Silent Hill: Book of Memories Review (based on the first couple hours)
Available now for the Playstation Vita. $40.
Picked up Silent Hill: Book of Memories off the PSN last night and completed 3 zones, the 1st boss, and started the 4th zone (the demo only had the first 2 zones & the 1st boss). I don’t think there are any full reviews for the game yet (I don’t think anyone got an advance copy so everyone’s scrabbling to play through it now) so here’s my early review of the first couple hours of the game. I’ll post again later if my opinion changes after playing through the whole thing.
First things first, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is VERY different than other games in the series. Instead of being a survival-horror game, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a top-down Action/RPG. My initial expectation was that it was going to be like the Diablo series but with a Silent Hill coat, but in actuality, it feels much more like an old-school rogue-like RPG. You explore dark trap-filled rooms with your flashlight, you can only hold a limited number of items at a time (backpack space can be upgraded), and you’re constantly low on resources.
The weapon system is particularly interesting. There are a few dozen weapons that you can find, purchase, or win from quests. Each weapon type handles differently and they may have various elemental modifiers as well. What makes things interesting IMO is that since melee weapons tend to have low durability, firearms are limited by ammo, and your backpack is small, you’re constantly scavenging for new weapons, repair kits, and ammo. It gives it a very survival horror feel rather than the typical “I’m awesome” feel you get out of your standard Diablo-style game. Also, weapons slowly gain XP & LVs through repeated use and this XP carries over for all weapons of that type so there’s also an incentive to try to figure out how to use your favorite weapons as much as possible to make them more powerful.
Besides your weapons, you can gain character XP which gives you stat points which you can freely distribute between 6 different stats to customize your strengths. There are also artifacts that you can find and equip that will give various stat boosts. Depending on which class you pick at the beginning of the game, you can get small bonuses when equipping certain types of artifacts but for the most part, it feels like most of your customization depends on your in-game choices rather than your class choice. There are a handful of special moves you can buy from the store like switching enemy alignments (enemies come in blood & light forms as well as the stronger steel form) and power attacks which can be used with the game’s equivalent of MP (one special move = 1 MP). There are also 6 super karma attacks (3 for light, 3 for blood) that you can use if you fill up your karma meter in one direction or the other (which you do primarily by killing enemies of the opposite alignment); so far I have the rank 1 light karma move which drains health from an enemy and gives it to you.
The levels are randomly generated and though they’re not as well done as the randomly generated levels in Torchlight 2, they’re pretty good. The game gives you a special goal in each zone you enter (like find a certain item or kill special mini-boss enemies) and some rooms have challenge crystals which typically give you a wave of enemies to defeat although sometimes they have other goals (like don’t take very much damage) which helps to keep things interesting. I’ve also run into a few special rooms like one that gives you a temporary buff and another room that gives you a little story/puzzle that you can get 1 of 3 results depending on your actions (Good, Evil, Neutral). You periodically find notes & audio logs (ala every old-school horror game ever) that fill you in on the story and at the end of each zone, you’re given a puzzle (so far, they’ve just been lame “Put these things in the right order” puzzles) which you gain bonus money if you manage to complete it with no help (if you get stuck, you can ask for hints which lowers the reward). In short, there’s more to the gameplay than just fighting.
So far, enemies haven’t been very dangerous (typically taking 1-5% of your life bar with each hit) but I imagine this will change as I get further into the game. If you’ve played the demo, know that the full game has a much bigger bestiary than the demo did. Also the 3rd zone was a lot bigger (at least in my game) than any of the zones in the demo. The environment in zone 4 switched so you won’t just be playing through typical Silent Hill rust & blood industrial settings. Between the various weapons, artifacts, monsters, zones, and randomized elements, there’s a lot of content here. And from what I’ve heard, although the game does have several possible endings, you can keep playing it indefinitely to try to get all of the endings and see how high of a zone you can reach.
The controls deserve special mention for their excellence. I love how it mixes traditional controls with touch controls. Movement, exploration, and combat are handled with traditional controls but the UI doubles as touch controls for things like reloading firearms, swapping stuff in and out of your backpack, and using health packs. It works really well and I hope to see similar setups in other Action/RPGs on the Vita.
The graphics in Silent Hill: Book of Memories aren’t amazing but the game does look a lot better in motion than it does in screenshots (due to the lighting). I’d say it looks like a really good PSP game rather than a full-fledged Vita game. Music & audio have been excellent so far and very Silent Hill-esque. Load times are long and annoying but at least they’re infrequent – it takes about 30-40 seconds to load a zone but once you’re in a zone, there are no load times and it’s been taking me about half an hour to fully explore each zone. Haven’t tried the multiplayer (and to be honest, I have no desire to do so since I rarely play multiplayer games).
All in all, I’m really enjoying the game so far and can’t wait to play more. Silent Hill: Book of Memories provides a very entertaining & unique survival-horror take on the traditional Action/RPG genre and comes highly recommended.
EDIT: Zone 4 is definitely harder than the previous zones. It starts throwing out modified versions of monsters (like ones that explode soon after they die) as well as a few new types that are more difficult to deal with. Actually died once.