Does this very different take on the Silent Hill universe have it what takes to stand next to its storied predecessors or is it terrifying in all the wrong ways?
Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Genres: Action, Horror, RPG
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Posted By Austin Yorski about 11 months, 1 week ago
The newest Silent Hill game was supposed to come out later the same month as Downpour and the HD Collection, but was delayed for no particular reason. We haven’t heard much since, but it seems Konami decided to throw us an E3 bone.
Despite the video’s insistence that it is a horror game, it’s pretty obvious that BoM is more of an action-RPG. While dungeon crawling isn’t the first thing I think of when I think of Silent Hill, there’s still a chance that this could be a fun dungeon-crawler. What do you think?
Silent Hill: Book of Memories will be coming exclusively to PS Vita sometime this October.
A student of Literature and Religion at Florida State University, Austin Yorski is a jack-of-all-trades around BT. He goes by Austin or Yorski (but not both), and spends all the time he isn’t reading or playing football on writing, editing, moderating, and gaming. He can also collect all 120 stars in Super Mario 64 blindfolded.
A very different approach to Silent Hill looks to finally arrive in a few weeks.
Red Pyramid has mad loot.
Posted By Shaun K. about 7 months, 3 weeks ago
A very different approach to Silent Hill looks to finally arrive in a few weeks.
Posted By Austin Yorski about 11 months, 1 week ago
Red Pyramid has mad loot.
Let us be clear from the outset: from a gameplay perspective, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a Silent Hill game in name only. Book of Memories is not a survival horror title in the slightest (despite how Konami has been pushing the game in the months leading up its release) and in lesser hands this fact alone could have led to something more horrible than even the worse monsters that inhabit the eponymous town. Fortunately, the hands at the reins this time around are none other than WayForward Technologies, a company who in recent years has begun to prove themselves increasingly as THE go-to company for, among other things, quality adaptations of pre-existing properties. While the property in this case may in fact have its origins in the medium of video games, from a gameplay perspective this is more than enough of a departure from past titles to firmly situate it in the spin-off category. Do not look to this the game for the kind of chills and frights that have long been associated with the Silent Hill series because for the most part they are not present. However, do look to the game for a hell of a good RPG/dungeon crawler and an overall experience that easily stands out as one of the best currently available for the PlayStation Vita.
|PROS||Story, controls, overall gameplay, online functionality, visuals, audio, replay value|
|CONS||Some may be turned off by departures from past SH games, load times|
|WTF?!||Killing Pyramid Head by beating it to death with a stuffed rabbit doll.|
BoM opens with the main character (whose gender, look, and basic background are all determined by the player) receiving a strange package late at night on his or her birthday from a certain mailman who will be immediately familiar to those who have played the most recent title in the series, Silent Hill: Downpour, or have read the 2010 comic book mini-series Silent Hill: Past Life. Told the package was sent to them from Silent Hill (despite the protagonist claiming to not know anyone in that little town), the protagonist quickly discovers a book inside which is none other than the titular Book of Memories. A quick perusal of said book reveals that every detail of the protagonist’s life up that point (even down to receiving the book itself) is recorded inside. On a strange whim even he/she does not fully understand, the protagonist decides to rewrite a recent event in their life recoded in the book that did not go their way just to see what happens.
Upon falling asleep shortly after, the protagonist quickly finds his/herself in a strange dungeon-like environment that resembles a nightmare come to life. Following encounters with both Valtiel (the mysterious ‘watcher’ monster from Silent Hill 3 who seemingly passively followed the journey of that title’s protagonist as well) and the mailman Howard Blackwood, Book of Memories’ protagonist soon discovers they are in another realm altogether. This realm is described by Blackwood as a sort of representation of the collective memories of humankind and that those who can successfully transverse it, defeat the monsters that litter it, solve the puzzles that block their progress, and overcome the various guardians that protect it, can even change reality itself. In short, three nights spent navigating this realm and its challenges will cause whatever is written in the Book of Memories to become true. And so the protagonist sets out to get everything he/she has ever wanted, but perhaps wariness should have been the order of the day. After all, this book came from Silent Hill, a place where one should always be careful what they wish for, lest they get it… and so much more.
