Maybe I have a high threshold. Or low expectations. But I enjoy games that try something very different, even if not fully successful. So far, I’m enjoying Silent Hill – Shattered Memories immensely, even with its flaws, which lie primarily with the controls. While good most of the time, there are times when the controls feel wonky . . . not working as I expected. Yet, these difficulties are what I actually like about the game in many ways, because the game is pushing towards a more immersive experience.
Glitches can break the immersion, but so can a game that is too easy.
For example, I’m running from the nightmare creatures, and I have to run in precisely the right place to pick up a flare. By then the creatures are on me, and I’m shaking them off, and I can’t quite turn to run towards the door. Or when I have to interact with a device and I can’t get in the right spot easily to do so.
In more than 6 hours playing, I’ve had three, maybe four, of these moments. Honestly, I can’t say that this is more than other games that I’ve played on the 360 recently. But I think the Wii controls accentuate the problem more because of the gestures involved. More physical, more noticeable.
However, I’ve seen several players complain about the lack of combat–that the Wii’s controls for throwing off creatures are too imprecise and involve waggle. I’ve also seen complaints that knowing where to run in the nightmare chase sequences is too hard. Some say that they’re too close to the creatures to use the phone’s map to see where they are and where to go.
When I read complaints such as these, I’m not surprised that Nintendo came up with the idea of in-game help.
But how hard is too hard? In this case, yes, I died a lot in the first chase, and in a later chase, I ran in circles several times [though I only died three times]. As is, the death penalty in the game is non-existent, because you restart at the beginning of the chase in full health. I also found ways to look at my map, even while being chased.
Yet, that feeling of desperation, of running almost by instinct, is the point of the game experience. Yes, Climax could have added waypoints in the game world or markers, but then, I find the indicators for the interactive objects intrusive enough. To add such direction markers would make the game the equivalent of paint by numbers. I think even adding combat would make the game easier.
The expectation that we should be able to run through a game successfully, without failure or even some frustration, is the desire to play a game that is soulless. It doesn’t ask us to give much of ourselves to play the game.
Certainly, too much frustration, and you’re having a miserable experience. Normally, I’d say that frustration from bad camera angles or imprecise controls is not good frustration. And I think Shattered Memories has those moments. But the design of the chase scenes . . . I think that’s a good frustration. For example, the original Fallout games were somewhat brutal in their difficulty, but that was a frustration by design and for a purpose, that tied into the theme of the games. Similarly, I think the disorienting chase scenes are excellent designs that thematically support the disorientation of Harry Mason.
As much as I appreciate Harry’s confusion, I’m nonetheless watching it, experiencing it intellectually. But in those chase scenes, the disorientation is visceral. That might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I think it’s some of the best game design I’ve played this year.
In contrast, Arkham Asylum is a fun platformer, beat’em up game that I enjoyed, but I was never close to immersed in the game. The third person view kept me removed from the game, and I just never thought for even a second that I was Batman [as much as I would love to and wanted to]. For all the supposedly terrifying criminals in Arkham, I never once had goose bumps, not once felt trepidation or anxiety. And though I thought the different tasks in the game gave it a richness of gameplay, I’ve realized in contrast that Arkham Asylum‘s trophies and environmental hints for actions kept me removed from the Batman. I know some reviewers and gamers felt that they were Batman thanks to fight scenes and the detective mode, but it felt like most games, where I’m a puppeteer. Batman’s mental and emotional state was a faraway thing to me, something I saw only intellectually and never felt for myself. [And I don't believe for one second that Batman wouldn't be afraid of facing his enemies in an asylum.]
I’m not saying Shattered Memories is a better game than Arkham Asylum, but it does something that Arkham doesn’t, which is to pull me not just into the game but into the character–into the experience of being in Silent Hill and into the mindset of Harry Mason. That success supersedes the very few control issues that I encountered.