Silent Hill 2 is a psychological survival horror game developed by Team Silent and published by Konami in 2001. Team Silent were a development group set up by Konami specifically to develop the games for the Silent Hill franchise and they would develop the first 4 games in the Silent Hill franchise. After the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room, Konami disbanded Team Silent and instead offered the Silent Hill licence to Western developers such as Double Helix Games and Climax Entertainment.
The player takes control of James Sunderland, a man who receives a letter from his deceased wife saying that she is waiting for him in their special space in Silent Hill. James receives this letter 3 years after his wife died of a mystery disease in Brookhaven Hospital in Silent Hill. The special place where Mary is supposedly waiting for James in room 312 in the Lakeview Hotel, which is on the other side of the Toluca Lake. The player quest to reach the Lakeview Hotel to see if Mary is waiting there for him.
The story of Silent Hill 2 has had a lot of theories thrown around about for years because there are certain aspects of the story, which I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers that have been heavily discussed by the fans of the franchise because the developers wrote the story in such a way that these aspects are left to the decide upon what is true or not. For example, there is an enemy that follows James around Silent Hill and is meant to be a symbolism of his frustration whilst his wife was ill.
Within the game, there is a place called the otherworld, which takes the location that the player is currently in and recreates it, but a much darker and twisted version of it. This can be considered another world, but the world could also be the same world, but shifted into a much darker dimension. There is no conclusive evidence to whether this a separate world or a figment of James’s mind, but it really adds to the mystery of Silent Hill, as well as making the player ask questions. The developers were very clever because the otherworld and why it exists is never explained in the game and allow players to interpret the otherworld in the way that they think it exists.
Silent Hill 2 is a psychological survival horror, which is somewhat different compared to standard survival horror. The major difference is that Silent Hill 2 is built around atmosphere and making the player feel extremely uncomfortable and the use of disturbing imagery, rather than relying on jumpscares. The locations throughout the game are extremely dark and there are symbolisms and things that are related to the main character that I will explain later on.
The psychological aspect of the gameplay is achieved in Silent Hill 2 very well in a multitude of different ways. The first area that Silent Hill 2 achieves this is with the way that James controls. Initially, the controls for James for a new player might feel somewhat clunky and awkward to use, but the game was designed this way so that the player would have to adapt to the way the game wants to be played. However, the controls feel very responsive and there are very few occasions where button inputs are eaten. This is very important because the game will require some quick reactions to specific scenarios, as well as sometimes quick button pressing.
The second area where the game excels is with the graphics and enemy design. The graphics at the time look quite grainy and dated, however the design of the game was to look this way so that the player couldn’t see too far ahead, therefore making the player not sure what is ahead of them. The game has some low texture graphics in some places, making some details difficult to decipher or understand in the outside sections, however I think that some of the small details might be due to the fact that this was an early Playstation 2 and one of the first games of its kind on the PS2. Also, the thick fog in the outside sections means that these details might be particularly unreadable or undecipherable even when up close.
The enemy design of Silent Hill 2 is really unique and the enemies look hideous, but not in a bad way but more in a way that matches with the eerie aesthetic and atmosphere the game expresses. There is a boss enemy in this game, which is a symbolism of James’s frustration of when Mary was ill called Pyramid Head. The player runs into this boss multiple times in this game and can kill James in one hit. There are some extremely graphic scenes throughout the apartment section of the game, which potentially show James’s sexual frustration whilst Mary was ill.
There is another character which has a very important symbolism and that is a little girl who lives in Silent Hill called Laura. Laura doesn’t see any of the fog or the evil creatures that the other character can see and she is a playful child who likes to play tricks on the other characters. Laura is quite important because she symbolises innocence because she doesn’t understand what the others are feeling and she knows the truth of what happened to Mary, which I won’t spoil because it is an important plot point.
The nurses in the hospital look really gory with blood all over their nurse uniforms and armed with kitchen knives. I think that these enemies really add to the game and can also startle the player if they are not aware that these enemies are around the corner. This can put the player on edge because there will be an uncertainty as well as sometimes an expectation of something being there, but sometimes there isn’t. The nurses also shake and shudder as they approach the player and can be avoided entirely if the player turns off the flashlight.
