Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review #321: Silent Hill - Book of Memories

 Memories I'd like to forget, that is!
 Fact: People hate change, particularly when it comes to Gaming. A ton of games get a ton of flak, and don't even get a fair chance, when it's a established franchise trying or doing something widely different. Silent Hill Book of Memories is not a survival horror game, it's not even a horror game, it's a dungeon crawling RPG. It's also a bad game, but not because it's different but because it's not a good game period.

 The game starts with you choosing a trinket, a class and customizing your character's look. You are never told what the trinket does, or how each class is different from each other, which is just dandy, so lemme tell you instead: The trinket gives you a passive boost, like extra defense, and the class only makes two of your starting attributes better. After that is dealt with, you are treated to a short cutscene that set ups the game: You get the Book of Memories, a book that allows you to alter the past, and in doing that, alter the present. And that's about it. There's not a lot of story, and it's told almost exclusively through short, confusing notes and some audio clips. Y'know, in previous games you'd get newspaper cut outs, scribbled pieces of papers and what not as notes, here you get dull, brown notes that sometimes are hard to figure out who they were written by, because it turns out you find notes written by yourself as well. It's very confusing, and it's not even interesting. There's also about six different endings, most which are rather bittersweet, which, on a Survival Horror game, would've been fantastic, but in this game, they just feel unsatisfying. That said, the game has an 'endless mode', which apparently is made up of 500 randomly generated floors, after finishing the 21 floor storyline. On a good dungeon crawler, that would've been a fantastic post-game. If only....
 Alright, so the story is a blunder, no big deal, this is a game after all. It's... it's not very good. Basically, you go from identical looking corridor to square arenas to identical looking corridor to another square arena, over and over again. And they are randomly generated. It's all very, very uninspired and it quickly grows old. There's about seven different themes for these areas, but the areas are so samey that it wouldn't even have mattered if there were a thousand different themes. You have a flashlight in this game, which makes enemies more aggressive, but you also need it to reveal highlighted objects, and these highlighted objects can be looted for. It's a necessity because you need keys, and keys are hidden away in these objects. Most of the time, it's not too bad, I just kept the flashlight on all the time and kept checking all the objects, not because of the loot, since there's nothing of worth, but because I needed the keys... until you get to the Blood themed levels. These interactive objects are highlighted in red. Objects in the Blood themed levels are red, so it's pretty easy to skip a key. And skipping a key means, potentially, having to reexplore the entire dungeon, which can take a while, and it doesn't even offer interesting views to make the backtracking enjoyable. You may also come across 'phantom rooms' during the initial 21 zones, and just as with the character creator, you don't get any hint as to what you have to do on each. There's some that still remain a mystery to me on just what was I supposed to do to get the Light/Neutral/Blood outcomes.

 Most people play Dungeon Crawlers for the loot, if you do too... you won't like this game. Weapons lack modifiers, so a knife will always be a knife. They are also meant to be disposable, they break pretty easily, although you can carry a few wrenches to fix them. A modern day dungeon crawler sounds like an interesting idea, getting guns, shotguns, planks of wood, knives, fire axes, etc, but in practice? The weapons are dull. They should've added modifiers, should have made it exciting to find weapons. Like a poisoned plank of wood! Or a fire axe that's actually on fire! But nope, boring, dull, mundane weapons you are not supposed to grow fond of. Later on you'll also find 'objects' that can be equipped on your stats for boosts. These objects reference items from all over the Silent Hill universe, but references a good game do not make. Weapons come in two varieties: Two handed weapons, like pick axes, shotguns or hammers and single handed weapons, like pistols, uzis or knives. You can make any combination of single handed weapons, like having a pistol on the square button and a knife on the triangle button... or you can dual wield uzis(Although you have to fire them one at a time). The combat itself is... it's alright. There's nothing special, just hack away enemies and carry on on your merry way. You can dodge, block and parry with the circle button if you so wish. There're no skill trees, passive or active skills to learn as you level up, but you can buy a few special powers done by holding the R button and another button. There's no depth, no nuance to the combat.
 But what really kills the game are the interface and the touch-screen controls. Touch screen controls are a fantastic idea, when optional. Here you must use them to pick up weapons, provided the game actually registers that you are close or even on top of the weapon. Using health packs, or swapping weapons from your inventory is all done through the touchscreen, in real time, and it works as well as you'd expect: Accidentally closing the bag when trying to heal, healing when trying to reload, etc. The game can have a hard time registering what you pressed, and it doesn't help when you are frantic while about to die in the midst of combat. To be fair, ever since I downloaded the patch, it seemed to have started registering my inputs better, but still. Most of the menus are also navigated through the touchscreen, which is relatively annoying seeing how small all the buttons are. But the kicker to the whole experience are the loading times, which, for a handheld game, are unacceptably long.

