Silent Hill 2
Tea: Pumpkin Juice
Happy Halloween to all my reader (all beloved three of you). Since there hasn’t been something in this week I could truly recommend for a scary and creepy Halloween I saved the redemption of this special day for last. I criticised other games or movies for lacking the essential element of horror and finally I want to present the shining example to which I compare these meagre excuses. Silent Hill 2 still holds my heart with its bony claws and sits on the throne. On the pages to come you will find out why and I hope that you will give this extraordinary gem a chance to capture you, swallow you, and leave its marks on your soul.
The unparalleled opening cutscene of Silent Hill 2 introduces the protagonist James Sunderland who has received a letter from his wife asking him to meet her in their “special place”. The whole affair has a morbid touch though, since James’ wife Mary has been dead for three years. As determined, but mostly lonely and desperate, as James is he makes the journey to the remote town of Silent Hill to find his beloved wife or at least answers to this curious matter. But as soon as he enters the foggy streets of Silent Hill he begins to see the quiet town for what it truly is. Along the journey he will meet other lost souls that have their own goals and reasons for coming to this dark place, but in the end all of their reasons might be more similar than it first appeared to be. But it is not the town, the monsters that roam the streets and house, or the tendency to shift into a dark otherworld that lies at the focus of Silent Hill 2. This is the story of James and his seemingly futile quest to be reunited with the love of his life.
The characters of Silent Hill 2 are diverse, exceptionally well written, and most importantly unreliable. The acting may sometimes appear a bit off, but the casting choice was consciously; the developers wanted James and the other characters to be normal people and therefore the voice actors were also normal people without any professional background. James’ voice specifically is driving the entire emotional experience, consequently it is all the more baffling that he was substituted for Troy Baker in the HD Re-release (if you can call it that). Troy Baker, however, hits none of the subtle notes that made Guy Cihi’s performance so memorable. But, of course, a choice like this could only be made by none other than Konami. The design of the characters is always reflective of their inner struggle and the designers did a great job in subtly weaving this into the characters’ clothing, mannerism, etc.
Of course, one cannot talk about design without mentioning the incredible monster design this game offers. Not only are these grotesque creatures drenched in symbolism, but they also function really well in the horror setting. Their design is unsettling while never going into the field of overdesigned and simply disgusting creatures. They never drip with blood or gore, because they don’t need to, the way the look, move, and the sounds they produce instils a fear far greater than any gory mess could ever hope to create. Pyramid Head is a well-known figure and even though he is overused by now his original debut in this game used him sparingly but meaningfully. Every encounter with him is a highlight in this ride of a game. His threating aura stems from his attire and mystery surrounding this figure. The static that erupts in the presence of these creature is one of the clever design choices made by the developers. Combining this with the extremely limited field of vision creates an atmosphere of horror that has rarely been accomplished since.
Atmosphere, yes, atmosphere the part Silent Hill 2 excels in like no other. Not a single game has managed to rip me out of reality and throw me into their hellish realm like Silent Hill 2 has. The immersive quality of the game is incredibly strong and after all what video games always aim to do. This is achieved by various means: Be it the lack of any indicators such as health bars, mini maps etc. during the gameplay. The static noises that announce the presence of another creature while hiding it in the fog at the same time. The tragic story of James and his quest for redemption. The subtle details that show how much thought went into the game. And of course the absolutely superb soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka.
The sound design deserves a lot of praise as it is responsible for a huge junk of the game’s atmosphere. Yamaoka’’ music ranges from haunting piano melodies, guttural sounds, machine like grinding noises, to beautifully dark tunes. This is a soundtrack I still love to listen to even outside of the game. Here are two examples for you to dive into: Theme of Laura and Love Psalm. The environmental sounds such as step noises and creaking around the building are the little touches that add the extra flair of creepiness without ever being too much or too overt.
The gameplay of Silent Hill 2 is not exactly what one would call intuitive or for the lack of a better description: good. James has to get into a combat stance with all weapons and then hitting your target with a melee weapon can still sometimes involve a bit of luck. Firearms get the job done quicker, but ammo is hard to come by. And overall the combat works great with its ancient controls, since this is a survival horror game, if I am not afraid of engaging an enemy it is not doing its job right. Also James is not a marine he is a clerk and I can’t expect a clerk to do sick combat roles and after that Devil May Cry-like launcher attacks to start my air combo. It will take some getting used to, but the gameplay works as intended and does not break the immersive quality at all.
This game has three main characters: James, the town of Silent Hill, and you. This triangular relationship and the transforming relations between each of these three is what makes Silent Hill 2 such an emotionally gripping tale. To add to this you get the twisted and sometimes horrifying stories of other characters that happen to have wandered into to desolate town at the same time as you did. It is an interesting character study and the game never throws blatant facts at you, everything in the foggy town is told through symbolism and it trusts you to figure out the/your truth on your own. Thinking about and reading interpretations of Silent Hill 2 is still entertaining and thought-provoking as the game has so many details and clever hints to never be truly complete, but at the same time not too ambiguous at all. The pieces are there, but they start to blur as soon as you turn your eyes away from them.
All of these factors create the gripping game that is Silent Hill 2, but now to the aspect that I have been teasing: The horror that lies in subtlety and atmosphere. First of all this game has no jump scares and it manages to be scary (to think that such a thing is possible…). The truly scary part is hidden in the fog it is the constant dread that looms over the game. Every new room is barely visible and your flashlight can only do so much. Then the static erupts and you know there must be something lurking about, the question is where it is hiding. To add to this the environments are ordinary locations, but dipped into the creepy design pot just enough to walk the line between barely noticeable and too over-the-top. I still sit with my fingers tightly gripping my controller when I return to Silent Hill from time to time. It does not lose its impact and the multiple endings give all the more incentive to experience it again and again.
This Halloween (or sometime after that, since I don’t believe you’ll find a copy of this game easily, much less on this day, but never mind that) take the journey to Silent Hill and drown in the darkness of this eerie and emotionally traumatizing place. It is a superb game that should be played by everyone simply to prove what video games are truly capable of doing with its player. Your journey with James’ journey will stick with you long after the credits have rolled. It will exhaust you, scare you, maybe even scar you, but in the end it leaves you with an absolutely indescribable feeling of satisfaction that is and should not be compared to a feeling of accomplishment. It is the combination of narrative and atmosphere that leaves this unique tender feeling on your mind. What else can I promise to make this more appealing than disturbing and emotionally damaging content? Silent Hill is calling for you. It is time you answer.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- https://criticalteatime.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/2a75d-silenthill2shot01.jpg (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)
- http://wallpaperbeta.com/wallpaper_2560x1440/silent_hill_girl_angela_knife_games_2560x1440_hd-wallpaper-354594.jpg (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)
- http://www.silenthillparadise.com/uploads/1/9/7/5/19757713/914533_orig.jpg (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)
- http://orig05.deviantart.net/63b2/f/2011/137/6/e/silent_hill_2_hospital_by_parrafahell-d3gkwww.jpg (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)
- https://iktor.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/flashlight.jpg (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)
- http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/silent/images/8/88/LabyrinthMaria.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140425121159 (Last date of access: 30.10.2015)