When I was a kid, my older brothers, cousins, and I would play a game called "Wolfman". It may've been our own invention, or it may've been part of every American's childhood. We had rather expansive front- and backyards, with plenty of nooks, shrubs, and other hiding places. At night, one person would be the "wolfman" and would find a hiding place, while the others would walk around outside. In the dark, it was almost impossible to tell where the wolfman was — until he suddenly jumped out at you and gave chase! His victim had to either make it to a predesignated safe point or else fall prey to the wolfman. It sounds like a silly game, but for a little kid, having someone (or something) leap from the shadows, snarling, screaming, and running after you was both exciting and terrifying.
It's that love of terror that drove me to recently start playing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. I've been a huge fan of Konami's survival horror series, at least until recently. The first three games were disturbing, but as the fear began to be replaced with fighting — cornered by a scary monster? Just pull out your chainsaw! — I lost interest. News that the franchise's progenitor would be remade as a Wii exclusive piqued my interest — though would the series' latest direction be overcompensated for by the remake's gameplay?
Shattered Memories changes the game with the elimination of any and all combat and inventory. Harry Mason, still our accidental hero, no longer forages for bullets, health tonics, maps, melee weapons, artifacts, or any other items. All the supplies he's afforded are a flashlight and a smartphone, the latter which provides him with voice mail, text messages, a GPS, a camera, and more. It's a clever way to incorporate all the game's metadata into an organic game mechanic that draws the player into, not out of, the experience.
As a result, gameplay is bifurcated into two very different styles. The first is exploration, where Harry investigates the town of Silent Hill for clues to his missing daughter's whereabouts. Although there are few, if any, threats to Harry's wellbeing during these stages, and the puzzles are not particularly difficult, it is a unique opportunity to become familiar with the people and history of the accursed town.
At key points in the plot, the town freezes over — this game's equivalent to the "shadow world" seen in other Silent Hill games. As almost any average Joe would do in such a scenario, Harry doesn't fight the nameless, faceless beasts that emerge from the dark. A safe point is marked on his map, and he must run like hell to get there while evading these demonic souls. When Harry encounters a creature, all he can do is run or light a flare to ward them off. Hiding places simply postpone the inevitable, as the monsters can smell fear and will quickly out Harry. Should he find himself overwhelmed by the devils, a thrust of the Wii controllers in right direction may temporarily shake them.
Harry jumps chasms, climbs walls, and opens doors without assistance, so all players need to do is point and run. With enemies hot on Harry's heels, there's no time to check the map, resulting in the terrifying possibility of Harry finding himself right back where he started. And with no loading times between areas, making it from one room or building to another does not provide the haven it once did, a console generation ago.
I learned all this from terrifying, hands-on experience. As I frantically searched for an escape, the savages continuously hounded me, shrieking with delight and frustration as they bounded across the frozen landscape. At one point, over Harry's increasingly ragged gasps, I could hear my tormentors behind me. Stumbling, I passed a statue of some sort, and without slowing down, I waggled the nunchuk, sending the figure crashing down behind me. I hoped it would delay my pursuers long enough for me to make it through the next door and find myself somewhere new and possibly closer to home, but I couldn't be sure.
Up until then, I hadn't encountered anything about the game that scared me the way the first Silent Hill did a decade ago. But as I toppled that statue, not knowing if it would help me but knowing I couldn't stop to find out, I felt a familiar chill down my spine. It was hopeless, helpless terror and desperation. I was alone in the dark, and no one could help me.
It wasn't Harry who was being chased. It was me — by the wolfman.