What's The Deal With... Silent Hill 2?

I was originally going to write this blog yesterday. You see, last night, I made it to the end of Silent Hill 2, and it left me in such an odd state of mind that I found myself unable to write this. After an evening of pondering and dissecting what I'd played, and a night's rest, I'm feeling ready to try and piece my experience back together into something that's worth reading. I should probably warn those of you that haven't played Silent Hill 2 that this blog is going to feature a few spoilers in terms of the game's story, so here's the obligatory spoiler warning: 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2 is a very unique experience
It was my girlfriend who actually made the choice to pick up Silent Hill 2. We'd both recently played through Resident Evil 5 and were disappointed with the lack of genuine horror moments it contained. Me being aware of the franchise's reputation (but never having played one), and her being aware of a film set in the universe (but never having watched it), we decided to give it a chance. Why the second game? Two reasons, I guess. For one, I read that its story was a standalone story, unlike Silent Hill 3 which supposedly continues the story of the original game. For another, it was the cheapest iteration of the franchise I could find online. We picked it up on Sunday night, and after a few lengthy sessions, finished it on the Wednesday. I've come away with some very mixed feelings about the game, so I'll apologise in advance if any aspect of this blog comes across as incoherent or contradictory. Want to know more? Then read on... 

What's Good About It?

James is a surprisingly complex protagonist 
My main expectation from the game was for it to freak me out, and in that respect it really didn't disappoint. Silent Hill 2's aesthetics come together to create probably the most unsettling atmosphere I've ever encountered in a video game. The unnerving sound design and the dilapidated, faded visuals come together to create an atmosphere that emphasises the disturbed, warped loneliness and isolation of the protagonist James Sunderland. Its visuals and audio push the story along in a way that the game's voice acting (more on that later) simply couldn't ever hope to. The game also boasts a really innovative gameplay mechanic in the form of its Map system. While using a map or series of maps to navigate a gameworld wasn't exactly a new phenomenon on SIlent Hill 2's release, these maps are updated with annotations by James in real time. If a door's locked, he'll scribble it out on the map. Find something important that you'll probably have to come back to later? Worry not, James'll stick a ring around it to make finding it again easier. Think Phantom Hourglass, only six years earlier. Probably the best thing about Silent Hill 2, though, is the depth of its story. Most of what's going on is never actually explained, but simply implied and left for the player to piece together (this is the primary reason why I had to leave it overnight before writing this). It's a game with a hell of a lot of subtext - like James' sexual appetite, unsatisfied by his dying wife and embodied in the character of the highly sexualised Maria, and Angela's sexually abusive relationship with her father, to name but two strands of Silent Hill 2's complex personal drama. It's never fully established what is real and what is imaginary, leaving the player to draw their own conclusions about the game's events as the credits roll. Silent Hill 2 is a game that I spent more time thinking about outside of playing it than I did actually playing it. Make of that what you will, but I think it serves as a testament to its impact on the player. 
 

What's Not So Good About It?

 Combat isn't scary or tense. Just painfully awkward
Silent Hill 2 has its fair share of faults, none of which are game-breaking and most of which amount to little more than a spoiled gamer in 2010 not being happy to return to the accepted gameplay mechanics of 2002. I'll get this out of the way first - the tank controls didn't bother me at all. I genuinely thought they were going to, but it was surprisingly easy to slip back into that method of character control. Less easy to slip back into was the game's combat. This is less an issue of control and more an issue of feel. Everything in Silent Hill 2 that isn't combat-oriented is atmospheric, unsettling, and in some cases downright disturbing. Combat, on the other hand, is none of those things. It's clunky and sluggish, but that isn't the primary issue. My biggest gripe with fighting in Silent Hill 2 is that is just isn't scary. Save for the odd jump-scare when a leg-monster gets the jump on you, combat isn't a fear-inducing experience centered on self-preservation - it feels more like a game-lengthening inconvenience. Other complaints I have are minor - some of the puzzles feel particularly contrived (like the juice-cans-down-the-garbage-chute scenario), a few important items aren't immediately obvious within their environments, and the voice acting is atrociously one-dimensional, belying the game's multi-faceted, subtext-heavy storyline. In the wider context of the game as an experience, though, these really aren't very big deals.
 
