemies. Creatures from previous titles return with Nurses, Air Screamers, Needlers and Pyramid Head all making an appearance. In all, there are fifty enemy types to tackle, including “Steel Creatures”, beefed-up variations of their weaker counterparts. When defeated, each creature will leave a pool of karma resembling a blood splatter. Karma comes in two varieties – Light and Blood. Collecting a singular type will affect whether your character follows a positive or negative path along their journey, as well as unlocking abilities unique to your chosen karma. Collecting one type can be difficult in the poorly lit stages and confined rooms but worth the effort if you’re after a catered Book of Memories experience.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a fairly solid gaming title in its own right, however bearing the Silent Hill name does come with a certain degree of expectation. The Silent Hill series has a rich history full of depth and anyone who has experienced one of the earlier Silent Hill games will most likely cast judgment long before giving Book of Memories a chance.
Had it been its own intellectual property, Book of Memories could be quite well received, but the sheer stigma of the Silent Hill name is overpowering and could very well be its undoing. Fans of dungeon-romps and co-op gaming will find plenty to see and do but if you’re adamant Silent Hill games should all be survival-horror, you may be better off looking elsewhere.
6.5 – Above Average. Fun but it is let down by some questionable design choices. While it has its own identity, it doesn’t go beyond its own limits.