Amidst rumors that Konami is rebooting the Silent Hill franchise, we feel that now is a perfect time to revisit the series’ finest moment, Silent Hill 2. Released in 2001, the game was pitted against some tough competition: classics such as Halo, Grand Theft Auto III, and Super Smash Bros. Melee all dropped that year. However, Silent Hill 2’s strength was in its ability to break the conventions of its peers. Today, we’ll be discussing just what made the game so horrifyingly great. For those who have yet to experience SH2, be forewarned that this article will contain spoilers!
The Use of Symbolism to Convey Meaning
Foregoing the typical archetypes of video game protagonists (i.e. Halo’s soldier of the future the Master Chief or GTA III’s hardened criminal Claude), Silent Hill 2 puts players into the shoes of everyman James Sunderland, who has come to the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his supposedly dead wife. She claims that she is waiting for him in their “special place.” It is James’s mission to figure out where in the town this “special place” is and ultimately find his wife.
James could be any one of us, on the surface appearing ordinary. Internally, however, he is enduring a hell brought on by his guilt (more on that later). The “demons” that the player must battle throughout the game are not physically real, but are rather symbolic manifestations of James’s mental decline.
For example, the “Lying Figure” monster–a faceless humanoid adorned in a straitjacket of its own flesh–represents James’s growing insanity, while the scantily-clad “Patient Nurse” represents his sexual frustration during his wife’s illness. Then, of course, there’s the iconic boss Pyramid Head, who stalks James throughout the game and represents the penance that he both desires and runs from.
Akira Yamaoka’s Stellar Soundtrack
Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack is not only one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, but it is one of the greatest albums of the 2000s. Combining elements of harsh noise, ambient, and trip hop, composer Akira Yamaoka crafted a masterpiece that is as compelling to listen to outside the game as it is in.
Instead of relying on constant action, SH2 utilizes slow-burn, atmospheric horror elements to keep players engaged. The soundtrack reflects this, creeping subtly throughout the story, only making an appearance when necessary. Because sometimes it’s not even the music that’s the scariest part. It’s the sound of a door creaking; it’s ominous footsteps in the distance. Then, as the horror reaches its peak, a haunting piano line will begin to rear its head.
As touched upon previously, the soundtrack encompasses a variety of genres, all unified by bone-chilling undertones. Standout tracks include the piano-driven “Forest” and “Promise (Reprise)”, as well as the hip hop-influenced “Null Moon” and “The Reverse Will”. We highly recommend listening to the album on your next late-night drive.
Impeccable Level Design
If you plan on playing Silent Hill 2 without a walkthrough, we’ll let you know now. You will get stuck at certain points. The game is frustrating. Thankfully, the environment within which you will be trapped never ceases to be interesting. Littered throughout the levels are clues that unravel the mystery of Silent Hill. Sometimes you’ll find newspaper clippings that reference characters who appear in future games. Sometimes you’ll find notes that subtly foreshadow SH2’s shocking twist ending.
Every level in SH2 could be the setting of your worst
Gaming’s Most Iconic Twist Ending
Earlier, we mentioned that this article would contain spoilers, and here’s the major one. At the end of the game, we discover that James’s inner turmoil is the result of his killing his wife. The first time we played the game, this realization that our hero has actually been the story’s worst villain sent chills to our very core.
Such nuanced storytelling was uncommon in video games at the time. Even rarer was the fact that James’s ultimate fate is decided by the choices the player makes in-game. For example, if the player does not consistently replenish their health, James will commit suicide. And if the player keeps their health high, James will leave Silent Hill with a new-found acceptance of his evil actions.
In total, there are six different endings in SH2. There is debate among fans over which is the “canonical” ending, and Konami has never officially answered this question.
Silent Hill 2 was revolutionary in its emphasis on storytelling and exploration of the human psyche. To this day, there are few games in the horror genre that even come close to capturing its poignant terror.
If the rumors of a franchise reboot are true, we can only hope that Konami does the series justice.