GAMING GREATS: Silent Hill 2 (2001)

Rod revisits the scariest town in gaming for a fifteenth anniversary. 

Artwork by A.D. Black

Who made it?: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo (Developer), Konami (Publisher).

Platform: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC.

Format: DVD, CD-ROM. 

Released: September 24th 2001 (UK).

Silent Hill 2 celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year, and still, all this time later, it is considered to be the best game in the franchise, and rightfully so! It doesn’t follow on from the events of the original, or include any characters from it, but this isn’t a flaw by any means, adding more focus to the resort town of Silent Hill itself. You also get to see a different part of the area that you didn’t explore in the previous game. This sequel is pretty much psychological horror at its finest. Also differing from the first is the focus on the psychology of our main protagonist. It was written by Hiroyuki Owaku, who was the scenario writer, and Keiichiro Toyoma, who came up with the original concept.

The basic plot is that James Sunderland (Guy Cihi) receives a letter from his wife, Mary Sunderland (Monica Horgan), asking him to visit Silent Hill to return to their “special place.” However, Mary died three years ago due to a debilitating disease. So, how could someone who died send a letter? James returns to Silent Hill to uncover what is going on, and as he does so, the player will, too. As James ventures deeper into the town, he meets others who are in Silent Hill for their own reasons. The first of these is Angela Orosco (Donna Burke), a young woman searching for her brother and mother. Then you meet Laura (Jakey Breckenridge), a little girl who claims to have known Mary. Another character you meet is Eddie Dombrowski (David Schaufele), a young man who has suffered bullying, and you meet him in the most awkward of places – puking up his guts into a toilet bowl! Finally, you meet Maria, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Mary, except she dresses more provocatively and is very flirtatious.

A major difference between this and the first game is also the jump in graphical quality. The excellent design (with Art Direction headed by Masahiro Ito, along with Takeshi Ito and Tomoko Morohoshi) ensures that, even today, Silent Hill 2 is visually impressive for the decade it was released. The attention to detail in not only the environments and characters but also in the designs of the monsters really helps to make this game what it is. The fog effects are excellent, truly adding to the eerie atmosphere and the fear of the unknown. Then you have the disturbing imagery, too. All in all, it is one of the best-looking PS2 games, and while the graphics are obviously not as advanced as they are in 2016, it takes nothing away from the artistry of the game. It is still one of the strengths of this particular Silent Hill experience.

James is able to defend himself with a variety of weapons ranging from melees such as a wooden plank, metal pipe, to firearms like the handgun, shotgun, and rifle. Just like in the original 1999 game, your character isn’t an expert at using weaponry, and this is reflected in the way the firearms are handled. The way in which you control James hasn’t changed much from how you controlled Harry in the first, and so if you’re used to the control style of the original, jumping into this one won’t cause any issues. But if you’re not a fan of the old school style of survival horror, you may find this a hard obstacle to overcome.

As established in Silent Hill, the way your character’s radio works is to emit loud static noise when you are in the vicinity of an enemy. This not only tells you that you are about to shit your pants very, very soon, it also adds to the awesome sound design at work while you play. Speaking of audio, this wouldn’t be a full Silent Hill experience without Akira Yamaoka’s impressive score, and the compositions he created makes this sequel, and the series as a whole, standout next to its closest rival, Resident Evil. What Akira does so well is create terrifying, haunting, suspenseful, yet also beautiful and highly atmospheric music that is a treat for the ears. But there’s also moments where silence is used quite effectively, creating that perfect balance of all the audio elements.

Silent Hill 2 introduced one of the most iconic creatures and antagonists in video game history in the form of the tall, muscly, human-like monster with a red triangle for a head, who brandishes an extremely large knife, known to all as Pyramid Head. While he has been included in games made after this entry, Silent Hill 2 is actually the only chapter where his presence is intrinsically linked to the main protagonist, and due to this connection, Pyramid’s inclusion in other Silent Hill games is more an homage than a plot device, lessening his impact in my and many other fan’s opinions.

As with the previous game, there are multiple endings, with this entry having four in total. You can achieve these by doing certain things. While you play, the game takes notice of what you’re doing. This aspect operates in the background, and it records things like whether or not you protect Maria much, or if you stay close to her or are constantly keeping your distance whenever she’s in your company. This adds another effective layer to the psychological horror experience.

I won’t spoil a major plot and character development that takes place towards the end, because it is truly something that is much better and has much more of an impact if you don’t know about it beforehand. Let’s just say that it is another aspect that really elevates Silent Hill 2 above others in the genre, even within the same franchise. It is something that latter games in the series, post-Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004), try to emulate but never seem to really top. There are a lot of themes at work in this entry, such as suffering, loss, punishment, bullying, guilt, as well as sexual and physical abuse, too. I know I have mentioned how psychologically effective this game is already, but it really is one of the most unique survival horror experiences you can have because of its deep nature. There are many influences that inspired the creators of Silent Hill 2 as well, ranging from the works of directors like David Cronenberg, David Lynch and David Fincher (that’s quite a few David’s!), and the psychological horror film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Also, the works of painters like Francis Bacon. Wow.

A few years ago, a HD version of this game was released. It was bundled with Silent Hill 3 (2003) and was released as the Silent Hill HD Collection (2012). That version of part two has new voice actors playing the characters, and while you do have the option of choosing whether you want these new performers or the original ones, this same option isn’t available for Silent Hill 3. But then again, even when you select the option to hear the original voices in the second game, there are still some moments where you have to hear the new voice actors. And there are also changes to the music and other aspects of the audio, as well as the graphics, among many, many other weaknesses which drastically reduce the effectiveness of the original version. Therefore, I’d recommend newcomers to play it on PS2, Xbox or PC instead.

Overall, it is an amazing game that should be played if you haven’t already. If you want to really know what differentiates this franchise from Resident Evil, this game will absolutely show you. Visit Silent Hill, if you think you can handle it!

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The original European edition also included a second disc: a “Making-of” DVD video featuring trailers, an artwork gallery and a documentary on the title’s development.
  • Within the month of its release in North America, Japan, and Europe, over one million copies were sold, with the greatest sales in North America.
  • Silent Hill 2 incorporates some references to real-life events. In the original scenario, the developers designed Maria and James with double personalities: Maria’s other personality was “Mary”, a reference to Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim, while James’ was “Joseph”, a reference to one of the Jack the Ripper suspects. Eddie Dombrowski’s name was taken from actor Eddie Murphy back during the beginning phases of production when Eddie was originally designed with a pleasantly optimistic personality. The name of Angela Orosco was derived from Angela Bennett, the name of the protagonist in the 1995 film The Net, and Laura’s from the 1970 novel No Language But a Cry by Richard D’Ambrosio.
  • Konami published Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack in Japan on October 3, 2001. Eight tracks (“Theme of Laura”, “Null Moon”, “Love Psalm”, “True”, “Promise”, “Fermata in Mistic Air”, “Laura Plays the Piano” and “Overdose Delusion”) appeared in the 2006 PlayStation Portable release The Silent Hill Experience.  At the 2006 Play! A Video Game Symphony concert in Chicago, Illinois, Yamaoka performed music from the series with a full-size orchestra; among the pieces performed was “Theme of Laura”.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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