Photo by Dan Siney
SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an excellent game. It is also a giant middle finger to the Silent Hill fan base, which is awesome, and I say that as a member of said fan base. The problem with long-running horror series is that we become attached to the things that previously shocked us. Horror becomes fan service. Remember Silent Hill: Homecoming, with its giant Pyramid Head cameo? In Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head was actually scary because we didn’t know what the fuck was up with him until game’s end. In Silent Hill: Homecoming, we know what’s up with Pyramid Head, and while you can make an argument justifying his position in the narrative, it’s obvious he’s really there because the designers think Silent Hill fans like Pyramid Head and want to see him in Silent Hill games.
Shattered Memories has none of that. It’s billed as a reimagining of the first game, but the only thing it really shares is the premise: In the middle of a blizzard on the outskirts of a town called Silent Hill, a man named Harry Mason crashes his car and falls unconscious, and when he wakes up he realizes his daughter is nowhere to be found. He sets off in search of her, and then things get weird.
The game has a few characters in common with the first Silent Hill—a cop named Cybil, a doctor named Kaufman, a nurse named Lucy, and someone named Dahlia whose intentions aren’t clear—but uses them in completely different ways. I was seriously confused up until about three-quarters of the way through the game as to whether it was actually retelling the story of the first game with enough twists to keep me guessing or whether it was just pretending to retell the story of the first game to fuck with me so the real plot would be a surprise. Finally I decided to just see how it played out without trying to guess ahead, and I was really pleased with how everything wrapped up.
Even the gameplay is completely different. There’s no combat. You walk around with the nunchuck’s analog stick and point Harry’s flashlight with the Wii remote. When you encounter enemies you have to run like hell; if the monsters get you, you use a throwing motion to push them off you. Also notable is the way the game changes depending on how you play it—there are two separate Cybils in the game: a sexed-up Cybil who looks the way she did in the first game and a more realistic one. Which of the two you meet depends on how the game reads your personality.
If other games were more about artistic integrity and less about pandering, the way Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is, I would be so much happier as a human being than I am. Play it, and think about it while you’re playing it. The whole industry can learn something from this game; I hope “Games like this don’t sell” isn’t gonna be it.
LEFT 4 DEAD 2
Platform: Xbox 360
Left 4 Dead 2 mostly serves to remind me how much fun I had, and continue to have, with the first Left 4 Dead.
Both Left 4 Dead games are multiplayer- and replay-focused, about navigating four survivors of a zombie apocalypse from point A to point B, and fighting zombies and environmental obstacles along the way. Both stress teamwork and atmosphere. The first one is set in Generic City at twilight; the second is set in the southern US (the area around New Orleans, in particular) at various times of day. Each features a cast of four strongly characterized survivors (different sets) who play identically, a horde of generic zombies, and a few specific “boss infected” who have special abilities. The first Left 4 Dead also had surprisingly high-quality artificial intelligence for nonplayer survivors, so if you, like me, prefer to play it in (say) two-player mode, the two survivors not controlled by humans aren’t a detriment to the team.
Left 4 Dead 2 builds on Left 4 Dead’s formula, but mostly what it builds is a goddamn torture chamber. A vocal portion of the original Left 4 Dead’s fan base apparently decided the game was too easy, so the sequel makes things harder while adding more complexity to the levels and not improving the companion AI, which now comes off stupider because it has to deal with all that extra shit.
I suppose I should talk about the new stuff Left 4 Dead 2 adds: Melee weapons, so you can hit zombies with baseball bats, skillets, guitars, or katanas. Three new types of boss infected, added to the first game’s five. New scenarios (of course). A tendency to always use two or three boss infected simultaneously, and a love of placing them in the safe house at the end of every level, to ambush you. A toning-down or removal of the sound cues that tell you when a horde or tank boss is about to arrive. New goal-oriented gameplay, where in order to complete a level you usually need to hit a switch and then fight through a never-ending pack of zombies to hit another switch instead of just hitting a switch and then surviving a smaller mob. Zombies wearing police uniforms or biohazard suits who are more difficult to kill from the front. “Realism” mode, where it’s harder to revive downed survivors and headshots are more important. Wandering witches.
Bottom line: If you liked Left 4 Dead and thought it was good but too easy, this game’s for you. If you liked Left 4 Dead and thought the difficulty was about perfect, stick with that. If you’ve never played either, pick up the first one, because it’s still awesome and the sequel’s not for beginners.
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII
It’s a 2-D Mario game. You’ve bought it already and are undoubtedly reading this in between bouts of playing it. Who am I kidding here?
Yes, Shigeru Miyamoto has seen fit to bless us with the first 2-D Mario game for a home console since Super Mario World on the SNES. It plays like classic Mario, except for a) some new power-ups and b) simultaneous multiplayer. Simultaneous multiplayer is the big draw for me—up to four people on-screen at once, controlling Mario, Luigi, Green Toad, and Yellow Toad, picking one another up, bouncing off one another’s heads, and stealing one another’s power-ups. If you’ve got other longtime Mario players to play the game with, the simultaneous multiplayer is loads and loads of fun—when we were kids, my sisters and I used to play the fuck out of Super Mario World, so when I sat down with them again to play this, all of their old reflexes came back. It was great.
My only real complaint is that the levels don’t start to get really imaginative until the second half of the game. The first half feels very much like revisiting a bunch of games I’ve already played, but the second half starts to play with odd level layouts and new enemy types. This isn’t really a complaint, though—it’s all classic 2-D Mario. It’s fun as hell.