I went into Silent Hill 2 expecting a survival horror game, something to remove the bitter taste left behind by Resident Evil 5, and looking back on it I'm quite glad that I did. Not only did it deliver by the truck-load on the fear front, but it also provided a much deeper story than RE5's gun-toting, Hollywood-action-movie feel could ever hope to. It's also got me incredibly curious about the rest of the Silent Hill franchise and wondering if I should branch out and experience those titles. I get the feeling that, much like Final Fantasy VII, Silent Hill 2 is going to become one of those games that I replay every couple of years or so in the hope of picking out even more details and experiencing even more of the complex story lurking deep beneath the superficial one. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Burnout Paradise (X360)
15 Comments
19 Comments
Posted by dankempster

I was originally going to write this blog yesterday. You see, last night, I made it to the end of Silent Hill 2, and it left me in such an odd state of mind that I found myself unable to write this. After an evening of pondering and dissecting what I'd played, and a night's rest, I'm feeling ready to try and piece my experience back together into something that's worth reading. I should probably warn those of you that haven't played Silent Hill 2 that this blog is going to feature a few spoilers in terms of the game's story, so here's the obligatory spoiler warning: 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2 is a very unique experience
It was my girlfriend who actually made the choice to pick up Silent Hill 2. We'd both recently played through Resident Evil 5 and were disappointed with the lack of genuine horror moments it contained. Me being aware of the franchise's reputation (but never having played one), and her being aware of a film set in the universe (but never having watched it), we decided to give it a chance. Why the second game? Two reasons, I guess. For one, I read that its story was a standalone story, unlike Silent Hill 3 which supposedly continues the story of the original game. For another, it was the cheapest iteration of the franchise I could find online. We picked it up on Sunday night, and after a few lengthy sessions, finished it on the Wednesday. I've come away with some very mixed feelings about the game, so I'll apologise in advance if any aspect of this blog comes across as incoherent or contradictory. Want to know more? Then read on... 

What's Good About It?

James is a surprisingly complex protagonist 
My main expectation from the game was for it to freak me out, and in that respect it really didn't disappoint. Silent Hill 2's aesthetics come together to create probably the most unsettling atmosphere I've ever encountered in a video game. The unnerving sound design and the dilapidated, faded visuals come together to create an atmosphere that emphasises the disturbed, warped loneliness and isolation of the protagonist James Sunderland. Its visuals and audio push the story along in a way that the game's voice acting (more on that later) simply couldn't ever hope to. The game also boasts a really innovative gameplay mechanic in the form of its Map system. While using a map or series of maps to navigate a gameworld wasn't exactly a new phenomenon on SIlent Hill 2's release, these maps are updated with annotations by James in real time. If a door's locked, he'll scribble it out on the map. Find something important that you'll probably have to come back to later? Worry not, James'll stick a ring around it to make finding it again easier. Think Phantom Hourglass, only six years earlier. Probably the best thing about Silent Hill 2, though, is the depth of its story. Most of what's going on is never actually explained, but simply implied and left for the player to piece together (this is the primary reason why I had to leave it overnight before writing this). It's a game with a hell of a lot of subtext - like James' sexual appetite, unsatisfied by his dying wife and embodied in the character of the highly sexualised Maria, and Angela's sexually abusive relationship with her father, to name but two strands of Silent Hill 2's complex personal drama. It's never fully established what is real and what is imaginary, leaving the player to draw their own conclusions about the game's events as the credits roll. Silent Hill 2 is a game that I spent more time thinking about outside of playing it than I did actually playing it. Make of that what you will, but I think it serves as a testament to its impact on the player. 
 

What's Not So Good About It?

