Review: Silent Hill: Book of Memories Tries Something New…And It Mostly Works (PS Vita)
For the longest time, Silent Hill always followed a traditional set-up, a third-person adventure with plenty of spooks and chills. But lately, I can't help but feel things are getting a little burned-out, especially with Silent Hill Downpour, a game that's been hyped up to no end and ended up fizzling out under the weight of its own premise.
That's why it's refreshing to see something along the lines of Silent Hill: Book of Memories. Handled by the development team at WayForward (Bloodrayne: Betrayal and the recently released Double Dragon Neon), the game forgoes most of the chilling third-person exploration in favor of a top-down hack-and-slash adventure, something well suited for the series' debut on the PlayStation Vita. Though hardcore fans may be bummed by the change to more traditional action, don't worry. WayForward didn't take the cheap way out here. This is still Silent Hill, through and through.
The story focuses on an author who finds himself stumbling upon a book of his own memories in the main. Though he's not sure how it got put together, he begins writing in it, changing things around in the hopes of somehow bettering his life, as he's not in the most glamorous of situations. He then goes to sleep it off, wondering if the new memories will take effect through the world of Silent Hill. In a way, they do, but not every change is for the positive, and soon he's fighting just to make sure he wakes up at all.
WayForward absolutely nails the tone for Silent Hill in the game's presentation. Though it adopts a top-down display similar to the likes of Diablo III and other dungeon crawlers, the developer has filled the world with plenty of haunting visions, along with a few nasty enemies that can make mincemeat out of you if you're not careful. (And, yes, Pyramid Head shows up as well.) The perspective works really well for the game, and it's cool to have access to a map, in case you're having trouble locating things. The cut-scenes are also quite marvelous, telling the tale with the same style as Downpour, but with better results here.
Likewise, the music is excellent. Daniel Licht, the composer behind Downpour as well as the TV show Dexter), does some good haunting stuff here, and the dialogue sounds expertly executed, rather than half-hearted like most survival horror affairs. The sound effects are good too, especially when the monsters start shrieking the way they do. Yep, must be in Silent Hill, all right.
Where Book of Memories will likely turn off a few devoted fans is with its gameplay. Rather than going heavy on exploration and solving a mystery, you spend a great deal of time battling enemies, then looking for items in each room and solving occasional puzzles, like one involving chess pieces. While it does get monotonous over time, the battles can be fun, especially against bosses. What's more, you pick up some cool weapons, including a large mace that can do some damage – though it takes a little time to swing.
Book of Memories also lets you customize your character as you see fit, though it's limited compared to other games. Still, giving yourself a distinct look in the world of Silent Hill – rather than sticking with a lame default character – is a nice touch. You can also team up with a friend in system-supported co-op, making battles just a little bit easier. The online functionality works great, even though there aren't too many folks lurking around in the lobby yet. Just wait, Halloween is around the corner.
While Silent Hill: Book of Memories won't be considered one of the best in the series, it is a solid return to form after Downpour mis-stepped so badly. Credit goes to WayForward for mixing things up a little bit, while still retaining the spine-tingling level of creepiness that the series is known for. Hmmm…maybe these guys should work on the next Silent Hill for consoles. Y'think?