Silent Hill was something of a curiosity to me growing up. I first played the series courtesy of the demo included with Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation 1. I enjoyed the demo immensely, even if it did scare the hell out of me at the time. I didn’t buy the full game for some reason and stuck with another great franchise, Resident Evil.
I’ve always been interested in Silent Hill but I didn’t completely embrace it until Silent Hill 2 came out on the PlayStation 2 in 2001. Since then I’ve beaten the game numerous times and have played every other game in the series, even the newer westernized entries. I hate Downpour very much.
Unfortunately, now that I consider myself to be a fully-fledged fan, Konami has seemingly decided to kill the franchise after the cancelation of Silent Hills. It seems as if the once-great developer in content with Pro Evolution Soccer being their only new output for the foreseeable future.
As a fan, I find that completely unacceptable and I hope they get their act together soon. In the meantime, I did what any self-respecting disgruntled gamer would do and decided to go back and replay the older entries. Starting with number 2 of course. It is the best one after all, at least in my opinion, so don’t yell at me if Silent Hill 3 is your favorite.
Ignoring the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 remasters, I decided to play my original copy from all those years ago on the PS2. Complete with its somehow still pristine cardboard case. I was honestly scared to open the thing after all this time, but I had to or else you’d be staring at a blank screen right about now.
For those of you that haven’t played Silent Hill 2 (shame on you), it’s a survival horror game that’s dripping in atmosphere. I always found the series to be much scarier than Resident Evil due to the atmosphere and less reliance on jump scares. If you haven’t played the series, I’m not going to be delving into spoiler territory here so don’t worry, you can still go in fresh if you’ve managed to somehow escape 20 years of spoilers.
At the start of the game, our protagonist, James Sutherland, receives a letter from his dead wife explaining she’ll meet him at their special place. The titular Silent Hill. I can’t bring myself to tell you more about the story as it just needs to be experienced. Suffice to say the town is all sorts of messed up, and with good reason. The joy lies in discovering these reasons and seeing which of the multiple endings you’re treated to.
The ending depends on actions throughout the game with some of them being extremely bleak (the water ending is a particular favorite of mine). Before thinking of the endings though, I actually had to start the game once again.
As I began playing, I was pleasantly surprised by how good it looks. Sure, it’s nowhere near today’s standards, but it still holds up, partly thanks to the hardware limitations of the time. The town of Silent Hill is enshrouded in fog, a staple of the series that was originally implemented so that only areas near the player needed to be rendered.
It was a genius way to make up for limited hardware and one that really adds to the atmosphere to this day. Even playing now it’s creepy having visibility reduced and not knowing what could be around any corner. The only way to know enemies are nearby is thanks to James’ trusty portable radio that emits static to alert the players about an impending threat.
Trouble is, you’ll usually hear the radio before you see the monsters, which adds to the terror of the unknown and I love it. Throughout my entire playthrough of Silent Hill 2, I marveled at the sounds. The radio static, the disturbing monster noises, and the music are all fantastic. Oh, that music.
Silent Hill 2 may well have one of the best soundtracks committed to a game outside of the Final Fantasy universe. I can’t begin to describe how beautiful it is and I won’t as my words just will not do it justice. Just know this, I own the limited edition vinyl version of it and will regularly listen to it on my own, in the dark.
A word of warning to those of you who are inspired to play Silent Hill 2 for the first time. The controls are extremely clunky. Much like in Resident Evil, the characters are driven around by tank controls, only here they feel clunkier than its counterpart, especially when attacking with either a gun or melee weapon.
This may put off some players, but even now I enjoy the clunkiness. It helps to convey the feeling of helplessness, having to fight to survive. After all, James Sutherland is an everyday kind of man, he’s not an elite, well-trained boulder punching machine like Chris Redfield.
If you stick with the controls, they will start to feel like second nature and you’ll be able to dispatch most monsters with ease. The enemies themselves range from the iconic to the horrible. Series mainstay Pyramid Head, or Red Pyramid Thing as he was originally known, makes his first appearance.
He still feels like a genuine threat in Silent Hill 2, especially as he wanders around in the apartment blocks early on, dishing out frights aplenty. This was a time when he was new and fresh before he became overused and lost some of his appeal. Thankfully, he is just as creepy in the second game as he always was.
The other two standouts are the classic nurses and Mannequins. They are both all kinds of messed up and the things that Pyramid head does to the Mannequins don’t bear thinking about. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve played.
During my first-ever playthrough of Silent Hill 2, I had some trouble with the puzzles. This time, I managed to breeze through, partly because I’m used to these sorts of games now and also because much of what is needed has been consigned to my memory forever.
The great thing about the puzzles is the ability for the player to choose the difficulty before starting, meaning everyone can have a fair go at getting through the story. They are made even better by the map which gets updated with notes by James as you progress. Allowing players to see where certain puzzle elements are and what doors are blocked etc.
Even with the game in my memory, I used the map far more than I probably should have.
Unfortunately, on this playthrough, I didn’t receive the water ending. I was treated to an end that may be considered good and hopeful. Boo. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the town of Silent Hill. The game itself isn’t without its faults. As I’ve said, the controls are clunky and that could put some people off. As could the darkness.
Using a small flashlight attached to James’ jacket does add to the scare factor but can lead to certain items being missed if you’re not vigilant. I didn’t have a problem this time, however, some new players might. To me though, that’s the fun of it. The boat, however, is not fun. That stupid boat.
Once again I’ve come to the end of one of my retrospectives and once again I’ve prattled on without divulging too much information on the game. If you read any of the other entries in this series, you’ll know these are more about my feelings and memories of the game whilst checking they can’t be tarnished by repeat playthroughs.
In the case of Silent Hill 2, I don’t think my memories can ever be tarnished. Here is a game that has stood the test of time and will remain as much of a masterpiece now as it ever was. I recommend it to everyone, even just to experience the story and its slightly poor (but great) voice acting.
That’s it for me on this title but let us know your memories of it and any other entry in the Silent Hill franchise over in the comments. I’m alone there now, in our special place, waiting for you.