 Combat isn't scary or tense. Just painfully awkward
Silent Hill 2 has its fair share of faults, none of which are game-breaking and most of which amount to little more than a spoiled gamer in 2010 not being happy to return to the accepted gameplay mechanics of 2002. I'll get this out of the way first - the tank controls didn't bother me at all. I genuinely thought they were going to, but it was surprisingly easy to slip back into that method of character control. Less easy to slip back into was the game's combat. This is less an issue of control and more an issue of feel. Everything in Silent Hill 2 that isn't combat-oriented is atmospheric, unsettling, and in some cases downright disturbing. Combat, on the other hand, is none of those things. It's clunky and sluggish, but that isn't the primary issue. My biggest gripe with fighting in Silent Hill 2 is that is just isn't scary. Save for the odd jump-scare when a leg-monster gets the jump on you, combat isn't a fear-inducing experience centered on self-preservation - it feels more like a game-lengthening inconvenience. Other complaints I have are minor - some of the puzzles feel particularly contrived (like the juice-cans-down-the-garbage-chute scenario), a few important items aren't immediately obvious within their environments, and the voice acting is atrociously one-dimensional, belying the game's multi-faceted, subtext-heavy storyline. In the wider context of the game as an experience, though, these really aren't very big deals.
 
I went into Silent Hill 2 expecting a survival horror game, something to remove the bitter taste left behind by Resident Evil 5, and looking back on it I'm quite glad that I did. Not only did it deliver by the truck-load on the fear front, but it also provided a much deeper story than RE5's gun-toting, Hollywood-action-movie feel could ever hope to. It's also got me incredibly curious about the rest of the Silent Hill franchise and wondering if I should branch out and experience those titles. I get the feeling that, much like Final Fantasy VII, Silent Hill 2 is going to become one of those games that I replay every couple of years or so in the hope of picking out even more details and experiencing even more of the complex story lurking deep beneath the superficial one. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan 
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - Burnout Paradise (X360)
Posted by Jazz

To this day, I find Silent Hill 2 to be one of the greatest gaming experiences of my life. The psychological aspect of the game really gets it's hooks in you and it just doesn't let go. Only Shattered Memories has come close to having a similar effect on me. As for the rest of the SH series....well, 3 is okay but i'd invest in Shattered Memories. GOTY for me last year by a considerable mile. There's a quick look on here somewhere, but it doesn't really do the game credit. I might suggest looking into the Fatal Frame series if you're looking for something closer to 'survival horror' as I see it, or even Forbidden Siren.
Anyway, it was an interesting read, and I'm glad that someone else experienced the greatness of SH2.

Posted by Sweep

I have never played any of the silent hill games but I had always heard Silent Hill 2 was one of the best survival horror games ever made. It does look interesting, though with my track record of not being able to go back to the last generation of games I think that door has closed.  
 
When you say the combat is awkward, isn't that supposed to be what makes it scary? Like being unable to move in resident evil games, you either run or fight - making the game a constant risk assessment. Or is it a technical thing?

Moderator
Edited by Jeust

  

You see, last night, I made it to the end of Silent Hill 2, and it left me in such an odd state of mind that I found myself unable to write this.     

Yep, the game has the power to do that.  
 
I'm glad you like it. 
 
I don't want to say much, but there different endings in the game. 
 
 

Online
Posted by Make_Me_Mad

I really don't get all the hate for the Tank controls these days.  I didn't have a problem with the combat, and if anything found it entirely too easy to just walk up and waste anything that looked like half a threat to me with a combo of wooden plank w/ nails and the occasional handgun.
By today's standards, of course, it's pretty poor, but it was par for the course back when it was made.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Damn it, now I can't stop thinking about a Seinfeild hack of Silent Hill 2, which is odd, given that I don't even watch Seinfeld. As for my opinions on the game, beat you to it.

Posted by dankempster
@Jazz: Thanks for the recommendations. I've heard that Shattered Memories is a pretty great experience, and I'd definitely be interested in picking it up. The real deciding factor will probably be whether or not the PS2 version saw a UK release - I don't own a Wii, and the PSP doesn't strike me as a great medium for survival horror, so the PS2 is my only viable option. Guess I'd better look into it! 
 
@Sweep: It struck me that inducing fear was probably the intention of the clunky combat, but if that was the developers' aim then they were pretty wide of the mark by my reckoning. Part of it may boil down to the fact that the game has about four types of enemy, all of which are dispatched in the same way, which made combat very dull for me. Another part of it may have been the lack of any real urgency to the fighting - I was playing on Normal difficulty, and after the first encounter with Pyramid Head, I never reached a point where I was struggling for ammo or health packs. There's no obligation to fight, either, because every enemy can be easily avoided, even in narrow corridors. The boss fights were also pretty naff, especially when you consider that the shooting mechanics aren't terribly far removed from the first Metal Gear Solid, and that game had some frickin' awesome boss encounters. All this said, though, I honestly don't think combat was supposed to be a major part of Silent Hill 2. It feels and plays like an afterthought, as if one of the head honchos at Konami burst into the development rooms and shouted, "There better be guns in this, because people ain't gonna buy it unless they can shoot those muthafuckin' monsters!"
 
