I’ve never been a big fan of horror games but all of that has changed after playing Silent Hill 2. The Silent Hill HD Collection has some problems, including frame rate issues and lip sync, but none of it matters when you’re playing. The best thing about Silent Hill 2, and what distinguishes it from other horror games like Dead Space, is its atmosphere.
The basic story premise is that James Sunderland’s wife died awhile back from a disease. The game begins with him reading a letter sent by his late wife, telling him she’s waiting for him at their special place in Silent Hill. At first, he tells himself there’s no way she’s waiting for him, but he slowly seems to forget that his wife is dead. Other characters have to correct his use of the present tense when speaking of her, reminding him that his wife is dead. The game begins when he starts to look for their special place.
In Silent Hill 2 there are never any jump scares or cheap thrills. Nothing jumps out at you. There are no sudden loud noises. The only jump scares come from the player’s own imagination, from being so freaked out by the intensely creepy atmosphere.
Creepy is probably a better description than scary. You hear enemies long before you can see them. Their familiar and eerie noises give them away the moment you walk into a room or hall. Always repeating, always threatening and no way to know how close you are to them until you creep close enough for your handy flashlight to reveal their position. Enemies never jump out at you or make sudden noises.
You walk around dark hallways trying to open every door, while all the time in the back of your mind hoping they’re locked or broken because of your fear of the unknown. Slowly gathering clues that help you solve puzzles to get to the next area. Gathering these clues, consisting of memos and objects, is often far more satisfying then actually trying to organize all the information and solve the puzzles.
Too often the actual end puzzle is so convoluted and strange it would be impossible to solve on your own. Consisting of biblical references and strange wording, the puzzles are quite interesting. Once you know the solution, you can see what the developer was going for, but most of the time there is no reasonable way for you to draw the same conclusions. There’s no solid link that connects all the data in a logical pattern. Largely, you’re left in the dark, having to base all your thinking on hunches and speculation. It can be fun, but eventually you’re going to want to move on.
Some of the most intense moments revolve around a character that is most often referred to as “pyramid head”. He acts as a boogie man of sorts. When he appears you feel helpless against him. Your only recourse to run from his gigantic butcher’s knife, which he scrapes across the floor as he slowly presses toward you. Pyramid head almost feels like a god. The only reason you survive some encounters with him is because, as if on a whim, he decides you no longer interest him and he slowly walks away, disappearing through a concrete floor or other solid surface. Or sometimes you escape, but it doesn’t feel like he was trying very hard to get you, more like he was just playing with you.
Like everything else in Silent Hill, pyramid head never jumps at you, although he often appears and disappears suddenly.
Once, right before he appeared, I heard a soft scrapping sound which quickly grew louder, only to realize an instant before he came into my line of sight what was happening. In a moment like this, it is apparent why video games have a greater potential then any other media in the horror genre.
In a movie or book, whatever happens to the characters happens, and you have no control over events. If you close your eyes or shrink away from the action, the movie continues just the same, regardless of what you do. But in a video game, you have to keep your character from dying, which means you can’t look or shrink away. You have to be involved in what is happening at all times, knowing if you mess up your character will die. Even in non-horror games, the element of control can make you fearful.
Another interesting part of Silent Hill 2 is that everything you see has deep meaning. The concept of the game is that the town of Silent Hill reflects your own fears.
The world the player sees isn’t reality, it all stems from his thoughts. It gives you something to think about as you progress and see strange new things. The story and characters you meet are fascinating.
Silent Hill 2 reaches into dark subject material in such a smart and disturbing way that no other game even comes close. It truly is a great game and one of the best examples of horror in any medium. Even if, like me, you don’t usually care for horror games, Silent Hill 2 delivers.