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Best of 2009 - Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

As one year transitions into the next, I find it a healthy and refreshing endeavor to look back upon the past year and reflect upon those experiences which touched me the most; to discover which games stood tall above the rest and, for one reason or another, made a lasting impression.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing my own personal list of the ten best games of 2009, followed by those that didn't quite make the top ten and even a few of my greatest disappointments of the year. These are in no particular order, but they are the games I found most worthy of praise. Reflecting upon them makes one thing clear: it was a great year for gaming.

Putting this list together has truly made me realize what a good year this has been for gaming, which is surprising considering that my reaction otherwise might have been to suggest that 2009 was a mediocre year.

Nowhere was this proliferation of terrific games more obvious, and more troublesome, than when attempting to choose the candidate for this very entry. I reserved it for those games I played only at the tail end of the year. 

The problem was, I was hit with more last-minute awesomeness than I expected. Some truly deserving games were left behind, relegated, perhaps unfairly, to the Honorable Mentions category. 

The other two candidates, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Borderlands, are both safer choices. I picked both up expecting them to be fun and they were. There were no surprises with either, but they were both quite fun.

But Silent Hill: Shattered Memories ultimately stuck with me the most because, frankly, it surprised me. In a year of sure things, Shattered Memories was an unexpected pleasure; a nice, refreshing dose of unique. 

I tried Shattered Memories on a whim having never played a Silent Hill game before and not really expecting the series to mesh with my tastes.

I still get the feeling the other titles in the series wouldn’t suit me very well, but I’m happy to say this one is fantastic.

Silent Hill is a great looking Wii game that also happens to be a wonderful example of the Wii’s strengths as a platform. The PSP and PS2 versions won’t be quite the same without controlling the flashlight that is your only window into the darkness by moving your Wii remote around or without hearing the crackly, spooky phone calls through the little speaker in your controller held pressed up to your ear, much like an actual cell phone. 

The atmosphere of the game may be terrific, but by far its biggest strength is the story. The psychedelic tale gets progressively weirder as the story goes on, drawing you in and leaving you desperate for some sort of answers as the world turns into a hallucinogenic nightmare around you. 

Once you finish it there’s also a lot of incentive to play through again. You’ll see events from a different perspective, this time knowing the truth, and some of the choices you make will even affect the way events unfold the second time around.

The game may not be long, but the quality of the experience is more than worth the price of admission.

It is worth noting that one of the game’s more unique features is both a great asset and an annoyance. See, you can’t fight in Shattered Memories. When the world ices over and the creatures emerge, you’re forced to run for your puny little life. This is amazingly nerve-wracking and had me on the edge of my seat consistently like I’m not sure I’ve ever been before in a horror game. 

Unfortunately it can also be frustrating. It’s really easy to get disoriented or go in circles or hit a dead end. There’s no way to access the already confusing map without becoming a sitting duck. This leads to frequently repeating certain sections, which is not a fun thing to have to do in any game, much less a tense horror game.

The fact that you’re in no danger whatsoever except in clearly marked sections also seems like a missed opportunity considering how creepy it already is even under no threat at all. Still, the story alone is enough to keep you going and the environments are exciting to explore and spooky as hell, even if you technically know you’re not in danger. 

The above concerns made it hard for me to choose Shattered Memories definitively for this slot, but ultimately its sheer originality, tension, awesome story, and surprise factor pushed it to the top.

For giving me an awesome horror experience when I was expecting a clumsy joke and managing to deliver one of my favorite game stories of the year at the same time, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of my Best Games of 2009.

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