Silent Hill titles have always been as well known for their quality twisty tales of a psychological and metaphysical nature as anything and this is at least one area where BoM keeps the series traditions alive and well. Each section of the game focuses on the protagonist trying to change the past of other characters in order to improve their own life and in turn various written notes and (essentially) audio logs detailing the past and current lives of these characters are littered around the levels that make up a section. With only a minimum of cutscenes to represent the goings-on back in the real world, Book of Memories’ story could have easily become too much of a background element for its own good. However, the aforementioned notes and audio logs feature expert writing and (in the case of the latter) voice acting that do a great job of fleshing out both the player character and the people in their lives. This lets BoM spin an interesting tale while still keeping the game’s focus primarily on its gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, one especially inspired element that links the game’s story and gameplay really pays off in the long run for the tale that BoM weaves. That element is the karma system, which is represented in-game by an ever present meter at the top of the screen. Divided between light and blood, karma affiliation also extends to some weapons and all enemies in the game (who generally also have further multiple variations in later levels like flame and corrosive) and in terms of story helps to determine which of the game’s six endings (not counting the joke ending) a player receives. The main way this occurs is through the notes players can find scattered throughout levels and while many of these are just there to generally fill in the backstory, others have light and blood karma affiliations of their own and that reflects the nature of how the protagonist is choosing to rewrite reality.
For example, in one level the protagonist is trying to deal with an ex of their current partner, “blood” notes feature descriptions of the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend becoming a stalker and being driven insane as a result, while a “light” note reflects this person meeting someone new and moving on with their lives in a healthy and happy manner. While it is possible to get blood notes with a high light affiliation and vice versa, in general keeping the Karma meter pointed in one direction or the other is the best way to ensure the story progresses how a player wants. How many notes of either affiliation are collected in turn ultimately determines one of the three outcomes for a section (blood, light, and neutral) and these in turn help determine what ending a player ultimately receives. Seeing the different possibilities that await a player in BoM is reason enough to play through the game multiple times, especially for those who get caught up in the game’s well-written narrative. Of course, keep in mind that this is Silent Hill and while light generally corresponds with good and blood generally corresponds with evil, things are not always that simple when all is said and done….
After all, Silent Hill has always been more than just a place where monsters and bad guys congregate or, as the current ad campaign for the upcoming film Silent Hill: Revelation 3D puts it, “the town that Hell calls home.” Silent Hill is as much a place of choice where a person’s truest nature, for good or ill, can come out. For all the nightmarish situations that the series tends to put its protagonists through, rarely does the option for a better outcome not exist for those who want to pursue it. More than one person has left Silent Hill a better individual than they entered it or even found it to be nothing more than a simple town like any other in some cases. It is an aspect of the series that has always made it deeper than, say, the Resident Evil titles and it is something that BoM is careful to preserve. If not the deepest or most memorable story to ever be set in the universe, but at its core the story that Book of Memories tells is ultimately very much in keeping with the overall spirit and tone of the series while also remaining a compelling reason to play the game in its own right.
Book of Memories also presents an engaging and well-designed take on both the action-RPG and the dungeon crawler that will appeal equally to fans of these sub-genres and newbies alike. BoM makes use of an isometric overhead view with the action in the game playing out in randomly generated levels. These levels consist of connective corridors and rooms and it is only in the latter where enemies, traps, and other obstacles appear. Every three levels (for most of the main game at least) comprise a separate zone that features its own distinct theme and boss battle. So, for example, the wood zone has corridors that consist of forested areas and rooms that mostly take the form of cabin-like areas right out of the Evil Dead series while the fire zone takes on a more industrial feel with a massive furnace constantly visible in the background. Meanwhile the water zone feature rooms that greatly resemble the rotting apartments of the otherworld seen in various past Silent Hill games, with what appears to be the flooded remains of the town itself visible when traversing the various metal catwalks that make up the corridors in these levels. Whatever else can be said about Book of Memories, the visuals for the levels featured in the game do a great job of recreating the look and essence of those found in the series past.
