Let’s say your wife died three years ago due to an unnamed illness. Let’s also say that you just received a letter from your dead wife, informing you that she is not only alive, but in your shared “special place.” In Silent Hill. You know, the town riddled with cult worship, demonic babies, and undead nurses that still give me a weird boner. You would really have to be some kind of sadomasochist to even entertain the thought of going into that town, much less to look for a woman who’s been dead for three years.
Enter James Sunderland, who has arrived in Silent Hill, looking for his supposedly dead wife.
Questionable motives of the protagonist aside, Silent Hill 2 is the best mindfuck I’ve ever experienced in a video game to this day. At first, the game looks nonthreatening, until you encounter your first monster. After that, it becomes more creepier by the minute, then finally settles into bat-shit insane, with a good number of “Holy Fuck” moments to make sure your pulse never rests.
Along the way, you run into several characters, each having their own reason for being in Silent Hill. Eddie, for example, was severely bullied all his life, and as he was running away from his problems, he felt the town “calling” to him. I really liked him as a secondary character, because every time you see him, his mental state deteriorates further, until he finally believes James is mocking him as much as his bullies. Then, you have to fight him in a slaughterhouse.
Considering that this game is a psychological horror, and that James Sunderland is not trained in any form of combat whatsoever, it makes sense that the combat feels stiff and sloppy at times. After all, swinging a melee weapon, such as a steel pipe, is something that anyone can do with relative ease. I am still curious as to how he is able to use firearms with enough skill to hit his target, and reload them properly. Then again, the first firearm I got – the handgun – was found in a shopping cart…
Even though there is a decent amount of exploration around the town, the bulk of the game takes place indoors, in dark hallways. In spite of having limited vision with the flashlight, I never got the impression that I was wandering through the same hallways twice, even in those circumstances when I had to (Otherworld Hospital, for example). Each building felt unique; the water-damaged, paint-peeled walls of the apartments weren’t as creepy as the rusted interior of the abandoned prison. Even after all these years, I still hate going through the Labyrinth, not just because it’s slightly confusing to navigate, but also because I may accidentally run into Pyramid Head.
The monsters in Silent Hill 2 are freaky and disgusting – and I love them for it. Each one of them represents a physical manifestation of the fractured subconscious’ of James and the other characters. Pyramid Head is created out of James’ repressed guilt and desire to be punished. A good chunk of those “Holy Fuck” moments I alluded to earlier were caused by Pyramid Head’s sudden appearance. It was a shock when I first walked in on Pyramid Head doing something unspeakable to those apartment mannequins, and I nearly pissed myself when he showed up in the hospital.
There is also a moment in the prison where I came across…something pacing back and forth in its cell. It can’t be seen, but it weirds me out because I can hear it. I can still kill it with my shotgun, if I want to, but it doesn’t affect the game in any way, and I feel like a monster after I do so. This is just one of the many moments in the game that fuck with my head, regardless of my actions, and I feel like the developers lost an opportunity to have this affect the game’s ending.
Of which there are six. And yes, the UFO ending from Silent Hill 1 is back!
A game’s music can also help in creating a tense, emotional situation – and I’m happy to report that Silent Hill 2 delivers in that category. Akira Yamaoka did a fantastic job in developing a soundtrack that is as unsettling as it is amazing. I was blown away the first time I played the game, and was treated to the soothing, yet cautious, “White Noiz.” Every song in this game makes me feel something, even if it is something dark. There are also occasional moments of silence incorporated throughout the game, which make me feel like some scary shit’s about to go down.
But then nothing happens, and it keeps me on edge.
A good portion of games I enjoy utilize tank controls, which do exist in Silent Hill 2 – and like those games, they are not a major hindrance for me. What does give me a headache are the camera controls. In most cases, when you enter a room, and the camera faces you, it will stay that way until you reposition it. However, when you hold the button to reposition the camera, it will not immediately do so until you run past the camera. There are also a few areas in the game in which you cannot reposition the camera at all, such as the hallway where you find the canned juice in the apartments. That hallway still pisses me off so much.
There are many readable items scattered throughout the game, and I take my time to find every one of them with each playthrough. Some of them can be relatively innocuous, such as news articles which describe mysterious, yet horrific events in Silent Hill’s fictional past. Others are vital clues to help you overcome obstacles, such as a poem about a wrongfully imprisoned man who was sentenced to death, and you have to figure out what crime he was accused of, based on the clues mentioned in the poem. There’s even an article about a guy who killed himself in prison with a spoon, and he turns out to be a major villain in a later Silent Hill game!
I still love this game, and I strive to play it at least once a year, especially around Halloween. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s scary, it’s unnerving, it’s downright depressing at times, and it’s fucking beautiful. Even if you have to play it on that god-awful travesty that is the Silent Hill HD Collection, play it. Give in to the madness!
And to hell with your therapy bills!