To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders
Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications
| Last updated
Content warning: massive spoilers ahead for Silent Hill 2 and discussion of sexual assault.
Words: Jake Laverde
"In my restless dreams I see that town..."
I still remember the first time I played Silent Hill 2. November 2001, a friend's place in South London. That night was like experiencing a fever dream. The unsettling downbeat atmosphere filled me with dread yet compelled me to keep moving forward.
Twenty years have passed since its release on 24th September 2001, yet Silent Hill 2 still casts a long shadow. The story of James Sunderland receiving a letter from his dead wife Mary from Silent Hill, and its twist revelation that he killed her, is a slow descent into his own personal hell. But what is it about this game that's inspired dozens of video essays and books dedicated to analysing every grimy inch?
Its influence on horror games that have come since is undeniable. Many games label themselves as a psychological horror (looking at you, The Medium) but none of them have Silent Hill 2's masterful craft of slow burn terror.
Over the years, games have introduced morality systems, usually based on karma points gained by performing certain actions. But they all boil down to being good or bad. Silent Hill 2 instead asks the player: does James deserve to be punished?
"It's the darkest thing I've ever played," says Tomm Hulett, one-time producer on the Silent Hill franchise and now director at WayForward. Remembering being entranced by a trailer shown at Konami's booth at E3 2000, Hulett continues: "I was a fan of the first game. I got it on launch day [and] I just dove into it."
YouTuber, streamer and Silent Hill fan Bobvids also recalls his first playthrough: "I remember the atmosphere was way too much. I had to put it away." Bob also believes that Silent Hill 2 is a keystone to the entire genre, adding: "All psychological horror games that came after had to have some kind of twist."
Visually, Silent Hill 2's depiction of a murky, mist-filled small town still convinces, which is doubly impressive for an early PlayStation 2 game. But the game's art director Masahiro Ito's peerless creature designs steal the show, looking both otherworldly yet recognisably human.
"The reason why the monsters looked the way they did was to evoke a specific feeling," says Bob. His favourite is the Lying Figure, a humanoid in a hoodie made of its own soured flesh. Hulett plumps for the Mannequin, two pairs of legs attached at the waist that resembles a twisted distortion of a doll. Not to mention the sexy, yet visibly decaying, Bubblehead Nurses.
Of course, Ito's most famous design - and one of gaming's most iconic adversaries - is the intimidating Pyramid Head. "It combines the known with the unknown - just a triangle shape on a human body," explains Bobvids. "The first time you see him just beyond a gate, he's standing there, just looking at you. It's a fascinating way of introducing this monster." Hulett agrees: "It's so freaky, it's so well done. There's this thing and he looks more dangerous than anything you'd seen in the first game."
Series composer Akira Yamaoka is at the top of his game here as well with compositions spanning genres like grinding industrial noise, mournful Americana and trip-hop. Hulett was such a fan of the song 'Love Psalm' that he brought Yamaoka back to compose a new version for Silent Hill: Book of Memories. And Bob lists 'Fores't as one of his favourites - scoring the moment James first meets an initially nervous Angela Orosco.
Speaking of Angela, her story is a large part of why Silent Hill 2 lingers in the memory. Initially she's looking for her mother, but it's revealed that she's a survivor of sexual abuse carried out by her own father and the game heavily implies Angela killed him. Hulett recalls: "It was around my third or fourth replay I realised she's not looking for her mother to comfort her, she's looking to kill her. She wants to kill her whole family and herself."
Angela's final scene is one of the game's most tender and tragic moments. James attempts to convince her life is worth living, but her final words as she ascends the burning staircase make her intentions clear: "For me, it's always like this." The sensitivity with which Silent Hill 2 handles the depiction of her inner trauma, and its refusal to turn her into a passive damsel in distress for James to save, is especially rare in games (again, looking at you The Medium).
But the most tragic figure in Silent Hill 2 is Maria - an entity created by the town to be a living, breathing double of James' wife who is destined to die repeatedly. But where Mary was modest, Maria is seductive - the virgin/whore dichotomy made flesh. Though she constantly teases him during their time together, her impassioned plea for James to stay with her at the end (depending on which ending you get) is all too human.
Multiple endings also bring different interpretations to the story. Events will remain the same however you play but seemingly insignificant actions have a far bigger influence on the outcome than you'd initially think. Instead of giving you different paths, the game keeps track of how much time players spend with Maria, how often they look at the photo of Mary and the knife given to them by Angela early on.
Ultimately, Silent Hill 2's power lies in its ambiguity. To this day unanswered questions linger in the air, such as "what kind of pizza place delivers to a fog covered limbo?" "One of the great things about Silent Hill 2 is that a ton of different people are taking away a ton of different things from this game," Bob says. He and his friend Voidburger run The Grate Debate, a YouTube channel dedicated to discussion and analysis of all things Silent Hill.
Concrete explanations of Silent Hill 2's deeper mysteries remain tantalisingly out of reach leaving fans to fill in the blanks with their own ideas. Like James Sunderland himself, they're compelled to enter the misty town of Silent Hill, looking for answers they know may never come.
Featured Image Credit: Konami
Topics: Silent Hill
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read