Silent Hill: Book of Memories review
Congratulations, you’ve opened this review. You deserve a trophy. The arguments for and against the mood breaking features of achievements and trophies can be debated eternally, but seriously, a trophy for creating your character for the game seems like the wrong way to begin a game that is hoping to elicit an atmosphere of despair and horror. The truth is, Silent Hill – Book of Memories is a Silent Hill game only by title and content, not at all by style or mood.
After a conversation with a fellow Gamedot writer about how expectation can tarnish an otherwise excellent game (yes we do occasionally break off from our gaming to grunt at each other), it is ironic that a series with such expectations can so heavily disappoint me based on my own hopes for it. A portable Silent Hill, this is not. It also however does not mean the game itself is bad, just a departure from the series.
I remember reviewing Silent Hill 3 way back in 2003. I was, let’s just say very generous with my score, primarily because I considered it a huge success at what it was trying to do to its target audience; scare the pants off them. This game is an isometric dungeon crawler RPG, a far cry from its predecessors and frankly, not scary at all. But perhaps this is a case of shifting expectations, and hopefully by the end of the review you’ll have more of an idea about the game, and perhaps be better equipped to judge whether this is a game you’d like to play or not.
The story is forgettable and largely irrelevant. A birthday gift arrives at your door; the Book of Memories, which contains your past on its pages. By rewriting these pages you can affect your life, but of course you’ll have to destroy enemies and run through some creepy looking areas along the way. The game is split into ‘zones’ each containing a randomly generated series of rooms and corridors. Great, notch one mark on the ‘replayability’ list. Upon entering the zone (sometimes preceded by a nugget of story) you’ll run into a creature that gives you a task for the zone. It might be to wipe out all enemies or collect some scattered items within a time limit, and achieving these largely straightforward feats will net you a nice piece of loot in front of the final puzzle door of the zone.
Puzzles may be an exaggeration
Whereas Silent Hill was about running from terror and not knowing what maybe around the corner, Book of Memories, by the nature of an RPG dungeon crawler, expects you to defeat everything. Your small but expandable inventory will hold a few weapons that can be used for a brief period until they either break for good or you use a wrench to repair them. That excellent piece of loot you just picked up? If you don’t notice it’s gone red it’ll be gone forever with one swing too many. The inter-changeability of these weapons and short lifespan reduces much of the excitement in picking up a powerful item, especially if you’re attuned to button mashing attacks.
There is a little more to the combat with a karma meter filling up in a good/bad (known as Light and Blood) direction, allowing for some more interesting powerful attacks when you’re in a position to use them. Clearing certain rooms will provide you with a puzzle piece and when all of the pieces in the zone are collected allow you to open the final door after solving a simplistic puzzle. Essentially these boil down to reading a note that you’ve found in one of the rooms and figuring out what order to put the pieces into. Nothing really clever, but like a twisted version of the board game Mastermind you can pull a lever to show which items you have in the right places, reducing your final winning total with every pull.
Your currency is called Memory Residue, or MR, and can be spent in a shop, one of the rooms hidden in each zone. You can unlock new abilities, boost your backpack size or just buy new weapons if you choose. There are also rooms for saving, treasure rooms and even strange forsaken rooms that are weak and simplistic excuses to pump a little story back in to the game. Essentially you have three methods of dealing with situations that occur; one of which is Light, one Blood and one doing nothing, and aside from unlocking a trophy for trying each solution, serve little purpose.
The graphics are fine, but the isometric viewpoint doesn’t exactly bring out the best in the franchise. A nice looking torch effect has the triple consequence of allowing you to see better, highlighting items around the rooms and also aggravating the enemies. Should a container be highlighted, you can grab an item from within it, but to do so, you’ll be struck with a touchscreen gimmick of having to touch the item you want to collect. Unfortunately holding the controls and breaking them to have to pick an item happens too frequently and too jarringly to be a positive experience.
Yes, you’ll get the classic nurses, and even Pyramid Head makes an appearance or two throughout the zones, but it can’t help but feel like a classic fantasy dungeon crawler reskinned to take advantage of the Silent Hill licence; like someone has chosen ‘Silent Hill’ as the desktop theme for the game. Every few zones gives you a larger enemy that starts out being just something with a bit more HP, but becomes more of an attack pattern solving challenge. One boss requires you to melee attack their projectiles back at them towards the end of the fight, and the first few times I tried to beat it I didn’t even know it was possible.
Dying in the game can happen all too easily sometimes. The first time you meet an enemy, it might have a super attack that you’ll learn to telegraph only after meeting it a few times, perhaps killing you unexpectedly in one hit. Death has much more of an effect playing solo than in multiplayer. Die on your own and you’ll be shuttled back to the last time you’ve saved. If you haven’t found the save room in the zone yet it’s back to the start of the zone, losing all of your loot, experience and effort. As irritating as that can be, the loading times are silly. My stopwatch told me it was one minute and fifteen seconds from dying to appearing again, and that’s just too long for a modern game like this, especially one on a portable system that should be equipped for quick gaming sessions.
No-one wants to die
Ironically there are some points where it’s better to die. Rather than being stuck in a tricky zone with no health packs and having not found the shop yet, if you’ve just saved and have a tiny notch of life left it’s easy to get into the habit of finding the closest enemy and letting them kill you, meaning you respawn with a full health bar. Something is off with the game balance if that’s a legitimate tactic I’ve found to overcome my foes. Forgetting to repair your weapons, or even just running out of wrenches can also leave you using your weak fists, with no idea when the game will bestow another weapon upon you. Understandably it’s meant to be a feature of the game, to challenge you with inventory management, but when it tells you to wipe out all enemies on one hand and may randomly leave you without sufficient tools to do so, it takes a step away from the benefits of survival horror reduced resources and becomes a simple annoyance.
The rather annoying respawn situation is compounded by a silly trap system. Sometimes you’ll be innocently running around a room when an invisible trap saps some of your health. They will work against enemies too, but so do the positive buffs which can sometimes leave you frustrated at a monster that has stumbled upon a ten second invulnerability area. Having untelegraphed traps that instantly reduce your health to being a 1 hit kill is frankly unforgivable in my eyes, especially if before you know what has happened a tiny weak slug type thing has jumped into you and sent you back to the start of the zone. One small benefit is that the zone will remain identical each time you choose to attempt it, so at least you’ll know where it is the next time. Trial and error however is not a fun game to play.
The intent of the game
It seems that the game is meant to be played in Multi Player of up to four players and which knocks out a few of my irritations. Respawning no longer resets the zone progress or your experience, though unless you happen upon a player that is similarly levelled to yourself, it often breaks down into the most powerful character doing all of the work. After a day of on and off trying to connect to an MP game, I finally managed to find my first other player, and I found that playing with him suddenly unlocked all of the later zones for me to play through in single player too, though it was even less fun to try when underpowered. At least while sitting back and letting him defeat the boss of the zone I was rewarded with one of the game’s endings.
After a rather unfortunate weekend for my personal life I wanted a good distraction from a game, and being rather mindlessly repetitive in its progression, Silent Hill: Book of Memories was not the best game for the task. That said, perhaps my viewpoint of the game is tainted by these expectations. As a pure time sink to waste an hour whilst on a train the game is an acceptable dungeon crawler, especially if you ignore any Silent Hill expectations you may have. The combat system, while not that of a horror does have elements of depth that will give you some pleasure, so it’s not a bad game to waste some time on. But then you could say that about this week’s 79p release of Angry Birds Star Wars.