Silent Hill: Book of Memories is a very tough sell. Not only is it a top-down dungeon crawler devoid of any scares, but it is also made by WayForward, a company that I have a poor track-record with. That’s not to say I’m reviewing the game based on these qualities (I have a ton of respect for the company, even though I’ve only liked a couple of their games), but Book of Memories is a game that you need to understand before deciding to drop 40 dollars on it.
Even then, I’m not so sure buying this would be a good idea.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is unlike any Silent Hill game before. As previously mentioned, it’s a top-down dungeon crawler that tasks you with grabbing loot, leveling up, and exploring the areas — kind of like the Diablo series. In addition, despite being referred to as survival horror, the game is not very scary. The limited story has no pacing, and feels like it’s there because it has to be; in addition, the Silent Hill branding doesn’t feel necessary to this game. Other than some mentions of the location, as well as some monsters that are straight out of the series, very little has anything to do with Silent Hill.
The story follows a person (who can be built via the limited customization feature) who receives a mysterious package. Upon opening it, he or she receives a book that lists all of the experiences that occurred over their life. Hell-bent on changing the bad things, our “hero” tries to re-write the book, and must do so by jumping into his own nightmares. Or…something. The story introduces too many plot-threads at once, and very few of them are explained in a satisfying manner by the end of the game. By the time I beat the final boss and saw the ending, I realized that I had stopped following the story by the halfway point. It just isn’t that interesting.
The gameplay, in its own right, is very competent. Brandishing guns for long-range attacks and a plethora of melee weapons for short-range, everything works exactly as you would expect from this kind of game. Combat is simplistic yet addicting, areas feel repetitive yet demand your exploration, and loot is littered all over the place. If I had one complaint about it, it would be that the weapons degrade way too quickly. Perhaps to provide a sense of realism, balance, or both, Book of Memories degrades your weapons as you use them. The only problem is that it happens way too quickly, and feels like an unnecessary annoyance more than anything.
Within each of the six main areas are three “Zones” and one boss room. Zones are essentially large dungeon floors, and to clear each, a painfully easy object puzzle needs to be solved at the end. The tricky part comes in when each of the five-or-so puzzle pieces needs to be found in their own separate room, each requiring that a group of enemies are defeated. This adds a layer of difficulty, but the scavenger hunts are present in every single Zone, and every single one of these rooms simply require that you hit the Square and Triangle buttons enough times to beat them. There is a little difference in the objectives as you progress through the game, but even as the areas change, it all feels the same.
To make matters worse,the only time checkpoints can be made in each Zone is by finding a single room to save in. At best, this will likely require a minute or two to back-track each time. At worst, you can simply die before you find the room, and lose up to 30 minutes of progress for nothing.
Also present in each Zone is a mission to beat and a special puzzle room. The missions are optional, and are usually more interesting than playing the main game. For instance, one mission requires that you take down a special Pyramid Head in a level, while another tasks you with leading a dog to safety while making sure it doesn’t die. The puzzle rooms (featured in the first two Zones of each area), called Forsaken Rooms, give you a puzzle that can either be completed in a bad, neutral, or good way. One puzzle, featuring a bunch of stone enemies and a stone girl crying in the center, can be beaten either by destroying the enemies first, destroying the girl first, or by doing nothing much at all. Guess which is which?
That’s another thing that bugs me: the morality system — if you can even call it that. Based around Blood and Light, making your bar sway to either side involves beating Forsaken Rooms a certain way, and defeating enemies that are attached to either alignment However, I have no idea what makes certain enemies Blood and others Light, as the game never really explains this properly. However, this does matter to some extent, because the ending is clearly influenced by your alignment.
From a game about monsters and demonic creatures, the placement of bosses feel strange, to say the least. The bosses are based around seven elements, and like the story, exist because they have to. They aren’t very creative, and aren’t very difficult, either. The Fire Guardian shoots fire, the Wood Guardian summons wood-based creatures, and so on.
There is also a leveling system ripped straight out of every single other game in the genre. When you defeat enough enemies, you level up, and can use earned skill points to upgrade each of your stats. In addition, items can be equipped that upgrade strength, vitality, and your other stats, and using a weapon enough can eventually level it up and turn it into a better weapon.
All of this would almost be forgivable if Silent Hill: Book of Memories was fun or interesting. It is neither. The game has so little to do with Silent Hill that the game does not even feel like an interesting direction for the series, and it is so unimpressive in quality that it’s hard to get excited for anything the game throws at you. Even with cooperative play, it added so little (even to this kind of game) that it didn’t even warrant mention. Silent Hill: Book of Memories doesn’t look especially good, sound especially good, or play especially good; almost as if it lacks the confidence to be anything better.