Mainstream survival horror has been in a slump for most of this console generation. There have been some gems amongst the quagmire, bright spots like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, but the output of the two big hitters of the genre – Resident Evil and Silent Hill – has been average at best. And so we’re left with experimentations that don’t quite work, Resident Evil 6 courting the action crowd, and now Silent Hill going after the dungeon crawler brigade with Book of Memories.
The game abandons the eerie unease that permeates the best entries in the series within a matter of minutes, throwing you into a cavalcade of dungeons that could have been ripped from the pages of any embarrassing horror novel. There’s dripping blood, gothic symbols and burnt cabins full of industrial boilers and hidden spikes traps that burst out of the floor with no warning.
You play a student, built at the start of the game from one of four archetypes – goth, rocker, bookworm, or jock. After receiving the titular book from a moon eyed postman, you realise that writing in it lets you change the past, the present, and maybe even the future. Each new scribble leads you into a hellish random dungeon to face your fears and mash buttons until your fingers are sore.
The denizens of these dungeons aren’t friendly, and you’ll need to pick up weapons to fight them off. These range from planks of wood to shotguns, lengths of pipe to giant swords imbued with mystical spells. You can dual wield smaller weapons, controlling different hands with different buttons.
Every weapon in the game degrades though, losing power until it’s smashed apart and you need to use your bare hands to battle the twisted nurses, blobs of flesh and giant cleaver hurling butchers that you encounter on your travels. You can fix your equipped weapons with repair kits, but these become rarer the further into the game you go.
A shop, staffed by the odd postman who brought you the book in the first place, can always be found somewhere in the level, letting you top up your health packs, buy new weapons, or stock up on stat boosting amulets and other trinkets.
Book of Memories is best described as a slog. The combat is sluggish and unintuitive, the backdrops to your battles repetitive, and the creatures you have to smash into gory chunks uninspired. There’s plenty of backtracking through empty rooms, and the karma metre that lets you unleash powerful moves after creating enough devastation feels like a shallow afterthought.
The game is loathe to explain some of its finer details to you as well, and while a co-operative mode adds a little more fun to proceedings – battling ghoulish beasts with a friend is always more fun – it does little to answer the problems of the single player mode.
There are nods here and there to the rest of the Silent Hill canon, and there’s a perverse enjoyment to be found in pushing your way through the narrative to try and find out what happens in the end, but ultimately this is a game that you won’t want to remember.
By Harry Slater
Format: PS Vita
Developer: WayForward Technologies