Silent Hill: Book Of Memories
Platform: PS Vita
Oh boy - One of the most controversial games of the year! I’ll be honest when I say I was dreading reviewing this as I am firmly aware of the passionate fan-base backlash this game has already received. However, as a fan of this Silent Hill series, I have tried to stay as open minded as I can (as I’m sure many fans have).
Let’s get straight to the point: Is it good? Yes. Is it different? Very.
To sum it up, Silent Hill: Book Of Memories is a rogue like dungeon crawl experience. Each level is divided into “zones”. These zones have randomized map layouts, however they also have special “rooms” that always appear, but their exact location is random - a truly rogue-like formula.
The story is fairly simple. Your character receives a book from a mysterious mailman (who features in Silent Hill: Downpour). This book details every life event in your life up to the present. Your character decides in a haphazard fashion that rewriting the book would be an interesting and possibly lucrative venture – the result of which sends your character into a nightmare like world when they sleep, battling the literal inner-demons of themselves and their friends inside the book.
You start your adventure by choosing a customisable character, who basically comes across as a stereotypical from high school student, representing pop-cultural niche/cliques like jocks and Goths.
Graphically, the game looks fantastic with a fast and smoothly consistent frame rate. The game is isometric in nature, but the lighting and general depth of environment feels very “Silent Hill”. What doesn’t feel right is your character’s attitude/voice acting. Music also tends to break away from the atmosphere of the game, feeling a bit out of place at times.
The environments can be very dark and have a very otherworld feel to them – I felt some environments had more in common with Fatal Frame II for some reason, maybe because they were more brightly lit and spooky in nature (particularly the puzzle rooms) than dark and disturbing, however this game seems to balance them both quite well.
Your character levels up in an RPG fashion, allocating two points at a time to your stats (Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Intelligence etc.) Combat feels somewhat fluid. You can use either the Square or Triangle buttons dependent on which weapon is in your hand and can combo a string of attacks into the enemies. However, enemies hit sporadically and don’t get fazed often, meaning a string of combos rarely completes their full cycle before you're knocked on your arse. You can also block, which when timed right can counter attacks.
After killing monsters and clearing certain rooms you gain “memories” which are used as a form of currency. There is also a karma system which swings either to Blood or Light. Enemies that are bloodied drop Light patches on the ground, whereas non-bloodied enemies drop Blood patches. Standing on either swings your karma in its respective direction – the effect of this provides special combat moves, and influences the games ending.
Being karmically aligned to either Blood or Light does have its benefits when it comes to certain floor panels that can appear in rooms; they act as healing spots for your character. For example, if you find a Light spot in a room and your karma is Light aligned, you will heal your entire HP gradually. However if your karma is Blood aligned, you'll take damage.
To add to the danger, there are many floor traps of which hinder or aid you in fighting off monsters. Many of them range from one-off damage traps that are more harmful to the player than the monsters, poison traps that reduce the player or monster’s health to 1 hit point, and Slow traps that, in some cases, completely freeze or slow down the player or enemies' movement, leaving them open to attack. These traps bring a flair to the rogue-like style of the game, as you never know when they'll appear or if certain maps work against you or support you.
Monsters resemble all the classic and modern day Silent Hill cast we have seen up to this point. They should be handled carefully as they all have different fighting styles. However, that most of the time the rooms are so tiny with the game cramming around 5 monsters inside that you'll find yourself just doing area-effect moves or swinging your weapons wildly with great success.
Most of the time you may find yourself struggling to repair your weapons, as the durability system for repair can be quite challenging. You can only hold a few repair kits and their appearance as an item is rare. However, it does emphasise the survival aspect of the game.
Each zone is completed by finishing a puzzle and a mission. Basically the puzzles involve collecting items, finding the zone exit and then solving the said puzzle (essentially a glorified fetch quest that's very difficult to fail given the game's optional hint switches). Story set pieces are played via TV sets in random rooms like mini in-game cut-scenes. At the end of roughly 3-4 zones, you are presented with a boss fight. Pattern-wise these felt VERY much like a Diablo 3's boss fights - a little crude and easy, but enjoyable. The less said about the game's QTEs the better.
Series classic Valtiel also makes an appearance. He is a friendly Geist that offers you side-quest missions to complete in the zone. If you complete them, he will award you with a special weapon.
So far, you're probably thinking that this sounds NOTHING like a Silent Hill game. But what I played worked. I really enjoyed the rogue-like dungeon crawling element and the RPG leveling up combined with tons of weapons and skills. I think there is a lot of potential for more games like this on the PS Vita.
One major criticism is that the content of the game can be very same-ish and the loading times were quite long (It takes 40 seconds every time to load a zone or when you die). Dungeon crawlers aren’t known for diversity, but I can’t deny that most would be turned off by a constant rehash of running through what is in essence an extremely similar level to the previous one.
The strongest part of this game was the 4-player co-op. Each player needs to work together to survive (or in some cases screw each other over by hogging items/weapons!) This is the kind of multiplayer I find very satisfying and in the context of how each zone plays out, absolutely perfectly balanced.
Once you realize that this game is a spin off (as described by Silent Hill producer Tomm Hulett) your past prejudices stop affecting your judgment of the game; when taken at face-value as a completely new title, it is damn addictive. If it wasn't a Silent Hill game, it would still be a damn good horror game with some fantastic gameplay structure. It's perfect for those who obsessed with levelling up and grinding for rare items to their heart's content.
I do miss the old Silent Hill games – particularly the bold psychological nature of the whole series. But if you take this game as is, it's a whole different monster.