“No, jump away!” I yelled into my Vita, watching as my online companion tried to dodge an exploding Insane Cancer a moment too late, the hulking monstrosity blasting into tiny bits and killing my friend in the process.
“Nooooo!” I heard through my headphones. Then we both shared a laugh while I finished off the remaining Cancer, my buddy respawning at the beginning of the level and racing to catch up so he could lend a helping hand.
What made this particular online session in Silent Hill: Book of Memories so unique was the fact that my companion was Chinese and spoke very little English. And the only Chinese I had a grasp on were the profanities he’d occasionally shout when something went wrong. As a result, we had started falling back on “here,” “no,” “yes,” and “wait.” It wasn’t much, but somehow we made it work.
When I first joined his match and discovered our language barrier, I very nearly logged back out, but something made me stick around. And I’m glad I did. What followed was a two hour session of the pair of us running from cabin to cabin, communicating as best we could and laughing whenever things went horribly wrong. Book of Memories is best played with something resembling strategy being utilized and that was clearly not our strong suit. So, yeah, things went “horribly wrong” pretty regularly.
By the time we reached the end of the dungeon, I discovered that my new pal knew at least one other English word. “Finally!” he yelled. “Finally,” I agreed. We laughed one more time, said “Bye,” and called it a night.
When Silent Hill: Book of Memories was first announced, the Vita exclusive was met with a lot of nay-saying on premise alone. It’s an isometric multiplayer dungeon crawler and, if you’ve ever gotten into the Silent Hill series, then you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking none of those words could ever describe one of the series’ titles.
Silent Hill is one of those franchises with a legacy. Even if the most recent games in the series proper haven’t been critical darlings, fans still remember the good old days of walking cautiously through the fog-covered streets of the most haunted town in America, doing their best to avoid the roaming nightmare creatures and feeling a chill run up their spine each time a siren sounded, signaling the impending shift of the game world into an even more terrifying Hellscape.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t skeptical going in. But after I had a handful of the game’s campaign levels under my belt, and especially after I had spent half a dozen hours playing with others online, all of Book of Memories’ moving parts finally started falling into place.
It may not pack the scares that the Silent Hill series has become known for, but that doesn’t mean that the infamous burg can’t serve as the perfect setting for a story about nightmares and shifting fates. As the game’s main character discovers, the deepest shadows of Silent Hill can bleed into the most unlikely of places. In the case of the dungeon crawling genre, that turned out to be a pretty dang good thing.
If you get down to the heart of the matter and ignore the Silent Hill trappings, Book of Memories is a competent dungeon crawler. The levels are big and randomized, plenty of loot is waiting to be discovered, monsters pose a nice challenge and your character has just enough combat options to keep encounters decently varied.
But once you wrap that package in the familiar, blood-soaked skin of Silent Hill, what could have been a generic–though decidedly successful–game suddenly carries some additional weight. It’s a homecoming of sorts. You know these monsters and smile when a familiar face shows up. The locales remind you of series staples and each time you pick up a lead pipe you will be reminded of the countless times you have performed that same action on previous trips to Silent Hill. The familiarity is a welcome treat, and I’m glad I got to experience one of my favorite video game haunts in this manner.
Played solo, Book of Memories can get repetitive, but it’s obvious that developer WayForward took measures to keep things as varied as possible. The entire game is sort of like a big, constantly shifting puzzle. Everything about each encounter is a variable, from the shape of the room and the enemies you face to the optional objectives and items you’ll have access to. Some enemies will have additional abilities that make them super tough or explode when they die, and most are weak to a certain weapon. Some rooms house traps, too, which can be used to hurt, heal, cripple or empower both player and monsters alike.
The game can also get a bit tough if you’re flying solo at about the midway point. You’ll find yourself farming for Memory Residue, BoM’s form of currency, which boils down to you running back and forth across some pretty big levels in order to sell every spare item you come across at the store. You can buy backpack upgrades to carry more loot, but even that doesn’t expedite the process by much.
Each level ends with a puzzle, too, making up the game’s second big letdown. Like every other aspect of the game, the puzzles are crafted with a set of standard variables. You’ll pick up various idols for completing tasks within each level, as well as a clue that will tell you how to solve each puzzle. But once you’ve figured out the handful of basic solutions, the pieces, the boards they go on and the clues themselves just become slightly altered repeats of the same trick.
Because of this, online is where Book of Memories really shines, instantly negating most nit-picky negatives you may come across. Getting games going is a breeze and connections are silky smooth. While BoM offers the ability to have your character recite a set of helpful commands/requests, those who aren’t mic-shy will be happy to know that the voice chat option works flawlessly. So long as your companions (up to four players in a room) aren’t listening to music in the background (Or, say, speaking a completely different language), you’ll hear everyone perfectly well.
While Book of Memories might not be a “proper” Silent Hill game, it uses the franchise well. The gameplay is tried and true and there are more than enough collectables and upgradable items to keep you coming back for dozens of hours. And once you finish the game’s main story, you can even hop into randomly generated levels indefinitely.
It has a few flaws that hamper the fun, but I had a hard time lingering on those while cruising around Silent Hill with friends, laying waste to hordes of baddies I’ve spent the past decade growing to know and love. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it certainly dresses it up in an unexpected–And unexpectedly entertaining–new outfit.
Book of Memories can be played in short bursts or marathon sessions, which makes it perfect for a portable console. The inclusion of solid online and mountains of content, however, are what make it a very welcome addition to the Vita’s library.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is praiseworthy yet flawed.
This review based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.
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