I mentioned monsters earlier and indeed they are present in droves. It is here that the gameplay starts to dramatically diverge from the series norm. This is an action-RPG after all and as such combat is not only far more frequent than in mainline Silent Hill games, it is also required. Basically, levels break down like this: each level has an exit that remains locked until players solve a puzzle of one type or another. In order to solve said puzzle, players must gather a variable number (generally between four and six) of puzzle pieces. Said puzzle pieces can only be acquired by successfully completing challenge rooms present in the level that put players against an assortment of enemies that must be defeated. Challenge rooms can also further restrict players with rules and limitations ranging from a time limit to keeping one’s health above a certain level at all times. Further complicating matters is the fact that every level features a random number of locked doors whose keys are scattered throughout the level with random assortments of foes generally present in the remaining regular rooms of the level just waiting to further impede player progress.
Overall, combat is far more important in BoM than the mainline Silent Hill games, but it is also more enjoyable as well. Weapons and ammo are plentiful and the controls and camera make battling the various familiar faces of Silent Hill a mostly painless experience. Which is not to say that players should expect to just run roughshod over everything they encounter. While the plentiful Bubble Head Nurses and Double Heads of early levels rarely present much of an individual challenge, in larger numbers they can take down unwary players with ease. Once more dangerous foes like Cancers, Ghosts, and Needlers start to become plentiful this only grows more true, to say nothing of Butchers and Pyramid Heads. I can tell I have just lost some of you, so let me just get this out of the way: Pyramid Heads, as in multiple manifestations of the infamous monster who has (for better or worse) become the de facto poster boy for the Silent Hill series. While I sympathize with those reading this on the verge of losing it at the thought of ol’ Red Pyramid Thing being treated as a regular (if powerful) monster, that is just the way it is. BoM never pretends it is trying to be a 100% accurate recreation of the mainline Silent Hill experience, and some dissonance is inevitable for the hardcore SH set who chose to play the game as a result.
It is an aspect of BoM that is worth overcoming though and to WayForward’s credit they did make a few key design decision that help recall the more standard Silent Hill approach to combat. For one thing, as I already alluded to, players never exactly become damage sponges. For another, there is the weapon system the game employs. To begin with, the game’s 32 weapons come in a number of varieties: one-handed, two-handed, melee, projectile, and wildcard (the latter generally consists of oddball items like stuffed animals). The catch is that all weapons run out of ammo, and do so quickly. Melee attacks even start to suffer from wear and tear and require fairly frequent upkeep and repair via collectible wrenches. Even the best weapons in the game are not that sturdy and players who do not pay attention can easily end up with only their fists to fight with.
Furthermore, players start out only being able to equip either two one-handed weapons or one two-handed weapon and must purchase various backpack upgrades from the shop (more on that shortly) in order to carry additional weapons, health packs, ammo, and repair wrenches. Even with these upgrades, players will still only have relatively limited space and while items and weapons are plentifully scattered throughout levels, it is still very easy to find one’s self without either after a pitched extended battle, especially later in the game. So while Book of Memories is rarely outright scary, tension is a regular part of the game and players will never really feel like unstoppable juggernauts on their own. At the same time, it can be incredibly satisfying to equip dual sub-machine guns and just go to town on a room full of baddies even if doing so means burning through most of one’s current stock of ammo in the process. In summary, weapons in BoM are powerful to be sure, but they also have clear limitations of a manner keeping with the general milieu of a Silent Hill game.
