Ask any fan of the Silent Hill series during its PS1-to-PS2 phase what they liked most about the games, and they’ll likely come back with one of the following reasons: foregoing typical monster-in-the-closet jump scares in favor of endless tension and paranoia; a chilling atmosphere and setting built around the characters’ inner demons; a unique and expertly-crafted audio presentation filled with memorable music and spine-tingling sound effects.
The recipe for a quality Silent Hill title seems unanimous among most gamers, yet Konami seems incapable of replicating the taste since their top chefs (Team Silent) left the studio. Every attempt to emulate the success of the first four titles has resulted in mediocrity (Homecoming, Origins) or disappointment (Downpour). Even the HD re-release of Silent Hill 2 and 3 was an utterly poor attempt at preserving the original titles for a new generation, introducing numerous glitches and technical difficulties that were not present in the PS2 versions. Arguably, the best attempt made so far was with Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and that was largely due to how little the Wii re-imagining resembled the original Silent Hill to begin with.
With Silent Hill: Book of Memories, Konami is once again passing the series to a different developer in the hopes that one of them will replicate the original team’s greatness. This time, Wayforward Technologies is tasked with bringing the once-revered horror series to the Playstation Vita, choosing to follow Climax Studios’ example with Shattered Memories and come up with their own interpretation of the tension-building, psychological horror series. For that, they came up with an action dungeon-crawler with multiplayer: a combination of things no fan of the series has ever asked for.
Book of Memories is the first game in the series to allow players to create their own custom character. Each character is based on a specific build: the jock, the goth, the bookworm; quite literally the most clichéd Hollywood horror stereotypes. Which character you ultimately decide on is irrelevant, as they all share the same plot: after receiving a mysterious package containing the titular book, the player’s character finds themselves navigating the nightmarish world of Silent Hill (or rather, some demon-filled dungeons and corridors that vaguely resemble Silent Hill…at no point does the game ever have you wandering the streets of the iconic town) in their dreams. The book itself appears to contain the entire history of the character’s life, to which they then discover that they can alter their own lives any way they see fit by simply writing on the pages. How they decide to use the Death Note…er, the Book of Memories, rests on which moral ground players will take…or how many monster ashes they collect on the ground.
The game features an overhead view as well as randomized dungeon maps reminiscent of Diablo and other action RPGs. Dungeon rooms are represented on the map, which is automatically filled out the further you progress, and each room contains a certain number of enemies to fight and items to collect. In order to complete a dungeon, players must collect a certain number of puzzle items in order to unlock the exit. These pieces are typically earned by completing the various dungeon challenges littered across certain rooms. Some challenges require you to kill a certain amount of enemies within a time limit, while other challenges task you with killing enhanced enemies, and there are also challenges that require killing lots of enemies. Basically, you’re killing enemies, a lot.
As for items, there are weapons to find and wield, which are sometimes dropped by enemies or found in chests and drawers, in addition to supporting items like med kits and repair kits. Like with Silent Hill: Origins, weapons in the game carry a limited durability, and prolonged use will cause weapons to break into pieces. Managing the health on both your character and your weapons is necessary for survival, but backpack space is limited before upgrades. In addition, you can only carry two weapons at a time in the beginning, but can also equip a weapon on each hand (with the exception of two-handed weapons like steel pipes or swords). Dual-wielding a knife and a meat cleaver can allow for quick combos, while carrying a plank and a gun can allow for fighting up-close or from a distance, when necessary. There are also artifacts which can be equipped that offer a permanent bonus to your character’s attributes (strength, vitality, dexterity, and so on), as well as power moves that recharge on their own, but should be saved for maximum efficiency.
The most important item in your disposal, however, is the block button. Holding down the button will reduce damage from enemies, but learning to block just before an attack connects will cause the enemy to fall onto the ground, giving a brief window of opportunity to damage them while they are stunned. Overall, while previous Silent Hill installments encouraged you to avoid fighting due to their strength and numbers, Book of Memories makes your geeky goth character more than capable of dispatching entire armies of nurses, two-headed dogs, and skeletal pterodactyls with superhuman ease. Fall in battle, however, and you’ll be forced to start the dungeon from the beginning, unless you were fortunate enough to find the one save point hidden in each map. There’s also a shop where you can stock up on supplies and upgrades, which is run by the mysterious mail man from Downpour (if he wasn’t interesting the first time, it’s a wonder why they used him a second time).
As uninspiring as the gameplay is, it is admittedly the most capable seen in a Silent Hill title yet; dispatching enemies, swapping weapons, and raising character’s levels works exactly as intended, though the arbitrary touch-screen features hinder the otherwise smooth gameplay rather than enhance. The most glaring example is hitting a button to search a drawer, then being forced to touch the screen in order to collect the item. There are also certain parts of the menu that can only be navigated through touch-controls, and other parts that allow for controller navigation, creating a conflict with the controls over all.
Even without taking the game’s emphasis on action over exploration into account, the story is still a sad attempt to tack on some of the themes better represented in previous Silent Hill titles. Each chapter corresponds to a scenario which can play out in multiple ways based on the character’s alignment. Said alignment is represented by a bar on the top of the screen, with an indicator that moves between light, dark, or neutral shades. In Silent Hill 2, this teetering between darkness and light was handled behind-the-scenes, based on various choices made by the player (how many enemies they killed, which key items they examined, the amount of lore they collected, etc), but in Book of Memories, it’s simply a matter of collecting the color-based essence dropped by enemies. For those preferring a simplistic method of character alignment, this will serve their needs, but it still creates a problem when you may accidentally step over an unwanted pile of ash while frantically avoiding the remaining enemies in the room. Not only are the moral choices laughably petty (work to help a coworker get recognized for his hard work, or steal the promotion for yourself; Try to get a high school crush to dump their significant other, or help cement their relationship), they are further hampered by voice work that is borderline cartoonish.
As for the multiplayer mode, the game allows up to four people to work cooperatively either online or local. As far as the online goes, it works quite well with no real lag issues, and even supports voice chat. Actually finding people online to play with, however, is another matter entirely, and there is still a significantly long waiting period between connecting with players and loading up dungeons. Even in single-player, the load times can prove unbearable, taking up to two minutes even when reloading from a save point.
There is no mistaking that Book of Shadows is the most misguided attempt made on the Silent Hill series yet, completely lacking in any of the blood-curdling horror or psychological character development that once defined the series as one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. On the positive side, it’s not the worst attempt made either, barely avoiding complete disappointment by featuring a competent gameplay element that at least makes for a decent time waster.
This review is based on a review copy of the Playstation Vita version of Silent Hill: Book of Memories developed by Wayforward Technologies published by Konami
- Excellent Combat and Character Management
- Custom Characters are Fun
- Lack of Any Horror Elements
- Sparse Online Element
- Emphasis on Combat Over Scares