I’ll admit, I’m quite the horror fan. So when I got asked to review Silent Hill: Book of Memories I jumped on it and got quite excited! Released for less than a month, Book of Memories is the first Silent Hill instalment on the Playstation Vita and appears to take a completely different turn from what we are used to with the franchise.
For those who have played any of the Silent Hill games the iconic setting was something not easily forgotten. Set in the town of Silent Hill, a twisted and evil place capable of reflecting a visitors’ sins back at themselves, haunted by hideous creatures warped by the individual visiting. Who can forget the faceless nurses relentlessly shambling around, or the iconic Pyramid Head and the sound of his sword grating against the floor, knowing that he was coming for you and could show up at any moment. And who can forget the siren that marks the change between the foggy, desolate Silent Hill the world knew and the Silent Hill that housed all your personal horrors. Few horror games have actually had me feeling uneasy while playing them, but this series was always one where I could expect something to make my flesh crawl. Book of Memories appears to have taken what previous games have done and disregard most of it, opting for a completely different style to what was previously seen.
The story takes place through the psyche of the player character, who receives a mysterious book on her birthday. This contains all of her memories and experiences from her past up until the moment she received the book from an unusually creepy postman, and of course the first thing your character decides to do is see what happens if you were to rewrite one of those memories. Throughout the game the narrative is told in the form of notes, audio logs and ‘Forsaken Rooms’, which hold repressed and terrible memories (all containing the same ghostly child in need of rescuing). These rooms have three possible outcomes depending on player actions and influence the course of the story: the player can either help the child, do nothing or ( as I first tried to do) smack the child over the head with a plank of wood, earning the bad outcome. This story gradually builds up alongside cutscenes through six strange worlds. These worlds come with 2 missions: the first and main is to find the puzzle pieces required to head to the next area, whereas the second is an optional and can result in exceptional rewards being given, such as significantly better weapons and amulets that increase the player’s specs. This is where it seems bizarre for a Silent Hill game – rather than the traditional survival horror it appears to be more of a role playing action, and the shift from old to new is a little disorientating at first. This change is only amplified by the gameplay and mechanics involved.
For those worried it is a completely different game it still retains a lot of what makes a Silent Hill game. Nurses, Needlers and Pyramid Head make frequent appearances (along with 47 other monster varieties); the main difference here is that there is no option to really flee, it’s fight or die.
With a choice of weapons ranging from crowbars to flaming swords you can definitely tell that it is a faster paced action game as opposed to a survival horror, where the player is left weakened and forced to flee. You start with the ability to hold 2 weapons and switch between these by touching the icon on the screen, and all weapons have a durability. After prolonged usage the weapon will break, forcing you to find another one or take on the nurses by hand. Certain 2 handed weapons are available as well, and as a weapon is used you gain proficiency which tallies up. You do have the ability to fix your weaponry if you get one you particularly like (I was quite particuar to the flaming sword which not only did massive damage but also set them on fire!) and through the beginning you can only carry one of these pickups, forcing you to really think about when it would be best used and what weapons you want to be walking around with.
Your character is custom made from the beginning of the story complete with stats which are upgradable as you level up (levelling up is done through killing enemies). These stats can also be affected by amulets and certain items given from the optional missions, so this definitely reflects the RPG aspects. You are equipped with the standard backpack that only allows a certain minimal amount of supplies in the beginning, with the option to purchase upgrades for it later on after you have collected Memory Residue (the currency earned from fallen monsters or soling puzzles) from the creepy Postman – you just knew he had something to do with this. Despite having a backack, the limited space does always seem to leave you one health pack away from your comfort zone so it does help to retain some sense of unease that previous games relied upon, athough from playing it I become more frustrated than uneasy.
Guns play the ever-useless part, coming with full ammo and an ammo pickup available (these are limited just like other pickups) however the monsters are capable of taking full clips without any significant damage, which forces you to really think about your strategy. There is no ‘run and gun’ option available here, unless you want the record for dying the quickest.
Also as you level up you gain the ability to use strange karma abilities which seem to fit in with this mental world but still leave you thinking ‘what the heck?’ a few times. The first one you gain the ability to use causes damage to enemies on the screen and is controlled by the back touch pad. I will be completely honest here, this is the first real time I had used the Vita so when trying to use this power I sat there for a few minutes thinking “what am I even doing?” while frantically trying to make some use out of it. It failed miserably. Using the back touch pad may be a good trick for those who are used to using the console, but for those newer players it breaks the immersion faster than you can blink, with players concentrating on what they are doing rather than the story people worked so hard to create.
Each level has the 2 missions with a puzzle at the end, where you are given a lovely criptic clue to try and help you along. A mini-map in the bottom left corner helps to track your progress and show you where key parts are, such as the save room, locked doors and shops. Certain areas are locked and require Silver Keys to unlock; these can be found in random containers, drawers or cupboards around the level along with a whole host of other items.
The gameplay itself is incredibly simple: you need to search for a set number of pieces to progress to the next level, and at the end of each area you fight a boss creature. Along the way you are required to ind specific items, which uses the basic quest structure for RPG games. Also because it is a top down view you form less of a bond with the character, so when the worst does happen and you die it’s simply a “oh well, better reload the game” moment.
Focusingly largly on connectivity and exploiting the capabilites of the Playstation Vita the game offers up to four player multiplayer as well as a single player campaign, so if you don’t fancy going through it alone you can bring friends along too.
Having 4 players can make the game seem a lot less scary!
The game might not act scary but it still tries its best to look it. As with most horror games most of the level is shrouded in darkness and fog which partially clears once ou enter a room. You are given a flash light with infinite battery but also the warning that certain enemies become significantly more aggressive when exposed to light, which poses the question of would you rather see perfectly or stay alive that extra bit longer? The audio track helps to create a tense atmosphere but it does seem to lose most of Silent Hill’s tense atmosphere through predictable enemy fights and locked areas.
Don’t worry though, there are still enough blood smears and splatters to remind you exactly where the game originated from and to make you start to worry, and you still get the ethereal screeches and moans of the monstrous creatures.
Despite it’s predictability and more action than horror atmosphere, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is still a pretty good game. It’s a little strange if you were expecting a survival horror once again, working through a psychological world influenced by Silent Hill rather than the town itself but it does seem to be a good uneasy action/RPG. The leveling up and statistics are a little strange to work with, but despite my reservations, it’s a good game in it’s own rights. It may be better that it branched away from the stereotypical and cliched works of the older games, and I definitely think it would interest people who may want to step into horror games but don’t want to go straight into “terrify yourself for weeks”.
It’s a pretty good game on its own but it lacks some parts that made the Silent Hill games scary. Using both touch screen aspects is great use of the technology but people not familiar with the console may struggle, and the combat and levels can get boring quite quickly with their predictability and repetitive style. It still has those classic “what the heck” moments though that make Silent Hill games memorable.