There's been an ongoing debate over the past few years whether or not a videogame could ever truly become art and reach the level of more straightforward narrative forms like movies, novels, and television (not that there aren't other art forms). Will there ever be a videogame equivalent of, say, Citizen Kane or Ulysses? The debate has made it all the way up to the celebrity level of Roger Ebert, who has come down somewhat against it.
A few years ago I would have sided with Ebert. These days, with the advent of games like BioShock and the newly released Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, I'm beginning to rethink my position.
Shattered Memories is being sold as a "reimagining" of the original game, but it's far more than that. First of all, there's the gameplay. The team at Climax Group have done an extraordinary job integrating the particular strengths of the Wii console into the title. The flashlight, seminal to other versions of the game, is controlled in this game through the Wii remote, adding a fantastic layer of verisimilitude. This gets further enhanced by having your character receive telephone calls throughout the game that come through the remote's speaker, causing you to hold the remote up to your ear as though it were an actual cell phone. It truly helps make the entire experience far more immersive.
The story itself has also changed. The cult elements have been removed and replaced with a more compelling psychological focus. In fact, part of the game takes place within a therapist's office. The therapist asks you questions and gives you tasks that allow the game to fit itself to your particular personality. The ways in which you answer the questions will also affect the game's finale. The questions the game asks aren't particularly deep, and you can tell which directions things are heading easily, but if you really let yourself get into it, the therapy sessions can also be creepily effective at getting you into the game.
As the game progresses the main character's psyche becomes more and more fragile, which becomes reflected in the world of the game. The nightmare scenarios at the beginning are fairly straightforward renditions of the world of the game, only iced over and colored in hues of blue instead of the typical red and rust of the previous installments. The further along in the game you get, the more unusual the nightmares become, until towards the end of the game they get abstract to the point of surreality, indicative of the fragmenting psyche of our protagonist. There are a couple of stellar set pieces, including a repeating room and a long fall down the side of a building, that are haunting and, in their own way, oddly artsy.