I adore Silent Hill, so you can bet I’m coming at this with some bias. However, as someone who reveres the franchise still for the ground it broke in videogame narratives, I also approach the series with some lofty expectation as well. Not that it will be the greatest achievement in gaming history, but at least that the developers have treated the franchise with the reverence it deserves, treading carefully upon the path that was laid out for them early on by Team Silent. So have they?
Book of Memories, henceforth referred to as BoM because I’m lazy, is a new spin on Silent Hill. Rather than take the conventional survival horror route, the developers have opted to take the series in a new direction with a top-down, dungeon crawler experience. I can hear furious series purists bemoaning this already but I do my best to keep an open mind and you should too, because the truth is it actually works pretty well. For the one glaring change in BoM’s gameplay a lot of the rest has stayed the same to keep the Silent Hill vibe well enough alive. Point in case you’ll find the ‘other’ world here along with a menagerie of classic foes all the way from the first Silent Hill included. Having a bona fide bestiary available within the menu is a nice touch as well.
It’s not just the enemies making a return though, some characters from Silent HIll’s past make a welcome appearance to help the story along. Speaking of which, the story plays out from the perspective of, well, you. Rather than have a completely original character whose shoes you have to fill, more effort has been put into personalizing the BoM experience with a branching story dependent on your actions. It’s a double-edged sword though; It’s nice feeling more immersed (and honestly, Silent Hills should always strive to keep you sucked into the horror) but it also limits what can be done with the protagonist a bit. Still though, provided character customization options are nice to make it feel more like your Silent Hill and the plot, while I’ve yet to see it play out, begins with an interesting premise. Your character receives an anonymous package from Silent Hill on his (or her!) birthday containing a book that eerily holds all of your memories up to this point in time. You might even say it is a book of memories. The fun starts when you begin experimenting with re-writing your memories in the book. The concept has a lot of promise but until we can get our hands on the final product how worthy it will be is anyone’s guess.
WayForward have done an excellent job easing you into the gameplay. They’ve used the Vita’s touchscreens to great effect, though it can feel cumbersome constantly tapping the middle of the screen to collect items. This minor gripe aside, every element of the interface onscreen is thoughtfully laid out and well explained through tappable (i) bubbles in case you forget. Which, is entirely possible because there’s a lot going on here. You have inventory to manage, stats to bump up as your character gains levels, notes, artifacts, powers, and more to keep track of. And yet, it all starts feeling familiar very quickly.
The presentation is absolutely Silent Hill in every sense. Barring the extreme camera angles, of course. Still though, the levels are polished and the lighting and particle effects are impressive on the Vita’s 5″ OLED screen. The audio is what shines though. Veterans will still yearn for Akira Yamaoka’s return, of course, but honestly, Daniel Licht (of Dexter fame) has done a superb job in capturing the essence of Silent Hill while making it his own. It’s just off-beat enough to be unnerving while keeping a tempo that’s appropriate for the onscreen action. Yamaoka’s melodic classics from early entries just don’t make sense here because it’s a different type of game, and ensuring the atmosphere is congruent with the gameplay and pacing is one of those touches that can be easy to overlook- thankfully that isn’t the case here.
There are, however, some strange inconsistencies I don’t entirely understand. For example, why my character can’t reload his gun automatically seems silly. At least a few times I forgot to tap the ammo icon to reload and my helpless hero started desperately pistol whipping a lumbering cancer with all he was worth whilst getting eaten alive by dogs. It also strikes me as odd that the flashlight doesn’t simply remain on. So far as I can tell there’s never a penalty for having it on so having to engage it manually over and over seems unnecessary. Enemies don’t react differently to it and you’re even told immediately that it illuminates searchable areas for ammo, MR (Memory Residue = Gold), and health kits.
Combat feels satisfying for the most part. There’s decent variety between challenge rooms you stumble upon and the regular baddies roaming the halls of your dream world. Guns have a satisfying punch and some of the ‘rare’ weapons you are awarded have a pretty sickening feel to them. Enemy numbers and strengths feel nicely balanced in that it’s challenging, but not frustrating. And as the first multiplayer Silent Hill I’m sure that once you get three of your buddies together to slay your way through the nightmare it’ll become even more manageable.
While BoM is mostly combat, and I can say confidently it’s handled better here than past entries, there are some light puzzle-solving elements. They seem to be a breeze though and hardened puzzle-game fans will waltz right through them with little difficulty. Also breaking up the action are scare rooms that have one of three outcomes which, I’m assuming will dictate the course of your character’s story.
Book of Memories isn’t breaking new ground in the Dungeon Crawling arena, nor is it screaming out of the gate with enough meat on its bones to oust other entries’ stories. But, what it is doing is cautiously taking a fresh approach to a series whose conventions are growing long in the tooth. But we’ll have to wait and see how well it does this come October 16th.
How did you enjoy the Book of Memories demo?