Few development cycles have been as troubled as Book of Memories this year. Originally scheduled to be released back in June of this year, the WayForward-developed title was silently delayed at the last minute, only to launch in the thick of the holiday rush, with no advertising or awareness. All of these things usually amount to a poorly produced game someone was trying to sweep under the rug. Silent Hill: Book of Memories falls somewhere outside of that mentality though. The change of direction of the series is not its biggest issue, but it also doesn’t come without its share of problems.
Before we dig too much into the game let’s address the elephant in the room right out of the gate. This is not a traditional Silent Hill game. There, I said it. I feel much better. Using the license here is not a way to push a new game, but instead a way to better address the universe it takes place in. There are still demented nurses and creatures out of nightmares, but this game is far from survival horror, and in fact leans more just towards survival. This is a top-down action RPG that spends most of its focus on grinding as opposed to puzzles.
Fans of the series are likely most concerned with the continuity of the storyline. Let’s be fair though, the series is always about someone getting lost in the creepy town, and then being carried into oblivion by large gentlemen with fixations for tetrahedra on their domes. Book of Memories takes place in the same universe but really doesn’t follow any of the same storylines. You play as one of several stereotypical teens that discover a book filled with their life story. As anyone in their position would do, they alter the parts they don’t like. Upon waking the next morning, the consequences ensue. Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to mess with the past? I know Jeff Goldblum did.
Like I said it all takes place in the universe so you will see the same demented nurses as well as appearances by the infamous Pyramid Head, but there are no dead end streets or foggy schools. The levels feel more like chambers in a nightmare that can only be described as hell on Earth.
Of course, the biggest change here is that this is not your average SH game. Instead, I would liken this more to a lite version of Diablo. The perspective is top-down and you move from room to room eliminating enemies, collecting loot/money and managing upgrades for your character. You gain XP from each kill, and you can also collect artifacts that boost stats. Weapons you collect can be equipped two at a time (one in each hand), or you can choose a two-handed weapons for more damage. You also have to manage weapons in a sense that they all eventually break, or in the case of guns, run out of ammo. It is all management and leveling, which is a huge departure from the series’ roots.
The game starts you off by allowing you to pick a class of character from a preset list. These are actually high-school labels, which is where my stereotype comment comes in. You have the prep, the goth, the jock and so on. Each one varies in appearance, and you can select male or female. Outside of that, customization is limited, so don’t expect a range of helmets and armor to be used. Also the game offers up a screen of charms at the outset asking you to choose. It never mentions what they do, but be warned, this is your buff, so choose wisely. Not that it matters because the game won’t tell you until you’ve already made your choice.
As I mentioned, the combat focuses on two attacks for each of your hands. You can equip two guns, knife and gun or any combo of melee and firearm. You also have two-handed weapons such as pipes and wood blocks that are slower, but do more damage. You will also obtain rare weapons that are more powerful by completing side quests, or shopping in the store. It is wise to keep an eye on them though, because once a weapon breaks, it is lost forever. Your backpack stores items such as wrenches that repair weapons, health packs and ammo. You can upgrade to carry more items by purchasing a backpack upgrade in the store.
The game is broken up into zones, with each one consisting of a set of levels. Each level has you digging around finding puzzle pieces that eventually unlock the door to the next level. With any game like this, grinding is key. You are able to return to previously explore levels to rank up your character, and believe me it becomes necessary. Once you reach zone 2 and definitely 3, you need all the help you can get. Enemies become relentless, and the combat, while sufficient, doesn’t handle tougher enemies all that well. Grinding is where this game came to a screeching halt for me. I was enjoying the change of pace and pick up and play mentality until I had to repeat multiple sections over and over just to level up. It becomes tedious quickly and drains the fun out of progression.
A lot of that is remedied when you play with others. This is a first for the series, and honestly a welcome addition. Like any good dungeon crawler, you can team up with three of your friends for a loot-chasing romp online. Amazingly, it runs relatively smoothly and makes the grinding a little less tedious than going solo.
The dank visual setting actually works on the Vita. While you can’t pan the camera around, you can move it with the right stick giving you a better view. I’m not sure why they decided to allow you to simply pan it around, as it would have made so much of the game easier on the eyes. The actual in-game stuff looks good, though. Enemies have decent animations, and the lighting isn’t too bad. The Vita is capable of some slick visuals, and Book of Memories does a good job taking advantage of it. The music is standard SH fare, with creepy arrangements and a classic feel. The sound effects leave a bit to be desired, but the rest of the package is relatively solid.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a surprising twist on the franchise that works in some areas, while falling flat in others. If you intend to duke it out with friends, I recommend it wholeheartedly, especially with the lousy Vita lineup right now. If you are going in strictly for the Silent Hill aspect, you are likely to be disappointed. It walks a fine line between being a solid game that just so happens to take place in a popular universe, and blatantly using the name to advance. Still, it is a decent game that deserves a look for game-starved Vita owners. There is a demo, and I recommend giving it a whirl yourself. Book of Memories may not be memorable, but it is far from terrible.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.