Aww, Silent Hill, that quant little ‘burg where the damned go to vacation; it wouldn’t be Halloween without a visit to your foggy, rust, blood, and flame colored shores. As a longtime fan of the series, I was excited when I heard about the Playstation Vita exclusive Silent Hill: Book of Memories.
Unfortunately, much like the underlying mythos of the long time horror series, my hopes turned out to be something unexpected; and not at all in a good way.
Silent Hill Book of Memories is not a Silent Hill game. It’s important to get that out of the way. It is a dungeon crawler set in environs that look like Silent Hill on a bad day, but the little things that make a horror game a Silent Hill game are definitely missing.
The game begins with the player creating a character out of a handful of stereotypes. There are jocks, overworked yuppies, “everyman” types; each with a voice, and somewhat customizable head and face. You name the character and the game begins with a scene showing a postman delivering a package to your newly created character. The package comes from Silent Hill.
The character opens the package to find a book; a book filled with the events of your character’s life. And of course, the first thing your character does is to grab a pencil to start making changes to the memories in the book. And then, just as quickly, the character decides to fall asleep… in his or her clothes, in a sparse room, in a dirty bed.
What follows is a room-by-room clear out of the “best of” Silent Hill creatures including the twisted nurses, bloody butchers, and even Pyramid Heads. After each room is cleared, you move to the next and will either find a shop (ran by Howard, the postman who delivered the book) a save spot, or another monster-filled room. The entire level represents a dilemma from some person the player doesn’t know and that dilemma must be resolved for the level to be cleared, which does include a boss battle that is so out of context it is laughable. These dilemmas aren’t very clear, or scary. One involves an old cop wondering if he should retire. Another involves a kid working at a grocery store trying to get promoted out of his bagging job. It’s not exactly Silent Hill material.
Aesthetically, Silent Hill Book of Memories looks like Silent Hill. And it even sounds like Silent Hill. But it just feels like Konami slapped the Silent Hill name on a decent dungeon crawler purely for commercial purposes.
If you strip away the obvious misuse of the brand, the game is actually good. There are a variety of weapons to choose from, from simple wooden boards to guns, to power tools, and each weapon has a shelf life and can break, unless the player finds tools to keep them in tip-top shape. There are even special weapons that Valtiel, the messenger from god who gives you each zone’s mission objective in the beginning, gives you as special rewards. These weapons are powerful and great pains should be taken to keep them in working order. Single-handed weapons can be assigned to each hand, and two-handed weapons must be held with two hands, hence the name.
The player’s character levels up with XP and the player can assign stat increases manually for a true RPG customized experience.
In some rooms, there is a blue orb and a special challenge, and if you destroy the orb and complete the challenge, you win a puzzle piece. Each zone has a set number of pieces to collect, and the player must have all of the pieces to complete the puzzle at the end to move on. There is also a room that contains a puzzle-solving hint in each zone.
Another intriguing feature is the karma meter. Each monster you kill leaves a trace of karma, both good or bad (even though every monster is trying to kill you). The player can choose what type of karma to collect and the karma meter will fill in one direction (blood red for bad karma) or another (white direction for good). Each notch on the meter, in either direction, unlocks a powerful karma ability that can be used by touching the PS Vita’s rear touch screen. Also, if you get the meter all the way to the white side, monsters will ignore you, which makes it easier to kill them. If you collect bad karma, expect a tough go of it.
The currency of Silent Hill: Book of Memories is known as Memory Residue (MR), which sounds strange, when all it really is are bags of treasure and gold pieces. MR is used to buy items, weapons, or tools, and to buy a bigger backpack to hold more items, weapons, and tools. There are skills, called Power Moves, that can also be purchased, and each power move is earned by collecting power move gems.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories supports Wi-Fi online and ad-hoc multiplayer for up to three additional players. The multiplayer game utilizes the built-in mic on the PS Vita for voice chat, and players can assign karma roles to ease the exploration of each zone.
One drawback to the online multiplayer is the fact that players cannot join mid-zone, so asking a buddy to jump in to help fight a particularly nasty boss is off the table. Both players will have to restart the zone from the beginning, which is no fun. Still, it was nice to include online multiplayer, and it does work well, especially with a group of dedicated players clearing out room after room together, sharing items and weapons, and loot.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a good and fun game, but it is also a bad misuse of a franchise name. It is a stretch, at best, to tie this game to the Silent Hill games that came before. If Konami and developer WayForward had set out to create a decent crawler set, say, in hell (I know, I know… Diablo has been there, done that), this game would actually have been much, much better. It looks and sounds great, and the play, while monotonous after a few hours of playing, is fun and exciting.
There is more going for Silent Hill: Book of Memories than against it, but I for one cannot look past the blatant exploitation of a once proud horror game franchise.
Shop for Silent Hill: Book of Memories on PS Vita at a discounted price from Amazon.com (October 16, 2012 release date).