I won't make light of WayForward's attempt at bringing a multiplayer experience to the Silent Hill universe; Book of Memories is a bit of a mind fuck. But not in a classic Silent Hill kind of way, but more along the lines of a "Did Valtiel just ask me to walk his dog?" sort of way. And that's unfortunate considering the set-up would have worked save for the dispiriting hodgepodge of poorly executed role-playing game elements and unimaginative scenery. But to its credit, Book of Memories remains a flawed but fun dungeon crawler that is surprisingly tough to put down.
It's your 18th birthday and Howard Blackwood, the hardest working man in Silent Hill, has just arrived on your doorstep to deliver a package from the town itself. The package contains a book, and within its pages is a detailed account of your entire life. As you thumb through the folio, you take it upon yourself to change some of its entries hoping that what you write down within the text may happen in real life; sort of like Death Note, only instead of entertaining the company of a wise-cracking Shinigami to remind you about the consequences of your actions (and the deliciousness of apples), you can either choose to be alone in the personal Hell you are about to create, or bring three other players along to commiserate.
Presentation wise Silent Hill: Book of Memories is flop. Soon after rewriting history, you fall asleep and wake up in a place that does not resemble Silent Hill, at all. It may seem like it's a part of the horror darling town, but its same-y, randomly generated cut-and-paste rooms appear way too much alike to make exploration even remotely satisfying, let alone be reminiscent of the haunting aesthetic the series is known for. The isometric camera angle may have been a welcome change had it not been for BoM's uninspired environments. It is yet another case of a first-time Silent Hill developer thinking it knows what Silent Hill should look like. A splash of rust-colored paint does not a Silent Hill title make, nor do commonplace forest-y areas, over-the-top fleshy masses, or uninteresting sewer systems. The Vita is probably capable of a lot better than this but sadly, WayForward did not have the chops to do right by the franchise visually. The seldom moments when its design surfaces from a drowning pool of humdrum-itry is by means of its 'Forsaken Rooms'. Accessible only through its single-player campaign (why WayFoward would encourage you to go solo in a highly marketed multiplayer experience is just plain silly), these unique rooms manage to capture the essence of the Silent Hill experience. Not to give away too many details, but suffice it to say had WayForward maintained a similar vision throughout Book of Memories rather than quarantining it to seven rooms of the entire game (one Forsaken Room per level, I'm afraid), it would have gone a along way in making feel it like a worthy SH title. Gameplay, however is another story.
As much of a dramatic rewrite as its presentation, Book of Memories' greatest strength lies in its combat system. While a lot is inherently wrong with the RPG mechanics themselves i.e.: confusing class system, an unusually long time to level-up time, all-too-quick weapon degradation, lack of a practical inventory system, repetitive enemies, unintelligent puzzles, and vacuous 'quests', shellacking Bubble Head Nurses with a Steel Pipe or even slaughtering Pyramid Head with his own Great Knife is a reward onto itself. It actually feels fun to wail on wave upon wave of Silent Hill baddies both new and old. The controls feel tight and never work against you. You can equip two handheld weapons at once or single heavy hitting weapon at a time, all on the fly and courtesy of the Vita's touch-screen controls. You can dodge attacks with ease, and you can even tap into one-time use power-ups, such as increasing your weapon damage by 300%. It also helps that the weapons are complete fan fare. Whether it's wielding SH's Rock Drill, or even The Room's Sword of Obedience (I honestly squealed happier than a pig in shit when I saw this weapon) the means by which you can pummel Silent Hill's rotting flesh bags is incredibly varied and downright nostalgic.
