Five Great Reasons to Play (or Replay) Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is the memorable sequel to the fantastic and moody Silent Hill of the Playstation era. It helped redefine and reinvigorate a genre that some people thought had done it all (at the time, anyway). It gave me and plenty of other people I knew nightmares and unsettling emotions, most of which stuck with me long after I finished the game.
The original Silent Hill is set in the aptly named town, with the player assuming the role of Harry Mason; an author who gets into a car accident and wakes up to find his daughter, Cheryl, missing. Harry must explore the monster-filled town in order to find his daughter, uncovering a plot about cults, demons and the manifestations of nightmares. The game was a critical success, selling over two million copies in its lifetime. While some called the game a “shameless but slick Resident Evil clone,” others praised the original approach to horror. Due to the success of the game, Konami decided to gather up the misanthropes of Team Silent, asking for them to create another unique entry into the series. What they created is often heralded as one of the most effective horror games of all time. In this pseudo sequel, you play as James Sunderland: a man who has driven to Silent Hill after reading a letter from his wife, Mary, begging him to return to their “favorite spot.” The problem is Mary has been dead for two years, so James heads to Silent Hill to try and figure out just what the hell is going on, and the player gets to follow him down the proverbial rabbit hole in search of answers. As per usual, I will attempt to avoid spoilers as much as possible; be aware, however, that in talking about some of the elements of this game, it might be unavoidable.
There’s a great analogy I like to use: Resident Evil is like a Fun-house ride, while Silent Hill 2 is like a haunted forest walk. Haunted houses are exactly what they say they are, and therefore come with a set of expectations. You say to yourself “Ok, I’m going to see some monsters, have things pop out at me, and be put into the proper setting for said events.” These are by no mean bad things in the slightest; some of my favorite games derive from this exactly, like Dead Space (more on that in a later article) and Resident Evil (which I could write about for the next several years). Haunted forests, however, carry a much darker and foreboding atmosphere in their design and implementation; They get under your skin in a way that a haunted house never can. The forest isn’t just a forest; it becomes organic and fluid, and it plays tricks on you. Your mind begins to fill in the void caused by the shadows playing off of each other. The first time I ever went to one of these forests, the experience stuck with me for weeks; the shadows in my home becoming the beginnings of sleepless nights and the inspiration for nightmares long after that chilly evening in the forest. Silent Hill 2 approaches you in the exact same way as these haunted walks. The power of the Playstation 1 meant that Team Silent had to utilize a limited draw distance while making it look like objects weren’t just “popping in” from the void. What was created was the now famous fog, cloaking the entire town in an oppressive shroud that morphs and misshapes everything, making the player feel a sense of quiet unease. Silent Hill 2 is approached from a psychological standpoint that aims to get into your head rather than your face. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the aptly named Otherworld; the blurred reality that exists in tandem with Silent Hill’s already creepy existence. Harsh and oppressing, the Otherworld’s version of Silent Hill is warped to reflect the psychological state of people in the town. Across the series, the appearance of the Otherworld changes somewhat, but the effect remains the same; a dirty, dilapidated version of the real world. Using a color palette that can only be described as “rust,” and utilizing industrial scenery like barbed wires and fences it invokes a deeper sense of terror than the calm yet eerie reality.
Music is an interesting thing in games, to say the least. Some composers use layers to create intensity and weight, while others use music to create a mood for a particular scene. Rarely do composers create such a memorable and distinct soundtrack, that, even years later, it gets constantly cited as one of the best horror soundtracks ever produced. Crafted by Akira Yamaoka, the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 boasts a wide range of soft melodies, haunting tunes, and intense soundscapes, all of which cause the player to become absorbed in the world. The calming moments are some of the most memorable tunes I have ever heard; in fact, there’s a YouTube video on standby that I listen to almost daily. Sure, it includes some tracks from Silent Hill 3 (something I will also go into depth on at a later date), but these masterful songs are still composed by Yamaoka, and fit quite nicely with Silent Hill 2’s melancholy tones. “A World of Madness” and “Null Moon” create this sense of longing in players; a calm embrace in the madness of their surroundings. In contrast, the more intense tracks from Silent Hill 2 instill discomfort and panic in the listener. Songs like “Block Mind” and “Ashes and Ghost” cause the player to feel genuine terror, as these tracks are played when the you are in combat sequences or at their most vulnerable. The guttural clash of industrial drums, shrieking violins and droning mechanical noise work to unsettle the player, so much so that I have seen it work first hand. My brother, an avid video game player like myself, had to step away from Silent Hill 2 and 3 at certain points, because he felt as if the music was beginning to drive him mad. Not in the annoying way, mind you, but it began to get under his skin and affect his gameplay, which goes to demonstrate how powerful good audio design in games and game music is.
