I have to be honest; not once in one of my many journeys into the foggy nightmare resort of Silent Hill have I ever thought to myself, “Horror is great and all, and I really dig killing those bodacious zombie nurses while peering over my shoulder in abject fear at my inevitable evisceration by that Pyramid-Domed fellow, but this totally needs more of teh rare loot!” While identity crises are commonplace amongst the dinosaurs of the survival horror genre (I’m lookin’ at you, Gears of Evil), I have to admit Wayforward’s latest Vita-exclusive entry in the Silent Hill series threw me for a bit of a loop. A loot-centric dungeon crawler spinoff of the most terrifying survival horror series of all time seemed to make as much sense to me as a rhythm-themed fishing simulator with stealth elements, but I’m a pretty open-minded guy and decided to give the demo a go. Besides, after seeing Tokyo Jungle, Book of Memories might not be that odd after all.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories begins with you choosing between one of two character classes, a prep or a goth, each with their own distinct voice and dialog. Don’t get your hopes up though, all of the voice acting comes across as painfully stiff in the demo. You’ll also be able to choose a talisman that offers a permanent boost to one of your attributes, as well as outfit your character with a wide variety of clothing accessories, so you can seamlessly transition from the bowels of hell to the catwalk. Yeah, on the catwalk…
After choosing your character and exercising your inner fashionista, it’s time to get down to business. BoM opens with your protagonist getting a visit on his Birthday from postman Howard Blackwood (last seen in Silent Hill: Downpour). Blackwood hands our hero a mysterious package sent to him from Silent Hill. Confused, our hero tears open the package to find a mysterious journal containing every memory of our hero’s life. Fllipping through the yellowed, bloodstained pages without a care, he decides to see what would happen if he re-wrote some of the memories in the book, then goes to sleep.
When our hero awakens he finds himself in the infamous, tetanus-caked “Other World” and is greeted by its caretaker Valtiel, who will occasionally offer challenges in the dungeons and reward you rare items for completing them. Gameplay in the “Other World” is typical dungeon-crawler fare. Players run from room to room killing baddies, collecting keys and weapons, and leveling up as they pile up the dead. There is a bit of variety that separates BoM gameplay from the usual mold. Firstly, the weapon degradation system introduced in Silent Hill 4: The Room is back. Each weapon takes damage as it is used, and after its condition changes from green to red, the weapon is destroyed and must be replaced. Weapons like wooden planks break quickly, but meat cleavers and steel pipes can take down several rooms full of undead creatures before needing to be replaced. You also get the ability to dual wield weapons, with each attack being mapped to a different button. I personally preferred using a wooden plank in one hand to bludgeon my foes with, then follow up with rapid stabs of a dagger to put my enemies down when I close the distance. You are also given firearms with a finite amount of ammo, though in the demo bullets and healthpacks were plentiful and I never felt I needed to use them conservatively.
Apart from weapons, you’re also able to gather Memory Residue (currency), blood, and light essence, these essences are used to replenish your magic, though I never found any spells throughout the two stages offered in the demo. You can also gather wrenches to repair your damaged weapons, allowing you to preserve your favorite implements of destruction.
Aside from standard dungeon crawling rooms, each floor of the dungeons has several puzzle items you must recover before you can progress to the next floor. These items are hidden in rooms with blue “challenge orbs”. Striking a challenge orb will cause enemies to appear that must be exterminated before the puzzle piece will be awarded to you. Some challenges offer weapon, damage, or time restrictions, none of which were especially challenging to meet. In addition to puzzle rooms you’ll also venture into rooms with notes to find and televisions to watch which help to piece together the main characters story and give insight into what slight the player committed to end up in the “Other World”.
After uncovering all of the puzzle pieces in an area you make your way to the exit to solve a mind-numbingly easy touch-based puzzle. The demo features two of these, which are both simple variations of lining up the pieces horizontally in the correct order. Fans of the early Silent Hill games are sure to let out a disgusted sigh at the lack of imagination present in these “riddles”.
Speaking of a lack of imagination, the visuals in Silent Hill: Book of Memories certainly raise the bar for the dungeon-crawling genre. Enemies like split-head, the nurses, and the Butcher all make appearances in the demo and look exactly as you’d expect them to. The environments are also as rusty and dilapidated as you’d expect from a Silent Hill game. However, things do look strangely cartoony and bright at times, and the stiff animations and bland textures don’t help matters. The game doesn’t look awful, but the Vita can certainly provide much better visuals than what BoM offers.
The soundtrack fares a bit better than the visuals, with a fitting, brooding tone. Sound effects are also lifted straight from other games in the series, though I did notice that some sound effects such as gunshots would frequently drop when multiple enemies were on screen. This isn’t a major gripe, but it would be nice to see remedied in the full game.
While BoM is no technical marvel, the dungeon crawling is addicting. By the end of the demo’s boss encounter I have to admit I was hooked, and look forward to diving back into the world of BoM with a friend when the game is released in November. With a wider variety of locales to explore, some more imaginative puzzles, and more monster variety, developer Wayforward could have an entertaining dungeon crawler in store for us this Holiday season. It may not be as exciting as Ninja Walleye Master Megamix: Tournament Edition, but few games are.