The flashlight is quite in interesting mechanic in Silent Hill 2 because normally having the flashlight on means that the player can read the map and also interact with objects and puzzles. However, there are some enemies which are activated when the player points the flashlight towards an enemy, but if the player doesn’t have the flashlight on, certain enemies won’t spot James running past them. This is a clever thing to do if the player is running out of ammo for their weapons. That is one thing I really like about the game is that to the same enemies and locations, there are multiple ideas and solutions to getting passed enemies and locations.
The main design choice that Team Silent made during development that makes the gameplay feel very unique is the fact that all the exterior sections have thick fog, which means that the player cannot see very far ahead of them. The fog also doesn’t mask any issues with what is sometimes known as popping. Popping is where the field of view (how far and wide the player can see) of the game is very restricted and sometimes enemies, buildings and items can pop into the foreground without any reason. The fog masks some hidden enemies especially in the first area where the player reaches Silent Hill for the first time. There are some enemies that are hidden underneath cars and even sometimes speedrunners of the game who have played the game lots of times can even be startled by it.
The final gameplay aspect that really stands out is the fact that throughout the game the player will have to solve a wide variety of different puzzles. These puzzles will vary in difficulty throughout the game and also depending on the difficulty that the player set the puzzles to at the main menu of the game. The difficulty levels do have an impact of how much information the game will give you in relation to the puzzle and also on how best to solve it. On top of that, each difficulty will have a different solution to the same puzzle, which means that no two playthroughs are the same because sometimes on the same difficulty the solution to the puzzle could be random.
The gameplay overall is really solid and the mechanics and controls make sense with what the game is trying to depict the world and James as. The fact that the same situation can be approached from multiple different angles by different players gives the game plenty of replayability and also at the end of the game, there are statistics that cover everything from damage taken to how many bullets were fired. This also adds to the replayability because the player can decide to try and complete the game in specific challenges modes.
Music And Sound Design
The soundtrack in Silent Hill 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece because the music quality is some of the best I have ever heard and is my favourite soundtrack of all time. The soundtrack and sound design was done by Akira Yamaoka, who would all the music for the Silent Hill franchise and really set a very high standard for horror video game soundtracks. There are a lot of dark ambient songs on this soundtrack, which really encapsulates the both the town as a whole, but also the feelings and characteristics of the people involved. However, it doesn’t feel like the emotions and feelings are being forced on the player through the music, it adds context and depth to the scenes and locations where the music is used.
As well as the music commenting on the locations throughout the game, there are themes that represent specific characters and their emotions. For example, the opening theme to the game is called Theme of Laura and represents the hope and innocence that Laura has, but also has darker undertones that represent where she is which is Silent Hill. This theme is one of the best opening themes I have heard because it was able to depict 2 separate and different emotions within the same harmonies and orchestration, which is extremely difficult to do.
One of the most famous themes in the game is a theme called Promise (Reprise), which is an extremely moody and dark piece of music that uses a lot of reverberating sound design. This theme plays when James meets Angela in the apartments when she is laying down with a knife in her hand. The theme represents Angela’s persona perfectly because she is in Silent Hill looking for her mother, but it the darker undertones personify her back story beautifully. The reason why she is in Silent Hill looking for her mother was because she suffered abuse from her father and there is a boss, which depicts her anger towards her father.
The sound design in Silent Hill 2 is perhaps some of the most well thought out and detailed sound design I have ever experienced. There are so many layers to the sound design, with the audio effects being used very often, but not to the point of being used for the sake of using it. Whether it be the echo on the sound of Pyramid Head’s knife or the small detailing on the creaking of wood, whilst James crosses Toluca Lake, every small detail of the sound design has a purpose and adds to the ambience of the game alongside the effective soundtrack.
The sound design and soundtrack as a whole mesh together to create one of the creepiest and disturbing soundtracks of all time. The audio balance between these two is perfect and is mixed in such a way that one never feels louder than the other. The sound design is impactful in installing the fear into the player, whilst the soundtrack comments on what the player is seeing and adds a huge unnerving sensation to the player.
Silent Hill 2 is my favourite horror video game of all time because it always makes me feel nervous about what could be around the next corner. The story of the game has so much depth and also offers a lot of questions about the town that there are still no concentrate answers for. The characters in the game are really memorable and have their own stories that really add to the overall story of the game. The gameplay whilst initially might feel clunky, is that way because the game challenges the player to play in a different way and to not have 100% control and even to make the player feel vulnerable. All this mixed in with a fantastic soundtrack and the best sound design I have ever heard makes this game in my opinion a masterpiece.
Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use