So, while running away from foes in regular rooms does remain a viable option since enemies will not leave their individual rooms, leveling up remains important and challenge rooms alone may not provide enough experience on their own to keep pace with the game’s monsters. The player does have a few other advantages in their corner. For one thing, the Karma meter can be used to cast various spells (all of which involve using the rear touch screen–a rare example of this aspect of the Vita being used right) of great power once built up sufficiently. Blood spells do a ton of damage (even a Pyramid Head will fall quickly to these spells) while Light spells cause less direct damage (if any) but also heal the player (and their allies if present in some cases) as well.
Another option for players looking for an edge is the optional submission offered by Valtiel at the start of every level. These can range from something as simple as collecting a number of items or slaying enhanced versions of regular foes to more complicated fair like escorting a little dog (with his own non-restorable health meter and everything) to the exit of a level or helping a group of enemies all stay alive while slaying another group of enemies of a different karma affiliation. These missions add some nice variety to the game at times and the rewards they offer range from powerful weapons (some of which are also then unlocked for purchase at the shop as well) to unique accessories that can really give players that needed extra stat boost.
Finally, as previously mentioned, there is also a shop located on almost every level in the game and it is run by none other than Howard Blackwood himself to boot. Here players can spend the game’s currency (called Memory Residue in-game, which is dropped randomly by foes along with being scattered throughout levels) to purchase weapons, items, various equip-able accessories, and even cosmetic items that can be used to change the player’s look via a menu accessible outside of combat. Players can also purchase a wide variety of special attacks which can be triggered by filling a separate meter via combat and that range from spin attacks to knocking enemies away to even changing the current karma affiliation of all enemies in a room.
Book of Memories also features both local and online multiplayer for up to four players and it is clear that the game was designed from the ground up to take advantage of this fact. Online play is smooth as silk and I never once encountered even minor slowdown despite their being at times dozens of characters on screen. The one downside to this mode is that completed levels only count as progress for the host player’s campaign, but all experience, weapons, etc. acquired by players are retained by everyone and it is great way to build levels or tackle the game’s extensive post-ending content (which consists of around 75 extra levels and a randomly remixed endless mode). There are numerous abilities that are designed specifically for use in multiplayer and griefing opportunities also abound. BoM’s overall gameplay is expertly set up and executed while also featuring individual elements that feed into one another in ways that feels both thoughtful and intelligent. It is clear that WayForward put real thought into refining the combat and other gameplay systems in Book of Memories and it all leads to one of the best takes on the action-RPG/dungeon crawler formula this side of Torchlight II.
Rounding things out, Book of Memories features terrific visuals that really help to bring the game to life. I have already mentioned how well done the visuals for the game’s levels are and the same is also true for the various characters and monsters that populate these levels as well. Returning monsters all show up to the party in BoM with their look and animations intact while new enemies (particularly the game’s completely original bosses) fit right in with the old favorites smoothly. Aurally, the game fares just as well with music from Daniel Licht (the same man who gave us Downpour’s soundtrack) that does a great job recalling past games while still being effective as a standalone score.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a game that easily could have gone off the rails in so many ways. It is clear that the people making this game have a deep and abiding love for the series and while the gameplay does not much resemble the titles of yore, the overall tone and spirit remains respectful. Tons of little touches are present throughout and fans of the series will find callbacks and Easter eggs aplenty scattered throughout the game (such as in the player’s one-room apartment that serves as the central hub/main out-of game menu).
Whether a longtime fan of the series or someone completely new to the town of Silent Hill, everyone who owns a Vita owes it to themselves at the very least to check out the demo for Silent Hill: Book of Memories. This is a game that does an admirable job of both lovingly recalling a long-running franchise while also staking out a path very much its own. I know this much: I plan to return to Book of Memories and dig even deeper into it once I have free time to do so. And when I want to keep playing a review game, on my own time, that is the best compliment I think I can give.
A review code for this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The reviewer spent approximately forty-five hours playing the game.
Also, feel free to follow the reviewer on Twitter @bigred_13 please if you feel so inclined.