Back in the day, I was (and still remain) a massive fan of survival horror games, despite the toll they take. The dogs coming through the windows in the original Resident Evil still resonate. But it was the other big franchise in those days, Silent Hill, for which we are here today. The first game was a spooky experience, with the radio giving you warning of creatures in the mist, and even with the graphical constraints of the PS1 it was extremely effective at creating a spooky atmosphere. But did the difficult second album surpass the first, what with the new power of the PS2 behind it? Well, prepare for spoilers.
The story of Silent Hill 2 was a beaut. Our hero, James Sunderland, is a widower, as his wife, Mary, died after an illness. So, imagine his surprise when he receives a letter from his dead wife, which tells him that not only is she still alive and kicking, but that she is waiting for him in the small town of Silent Hill. I can only assume that James isn’t a gamer, as having played the first game, I’d have sent a letter back letting her know that I was waiting in Disneyland! Still, with the pain of his loss still raw after three years, James sets off back to Silent Hill to see what’s going on.
And what is going on is a mess, frankly. James meets many people as he explores the town, including Angela and Eddie, both teenage runaways, Laura, an eight year old child who has apparently befriended his dead wife and who accuses James of not truly loving Mary, and most disturbing of all, a woman by the name of Maria; who looks like Mary. What follows is a series of horrific encounters with twisted creatures, including the world famous Pyramid Head, who ambushes James and Maria. The story from here spirals into a series of exploration and revelatory encounters, into an exploration of James’s psyche, and an acknowledgement that he feels he needs to be punished. You see, he has created Pyramid Head and all the other monsters from his feelings of guilt after it appears that he killed his wife by smothering her with a pillow.
It’s fair to say that the story powering Silent Hill 2 isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. But neither are the creatures. There has to be a special mention made of the design of the monsters, especially the twisted nurses in the hospital who gave me nightmares for weeks, and Pyramid Head himself, with his Great Knife that he drags around behind him. According to articles published by cleverer people than me, apparently his design suggests the possibility of pain, the triangular head at least, while the Great Knife represents the sexual frustration that James felt as his wife was dying. I’m not sure about any of that, but I do remember he hit like a train and that Great Knife was capable of removing large portions of health in a single swipe.
An interesting point about the story is that are six possible endings (three on the first playthrough, a further three that can be unlocked on a second playthrough). And because of the era when the game released, there was no internet to check for walkthroughs; instead we were reduced to having to wait for a magazine to publish a guide to let us get a different ending. Remember those days?
A good point about Silent Hill 2 was the way the visuals came across. Without a word of a lie, after the first cutscene finished and James was left looking into a mirror, I genuinely didn’t realise the cutscene had ended; it wasn’t until I moved the controller that I realised the game was afoot. The fog in the town was back too – well, we had to have that – and again created the claustrophobic atmosphere that was remembered from the first game. Best of all though, Silent Hill 2 actually played well and whilst the controls took a bit of getting used to, the actual playing of the game was a terrifying experience. Sat in the dark, with the volume up, I managed to scare myself to death almost.
It appears that the critics also loved Silent Hill, as it sold over a million units in its first month on sale, with the majority of the copies sold in North America. The Metacritic score for the PS2 version sits at 89% even today, and it’s a title which regularly appears in lists of the greatest video games of all time. It appears in the lists for best PS2 games with almost boring regularity, and the re-release on the Xbox 360 as part of the Silent Hill HD collection just added to its fame.
So, these are my memories of playing what is, in my opinion, the best of the Silent Hill games. Never again did the series hit the heights it did here, and while Silent Hill 3 was good, with the release of “The Room”, the series lost its way, again in my opinion. But what about you guys out there? Did you play it when it was fresh and new, or did you play the re-release? The Silent Hill HD Collection is also backwards compatible (available from the Xbox Store and playable on our fancy modern consoles of Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S), so you really have no excuse to not experience the emotional roller coaster of the story. The question is, do you fancy it? Let us know in the comments!