In Japanese, of course. 
 
@Jeust: I got the 'Leave' ending, according to my end-of-playthrough stat screen, so I gathered there were multiple endings. That being said, I've got no idea what the requirements for any of the endings are, so I'd have no idea what to do if I was aiming for a specific ending. Also, sorry if what you said under your spoiler tag renders any of this moot, but I can't get it to open, so I don't know what you said :/ 
 
@drag: Thanks for the link, will definitely check that out :)
Posted by Jeust
@dankempster: I said that there is an ending where he tries to bring Mary back. That's the one I'm looking forward now.
Online
Edited by Sweep
@dankempster said:

" as if one of the head honchos at Konami burst into the development rooms and shouted, "There better be guns in this, because people ain't gonna buy it unless they can shoot those muthafuckin' monsters!""

O that Konami! They so crazay! 
 
  
Moderator
Posted by Meowayne

Ha. I was reading your status updates recently, creepy stalker that I am, and was hoping for some sort of blog post about another one of my absolute favorite games. Replay it, and you'll find that almost every set piece, in one way or another, serves the interactive telling of the story; this is what sets apart games like Silent Hill 2, Portal or Shadow of the Colossus - instead of using movie mechanics whenever it is storytelling time, they know that they are videogames and they know that they have more - different - tools at their disposal to tell this world, these people, and this plot. Tell them interactively. 
 
As for the combat, I have always seen this partially as a deliberate decision, and you are excused for even trying to fight because you have not played the first game. You see, the first game made it abundantly clear that Harry Mason plain sucks at violence, and that you would be absolutely stupid to even try to engage in any sort of combat when you don't absolutely have to. There is a reason the game lets you turn OFF your flashlight and radio - it makes the creatures care significantly less about you and you about them, and almost all of them are incredibly easy to just run around. Silent Hill - apart from The Room and Homecoming - has always discouraged combat. It is unnecessary, awkward, difficult and most of the time the enemies are either no real threat or the amount of damage you take stands in no relation to the benefit you gain from engaging combat. SH:Origins took this to the extreme, as turning off the flashlight in this game makes you practically invisible. 
 
This might seem like a lame excuse for bad game design, but I have always felt that my hate of having to engage in combat and the fact that you can avoid it in 80% of cases has been an important part in how I experience - and like - these games. 
 
Interestingly enough, Homecoming and Shattered Memories approached this complaint from two opposite angles. Homecoming features a main character with military background, elaborate combat and evasion mechanics and complicated bossfights, while Shattered Memories did away with these elements completely. 
 
I hope you find the time and motivation to maybe check out the other games. I myself am playing through the first one on my PSP at the moment.

Posted by Meowayne

Also this.
 

Posted by TheDoubleJ
@dankempster:
you should try shattered memories
Posted by Claude

I hope the Silent Hill franchise keeps going in the direction of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. No combat at all. It wasn't a perfect game and kind of short compared its older siblings, but damn what a ride. Glad you enjoyed Silent Hill 2, I haven't played that game in years.

Posted by owl_of_minerva

The core SH series, despite their frustrations, are exemplars of brilliant audio and visual design, as well as psychological storytelling in gaming, so I would definitely say they are all worth checking out. I would be playing Shattered Memories right now if it weren't so hard to find in Australia.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I don't think I ever gave Silent Hill 2 a fair shake.  The outer town areas were hard for me to navigate, and so I pretty much gave up on it before I'd even given it a few hours.  At least the copy wasn't mine, but it's a game I really ought to revisit.

Moderator
Posted by Agent47

Pretty solid man.You have a lot of good points, I feel the same way.Except...I haven't finished my copy yet.I always wait for the right quiet nights to play and pop on my head phones.Oh yeah and I found RE5 pretty damn disappointing too.I am glad I rented, because I almost bought it.Hopefully SH:Downpour will be great.