Connecting with my last point, a strong soundtrack alone cannot carry a game very far (of course the argument can be made with at least one modern example). Good game design means good audio design, and the horror genre depends on this especially; its an important tool in a developers kit that can elevate a scary experience into a terrifying experience. The forefront of this comes in the form of the broken radio. Early on in the game, James enters a partially blocked off tunnel and finds a radio emitting white noise. After picking up a radio, he notices the first enemy in the game, dubbed a “Lying Figure,” and after killing it, the radio falls silent. For those of you that do not play video games in your every waking moment of spare time, the radio has be synonymous with Silent Hill as an “early warning” system that an enemy is nearby. The radio makes a very specific style of sound, and as a player, having an environment go from quiet to slowly being filled with radio static induces fear. You, as a player, know for a fact that an enemy is nearby, but you have no way of knowing its direction unless you begin to move towards it, and by doing you, you end up making the static noise louder. For me, at least, this creates some real tension: not because I know there is an an enemy nearby, but because the building of the radio sound in turn builds up tension right before combat. A jump scare has nothing even close to this effect; monster goes “boo”, you go “ahh” and begin shooting/running. This slow ramp up and building of tension makes the mediocre combat of the series feel much more frightening and real; a prolonged affair rather than a quick tearing of a band-aid. The radio isn’t the only thing that has had this painstaking amount of care put into it. Everything from the noise doors make when echoing down a long dark hallway to the enemies shrieking in pain helps sell the setting completely. I can still hear the metallic sounds of Pyramid Head’s blade scraping the floors in my dreams. The siren is another things that still puts me on edge to this day. Used as a cue for the game world to transition into the Otherworld, the siren is an indicator that your comfort zone is about to get a lot less comforting.
The Things Trying to Kill You
Games with an adversarial presence in them need interesting enemies in order to keep the player engaged. If the enemies are lacking, the overall experience will be lacking. The Silent Hill series has always had creative enemies, and nowhere is this more present than in Silent Hill 2. Enemies in the other entries in the game are frightening, yes, but the monsters James encounters are reflections of his trauma in life. Take the Lying Figure, for example. While, on the surface, it looks like a typical cannon fodder enemy and acts just the same, there is a far more interesting story behind the Figure. When the figure moves, it writhes in agony as if trapped inside of a jacket or blanket; it makes an awful shriek closely resembling a human scream (to me, anyway). There is a resemblance to a sickly or dying person, while having (objectively) alluring legs in heels. There are various theories about the game’s enemies on the Silent Hill 2 wikia page, most all of which I highly discourage reading. Not only are they filled with spoilers, but they offer up insight on theories and ideas that the player themselves should conclude. To say that the enemies are “unnerving” however, is a vastly understated comment. That scene alone that you encounter very early on in the game had me seeing things out of the corners of my eyes for months, and I wouldn’t even consider that a fantastic scare by any means. It’s just hyper unsettling in the best way possible.
I tend to write about video games purely for fun, but from the bottom of my heart, I urge whoever reads this to find a copy of Silent Hill 2, and play it, or watch a friend play it, or watch a commentary-free Longplay of it (like this one here; 4K resolution and a great YouTube channel in general). It’s worth leaving one’s comfort zone to experience.Just, for the love of all that is holy in horror, do NOT play the HD Remake. It replaces a lot of the voice acting, textures, and music. Worse off, the HD Remake, by “enhancing” the textures and draw-distance, ruin the fog drenched town. You would be doing yourself a disservice with the HD edition, especially if you enjoy horror based media (and because there are plenty of guides online to play Silent Hill 2 in HD on PC). So strap in with your preferred method of play, and enter Silent Hill; I’ll stop writing for now. That is, until I take some time to write about Silent Hill 3…