Hey all! Last week, I replayed a PS2 oldie based on one of my favorite anime shows.
This week, we're gonna get a bit moodier, as I've been playing through one of my favorite games ever.
Silent Hill 2 came out on PS2 back in 2001, with an extended Xbox version coming later. Rather than continuing Harry Mason's tale from the first game, here you play as James Sunderland, an ordinary man who gets a letter from his wife. Except she's been dead for three years. The letter beckons him to come to their favorite vacation spot, te sleepy town of Silent Hill.
(Side note-in a change of pace, and since this is Silent Hill 2, I'm going to write this article assuming you, dear reader, have finished it. Therefore, there will be SPOILERS. You've been warned.
So most of you probably know how SH2 plays. As part of the "old guard" of survival horror games, you navigate Silent Hill with clunky, "tank-like" controls, though arguably, SH2 controls a bit smoother than 1. The focus, as with most survival horror, is on conserving ammo, finding keys, and solving puzzles. Nothing new there.
But what sets Silent Hill 2 (and the series as a whole) apart is the atmosphere. Silent Hill always feels like a fully realized town; as you wander through the foggy streets, you pass by tiny restaurants and family owned shops. Deserted as it may be, it feels lived in regardless. It totally adds to the immersion.
Speaking of deserted, though, SH2 is anything but. Silent Hill is known for it's imaginative, disturbing monster design, ans SH2 excels here. Most of your time is spent fighting mannequins (well, a pair of legs on top of another pair of legs) and formless dog-like creatures. And the famous nurses, which appear in most every game in the series.
Also, Pyramid Head.
Pyramid Head is, without question, the unofficial "mascot" of Silent Hill. He's been relegated mostly to cameos in games where he does not belong, but SH2 is where he both originated and fits in most. Physically, Pyramid Head is a large, muscular man, his defining feature the giant, pyramid-shaped helmet he wears. He carries an enormous knife called, simply, the Great Knife. And he's utterly indestructible.
Aside from all that, what makes Pyramid Head stand out in this game is his overt masculine appearance, in a game filled primarily with more feminine-styled creatures. The nurses and mannequins, for example. This, combined with his complete invulnerability, is what keeps you on edge throughout much of SH2. Because the first time you play the game, you get the feeling that this unstoppable monstrosity can appear at any moment.
(Once again: SPOILERS.)
But it's not just Pyramid Head that creeps you out. Throughout most of the game, playing as James, you'll notice something odd. James does things that none of us would do in the same situation. The famous "reaching in the toilet" scene for example. Two of my favorites: James reaches his arm into a hole, thinking there's something in there. Something bites him, he recoils...and puts his hand in again. And: James repeatedly jumps down a hole, without the foggiest idea of how he's gonna get out.
There's also Maria; I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her. Maria is a woman wandering the streets of Silent Hill. James meets her and is shocked to find out Maria resembles his dead wife, Mary. Though she dresses differently and has a somewhat more "open" personality. The thing is, though, Maria dies.
Always at the hands of Pyramid Head. And always leaving James devastated, as he's always too late to save her. And as you go through the game, meeting the other characters (all of which have histories, and all of which perceive Silent Hill differently) you learn the truth behind James' obsession with Silent Hill: James killed Mary, only three days before coming to Silent Hill.
Pyramid Head exists as a psychological manifestation of James' desire to be punished for killing his wife. These Pyramid Heads (James confronts two of them at the end, who kill Maria again) are physically created as a result of the power of Silent Hill. They actually kill themselves when James comes to terms with his actions.
And that's why Silent Hill 2 is one of my favorite games of all time; you simply don't see writing like this too often. The six different endings (well, four-two are jokes) are all open to interpretation, much like the rest of the symbolism in the game. The twist-finding out James killed Mary-still remains one of the biggest twists in gaming for me. It's truly a game-changer, as it completely changes the perception of the character you played as-the character you were-throughout the game. There wasn't a twist like it before, and there really hasn't been one since. Well, maybe Braid comes close.
There's just so much detail I could go into here. There's the secondary characters, like Angela and Eddie, two others who've come to Silent Hill in search of something, like James. There's Laura, the little girl who can't even see the monsters, and is connected to James' wife. Really, if you were gonna talk about Silent Hill 2, you could go on an on. That's why it's a favorite. The game stays with you long after the credits roll, even for the fourth time, when you've seen every ending. (I got the "In Water" ending, where James commits suicide after killing Maria, on my first ever playthrough. It was chilling.)
And games that stay with you...aren't they just the best?
Leave questions, comments, and future article suggestions in the comments section!
Next week, let's lighten up a bit with another adrenaline-fueled game from Platinum Games. Hunker down in cover and have a smoke.