When Silent Hill errand boy Howard Blackwood isn't off delivering the mail, he kindly runs a shop in the wannabe Otherworld dungeons of your character's nightmares. It is here where you can spend Memory Residue (MR) to purchase upgrades or buy/sell artifacts, weapons, and items. Call me nit-picky but I fail to see how something called 'Memory Residue' translates into treasure chests and satchels filled with gold coins and precious gems. Silent Hill is historically big on playing up sin; why not just called it 'Greed Flakes'…or something. Or better yet, why not make it slightly more familiar, like Seal of Metatron Coins, or Robbie the Rabbit's Feet? Running around looting the hell out of, Hell, just takes you out of the Silent Hill mindset, and puts you right smack dab in the middle of Diablo-town. It also would have worked better if WayForward rewarded players more for their efforts as opposed to making it easy to grind, taking away much of the already lacking difficulty level. Book of Memories is set up in such a way where you can easily raid Supply Rooms (often stocked with expensive high-grade weapons) sell your gear, save your game, exit, reload, rinse and repeat. And considering that the game grants you full health every time you reload, you can grind for MR and just buy up all the game's artifacts, upgrades, and most lavish weapons and not have to worry about dying – ever. Items that are scattered throughout each dungeon zone, such as Health Packs, Ammunition, and Wrenches (to repair worn out weapons), also magically respawn upon restarting making proceedings even easier.
The soundtrack is once again composed by Daniel Licht of Showtime series Dexter and recently Silent Hill: Downpour fame. While the score is not what you would expect from a Silent Hill title, the tracks suit BoM's gameplay structure. A constantly jarring and abrasive OST certainly has its place for Silent Hill proper, but a spin-off action RPG demands a softer touch, especially if the soundtrack plays on a loop. And fortunately, Licht was able to deliver without completely fucking it up.
The plot, much to my surprise, is actually a compelling one. Not told in a traditional sense via cutscenes or anything of the sort, Book of Memories tells it's sordid tale through pages your avatar player discovers throughout his nightly romps in dungeon-land. There are the occasional references to Silent Hill's religious/occult aspects to be found, but is thankfully kept low-key. The narrative otherwise filled with backstabbing, bitterness, lying, and betrayal (oh, teenage melodrama!), and can lead up to one of six different endings depending on your Karma. It should be noted that the Joke Ending is the best the series has ever had. It's undeniably cheeky and packed with so much fan-service and self-referential humor that you cannot help but appreciate how clever it is. It also clocks in at around six minutes., which is long for a Silent Hill ending.
You may have noticed that I have not spoken an awful lot about Book of Memories' multiplayer component; well, that's because I hardly ever found any one to play with. The one time I was able to find another player, the experience seemed rather disjointed. You can indeed help each other by swapping items/weapons but you can also ending up relying -rather annoyingly – too much on your partners. For example, the number of keys to unlock doors in any given level is a constant, so if you want to split up and come across a locked door, chances are one of your teammates already has the key to it, so it results in a lot of waiting around. Sure you can stick together but what fun does a low-level player have with a dual Laser Pistol wielding, Level 20 badass-as-shit player like myself? Communicating with players is no walk in the park either as instead of talking directly to them, Book of Memories chose to adopt an RE: Outbreak set-up, where the directional-pad houses various commands you can shout at your team, such as 'Help!" or, "Gimme shit!" (not exactly, but close enough). It all just feels rather gimmicky and is anything but a selling point.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories is an anomaly. The Diablo-like spin-off considers the series' most loyal fans and does not miss an opportunity to remind players of the Silent Hill's past glory. The caveat however is that WayFoward's multiplayer SH title is about as appealing to its base as a one-night stand with Pyramid Head. But peel away the SH facade and what you are left with is an experience that fans of the action-RPG genre may be able to enjoy.
Fun Factor: As a dungeon crawler, BoM works; as a Silent Hill title, not so much.
Difficulty: Variable, but leaning towards easy. If you take time to level-up your character and grind your way to maximum upgrades, Book of Memories is a cakewalk. If you push on ahead with minimal effort chances are you won't make it very far.
Length: With 21 Zones to explore across 7 Dungeons, BoM is a lengthy title, and can take anywhere between 10-14 hours to complete.
On the Negative Side: Poor design choices, cut-and-paste environments, and bland visuals are but a fraction of Book of Memories' problems. The map system is dreadful and the multiplayer aspect feels like an afterthought.
Bang for Your Buck: For a what it is, Silent Hill: Book of Memories is worth its 39.99 price tag. The playtime extends well past the initial story with hundreds of bonus stages and challenges to take on. There are tons of artifacts and weapons to be found and purchased so completionists are getting a lot of return on their investment. It isn't an absolute must for Vita owners, let alone Silent Hill fans. But those who enjoy a good old fashioned hack-and-slash may want to take a chance on BoM; the horror motif doesn't hurt either.