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Long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and finalist for the Crawford Award. Title short story listed for the 2000 O. Henry award.

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Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

(This is going to have a fair amount of spoilers, so if you have a Wii and are thinking of playing this game, at all, don’t read this. Just buy the game.)

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played. Now, this is also the first Silent Hill game I’ve ever played, and so I don’t really have an appreciation of the “canon” of the world. All I can go on is what I see-which, come to think of it, is one of the keystones of the game itself. As Harry Mason, in a car accident and left with nothing but a trusty flashlight and (later) a jack-of-all-trades cellphone, much of the game is spent with said flashlight peering into dusty corners of the near-abandoned town.

One of the things that makes this game so compelling is that your responses-your input; that is, what you choose to see and say-alters the playing experience. If not in gameplay then in characterization. Drastically, I might add. At certain intervals in the game (including the beginning), you find yourself in a first person view in a therapist’s office, and he asks you penetrating questions about your life, as well as provides opportunities for (mind) games of a sort, in order to probe your moral values. I played the game twice (which is almost a necessity to catch all the different nuances and story trails of the game), answering the questions the second time around the opposite way than the first, and the game changed with an accumulation of subtle cues that was both striking and unsettling. Different people encountered treated Harry very differently. Certain rooms were blocked off and others opened up. There was a scene in which I had to call a security guard (one of the delightfully mysterious things about this game is that the walls throughout the city are peppered with random phone numbers, which you, of course, can call). The first time he didn’t believe I existed and thought it was a prank. The second time he said he “had my back.” And the end…well, the end.

I guess I won’t reveal the MAJOR spoiler to this game after all. It’s that good and it’s that worth playing. Not in a “gotcha” sense, but in a way it reorients how one played the entire game that went before. And thus the very gameplay mechanics took on a totally new light.

Let me try to explain in a certain way that won’t SPOIL everything.

At certain intervals of the game, the world of Silent Hill freezes over, encasing everything in surreal ice. Geography becomes twisted. And what you traversed before becomes devilishly hard to navigate. These are the times of “the nightmare”, which you must escape. Creatures, called “raw shocks” (which mutate as well throughout the course of the game), chase you in very clever fashion. And you have no way to kill or hurt them as they hunt you down. At best you can shake them off and slow them, and keep them away for a time with a flare, maybe two, that you might find in the maze of the inverted town. It can be frustrating, as you bang through corridor after corridor, only to end up where you started out, but this is where the retroactive kicker has the most paydirt after finishing the game. And the lack of combat — no zombies to blow the heads off here, not that there’s anything wrong with that — becomes utter genius. Thinking back to the title, you as Harry Mason find yourself in a field of “frozen memories”. But what is the trauma that the raw shocks don’t want you to find? That is the unreal, fluttering heart of the game.

Wed, February 10 2010 » Games

One Response

  1. pell March 20 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    i hate the zombies!!!

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