 Public Service Announcement: You should probably download the patch. By itself the game is already relatively challenging, add to it accidental deaths due to the game not registering you touching the health packs. Well, originally, dying meant restarting the entire level, losing all your progress and having to endure the whole loading process again. With the patch, all your progress through the level is kept, you just need to go back to where you died and retrieve your health packs, ammo and wrenches. Well, a few of them, I always went from a full 9 stock of each to 2-3 of each, which can be crippling. And from what I read, it seems poison traps could instantly kill you before the patch, oh boy, having to endure that on top of the already messy interface, and having to go through the entire loading screen again.... Just, just download the patch.
 The game employs a rather weird karma system, that goes from 'Blood' to 'Light', and it affects the ending as well as the powers you can use. What makes it weird is how you obtain it: Enemies come in three varieties: Blood, Light and Steel. Blood enemies leave Light blood upon defeat, and Light enemies leave Blood... Blood, walking over these puddles of blood are what tilts your Karma meter in either direction. It's a mess. Literally. You actually have to avoid blood puddles if you want to have a particular Karma, so not only do you have to avoid monsters, avoid invisible traps that can't be deactivated, you also have to wait until the puddles of blood go away. And sometimes, you might come across Invincibility traps that make whoever steps on it invulnerable for 10 seconds, so you also have to add trying to reactivate them yourself or make sure the enemies don't walk over them. Does that sound like a fun game mechanic? Because it's not, it only adds even more annoyance.

 I think the game's biggest mistake was building the game around the franchise instead of doing it around the genre. The Dungeon Crawler genre thrives on the addictive nature of gathering loot, something that's missing here. Where are the skill trees? Passive skills? Active skills? Where are the large hordes of enemies? All we get are uninspired weapons that are meant to be disposed of, trying to force the flashlight to add unrewarding busywork to the game, a Karma system that doesn't work very well, repetitive puzzles at the end of every flippin' world. Having enemies, weapons and objects referencing every single Silent Hill game can only take you so far. References are fun, when the game IS fun, but they can't make a bad game any better. At all. I knew they were trying too hard the moment they use Silent Hill 3's best line: 'Did they look like monsters to you?' In Silent Hill 3 that line had a lot of weight, of ambiguity to it, that made sense in that game, and gave the whole ordeal, and future ordeals in subsequent Silent Hill games, a completely new twist. Games about horror, psychological horror at that. Here it just feels like misguided pandering, since the game isn't trying to scare you, it's not trying to make you think, it's a game with no depth either on the story or gameplay front, so using that line, verbatim, was nothing more than a cheap, cheap reference, that instead of making me smile, made me feel more cynical about the entire game.
 To say that I disliked Book of Memories is an understatement. I don't like it because it's 'Silent Hill in name only', I don't like it because it's not scary in the slightest, I dislike it because it's a bad game, period. Repetitive and uninspired gameplay, with design choices that clash with each other make the game a chore to play. They tried to add Dungeon Crawler elements with Survival Horror elements, but it just doesn't work like that. Look at the GBA Lord of the Rings games, look at TMNT's 3DS Dungeon Crawlers, they made dungeon crawlers first and then put the franchise on top of it, even if they didn't do their respective franchise justice, they were still fine, fun games on their own, which is what really matters in the end. The Silent Hill elements should have come second. Strip the Silent Hill elements from Book of Memories, and what have you got left?
 3.0 out of 10

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