The Silent Hill Retrospective: Shattered Memories

‘I love my daddy!’

Shattered Memories opens with a perfect family moment captured on VHS. A young girl proclaims undying love for her father, before the tape stops, rewinds, and replays the scene again. The repetition continues until that warm feeling in your heart sinks uneasily down to your gut. Love is many things in Shattered Memories and not all of them are good.

Told from a psychiatrist’s couch, Shattered Memories delved into an idealised past in order to make sense of the present. All stories are based in personal truths, and while Harry Mason’s reimagined journey was yet another psychological nail-biter, the fright-and-flight antics and supernatural horrors couldn’t keep those obscured mementos buried in the ice forever.

Though the details had changed, Shattered Memories was fundamentally the same as the original. It was still about a father looking for his daughter in a dangerous town, but where Harry Mason’s progression was once clear and assertive, it was now confusing, overwhelming. Silent Hill was no longer this simple mesh of straight roads and alleyways. Lost in a blizzard, its streets looked more like winding capillaries, its buildings like bumps on the brain. Harry carried a cell phone, but aside from the odd sympathetic ear, it rarely worked in his favour. Old names had new faces, roles were reversed, and the comfort we sought was rarely found in the icy blue past or warm colours of the present.

And it’s in the present where much of its infamous mind games take place. Despite the initial warning, it was merely a double bluff. Shattered Memories, or just Climax’s Sam Barlow himself, wanted us to be acutely aware of our actions and second guesses. By design, we were meant to be instantly suspicious of Dr. Michael Kaufmann, along with the arrogant way he conducted the session. But everything that transpired in that office was tough love. Those barriers were meant to be built, if only so Kaufmann (the game’s voice) could knock them down and lead us to an empathetic conclusion.

The idea of storytelling, or more specifically how we shape stories, is key to Shattered Memories‘ own narrative. We hear it discussed in Kaufmann’s nihilistic observations, in Harry’s writing profession, and more obviously, in the way we control the visual stimuli; editing out what’s inessential or uncharacteristic. As the discrepancies grow, the fragility of memories becomes all the more apparent and Harry’s urban quest loses focus as he becomes involved with the lives of others.

Some seek trust, others need a kind word, but all of them turn out to be women at different stages in their life; each one challenging this idealisation of a loving father. Conversations about love and loss, mistakes and regrets, hopes and fears are played out in youthful haunts; not too dissimilar to the places found in the original Silent Hill. Ultimately, these little exchanges boil down to relationships, their compromises and commitments, told in a manner far removed from the vague allusions of Silent Hill 2 and SH4: The Room.

The emphasis on Harry’s humanity, his fallibility, is what drives the plot to a shocking conclusion. Whereas the previous incarnation was stoic and single-minded, this interpretation is vulnerable and weak, perking up when playing teenage kicks with Michelle Vladez or talking about being career paths with Lisa Garland. His love/hate relationship with Dahlia is far more complicated, though; a double meaning of parental failures and sexual frustration, retooled by a teenage mind with years of guilt on her mind (not to mention the incestuous connotations involved).

Divorce is rarely explored in video games. It’s a continual concept, unable to fit with the medium’s need for brevity and escapism. For video games, divorce is a character colourisation, throwaway at best, whereas death has a finite allure. And while that grim spectre hangs heavily over Shattered Memories’ proceedings, it only adds to lack of closure found in the living.

Much like its previous incarnations, the reimagined Otherworld is a sentient force, looking to keep its own existence going at the expense of others. It steps in when the narrative is questioned, freezing the world into deathly blue state, and out come the Raw Shocks; fleshy, abstract and desperate. Death was never meant to be an end state in Shattered Memories, there was no point for it. For the yelping creatures and the ice, it was about smothering the truth within Harry.

Shattered Memories’ antagonist was not some physical monster, easily defeated through guns and health packs. Instead, it was self-loathing gone unchecked, summed up in a scene at the Lakeside Amusement Park, where a chance of reconciliation is ruined by curiosity. One distraction and its the end of a family unit, or at least how one little girl perceives it.

Shattered Memories was at its best when it showed off these intimate moments. Michelle’s rocky relationship is heartbreakingly relatable in that all-or-nothingness of young love, ending up in an abandoned bar, older and wiser. Dahlia’s Poison Ivy act turning into an estranged desperate plea. The player choosing whether or not to sneak glances at an undressing Lisa Garland.

And there’s something all too real, too truthful, from a writer’s perspective when you’re left in the passenger seat, watching the world drift by, as arguments and insights play over the sound of engines and windscreen wipers; rendered all the more frightening when you’re left alone, soon after.

Personally speaking, Shattered Memories is a game in danger of being forgotten. It’s a technical and narrative gem; one that doesn’t have to be exclusive to the Silent Hill crowd. Yes, it made the theoretical crystal clear, and be-all-end-all of its twist made for a fairly disposable tale, but for the short time it existed, Shattered Memories remains an unforgettable experience, where Silent Hill finally became a literal state of mind.

A fitting sentiment, then, considering this was Akira Yamaoka’s last game in the series and with a soundtrack that was a wonderful return to form. After this, the final tether would break, and though we hung on dearly to the past (much to Downpour‘s detriment), our story wasn’t all that dissimilar to the one told in here. Somehow, much like the Masons, we just had to accept the pains of growing up and moving on.



Stephen Turner