I wanted to write something deeply profound here.
I wanted to say I want all games to be like Silent Hill 2.
But I can’t, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent.
Story (Spoiler Free)
You take on the role of James Sunderland, you go to Silent Hill because your wife (Mary) sent you a letter saying she was waiting for you at your “special place”. Problem is, your wife is dead! She died of “that damned disease” 3 years ago. Unsurprisingly, this is a mind fuck for you.
Trying hard to not compare it to Resident Evil
When I replayed Silent Hill, I really wanted to dislike it. The Silent Hill series was something that I liked at the time, but it never managed to maintained my interest the way the Resident Evil series did. After playing Silent Hill 2, I think I can see why.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Silent Hill 2, but. Man, it is horrible!
Silent Hill 2 is a brilliant game, but it is a game I can only play once every few years, it is; oppressive, mind fucking, and torturous.
The first 15 minutes of the game, literally nothing happens. You slowly walk/run from your car into town, via the graveyard. If this was Resident Evil you’d have 15 jump scares and dodgy dialogue to deal with. In Silent Hill 2 the fog is surrounding you, and there are loud noises such as “dogs” barking, bangs, and bumps. But nothing happens. All this is constant, there is a desperate fear of something you think is coming. Silent Hill 2 doesn’t do jump scares. It does fear.
Every noise you hear you think something is going to jump out at you. It means that every corner is terrifying, every shadow a potential enemy, every “everything“. The sparse soundtrack, and the eerie still, all build up, and it keeps building.
The first 15 minutes of Silent Hill 2 nearly gave me a heart attack by doing NOTHING. And for 5 hours of my playthrough, my heart rate was through the roof and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
I mentioned the puzzles in the Silent Hill 1 review, but in 2, christ. This time you get a choice of easy/medium/hard/extra. Even on easy the puzzles piss all over the Resident Evil or Zelda box pushing fair. These are actual brainteasers, you’re required to write shit down. On each difficulty the text will change, and the description will increase in complexity, none of it is obtuse, but you will need to engage your grey matter to progress.
My personal favourite is the “Find the innocent man” puzzle towards the end. On “Medium” you have a short essay to read where you need to figure out which dead man was innocent. It can be considered a little subjective, and you will need to write it down, and use process of elimination to whittle down the answer, but I can’t think of another series that does puzzles so well.
If you follow this link <—-OBVIOUS SPOILER WARNING, and scroll down a little, you can see a guide to this puzzle in the easy/medium/hard/extra formats.
There is also a pretty good “quiz” that occurs during the hospital, you’re in the lift and a mysterious game-show host voice asks three questions about Silent Hill. The answers can all be found by looking at your map, but is a nice touch, and it is entirely optional.
Silent Hil 2 really does reward you for exploring. The quiz is one example, but if you ferret around in normal and alternate locations you will be swimming in bullets and health. On my first playthrough I did it on normal/normal difficulty, entering the last room for the boss fight, I had 12 ampoules, 15 medi-kits, 9 health drinks, 50 pistol, 100 shotgun, and 52 rifle bullets.
It did make the latter half of the game a bit easier, but it is risk vs reward. There aren’t rooms before a boss filled with ammo/health, it is a reward for your earlier efforts. The room before the final boss is TWO Pyramid heads! TWO! You are somewhat warned to this though, as the room before the two Pyramid Heads has NINE save points. That is a bit of a clue to save…
I did replay of the game on Hard/Hard for the HD version, and got to the final bosses with 9 ampoules, 4 first aid kits, 15 health drinks, 81 pistol, 147 shotgun and 80 rifle bullets.
I used it all apart from about 120 shotgun shells. I took one hell of a beating from the two Pyramid Heads. So Hard is much harder…
Story part 2 (SPOILERS/ALLUSIONS TO SPOILERS)
After all your schlepping around you start to realise that maybe James has been drawn to this town for a deeper reason, it is foreshadowed by Eddie, that “you’re here for the same reason as he is”. And one of the videotape reveals shows the “reason” you’re there. At this point you think about the game differently, you see that it is James’ guilt that is propelling him on, and not some mystical cult.
Everybody that features in the game is there for a reason, Angela, Eddie, Laura and Maria.
Peoples realities cross slightly, but everybody sees Silent Hill differently, Eddie can’t see Pyramid Head, Laura doesn’t see any of the bad stuff, and Angela asks if James can see the fire.
There are a lot of character information that are scattered around. You really needed to explore fully to understand everything. Since I don’t know the game inside out, I may have missed stuff, but peoples motives/raison d’être aren’t always immediately clear from a normal playthrough.You really have to dig around for everything to make sense.
Towards the end of the game, you find out the truth about Mary, and James’ involvement, and it is a really good reveal. It isn’t a Final Fantasy type convoluted twist, it isn’t as tired and predictable as a Resident Evil reveal. It is genuinely shocking, both in the fairly graphic nature you’re shown, but also it doesn’t come out of the blue. Yes, it is forshadowed, but the foreshadowing is subtle. I started to pick up on it towards the end, but you can miss the clues. And if you do miss ALL the clues, it still makes sense.
Silent Hill is a construct of James’ spiral into depression and his way of dealing with his own guilt. It is James who is James’ worst enemy. The faceless nurses, Pyramid Head, they are all symbols of James’ frustrations.
These are some of Silent Hill 2’s many strong points, everything is “right”, there aren’t plot holes. Silent Hill 2 is completely separate to 1, so there is no attempt at continuity, no Zelda forced timelines, no PLOT-HOLE APLENTY Resident Evil connections between games. Everything is thought through, and it everything makes sense.
The only thing I don’t like in Silent Hill 2 are the bosses. They are all a bit too easy, and frankly a little disappointing. All bosses are; run to one side of the room, shoot, run to other side of the room.
The final boss is also a flying bed. The flying bed has meaning, but it is still a flying bed.
I’m trying to not sound like a fanboi here, but I didn’t really have any negatives. The game doesn’t look great, but it is a PS2 game, and it looks alright for a PS2 game, the graphics certainly hold up better than Silent Hill 1.
The boss fights are a bit shitty in how you fight them, but the meaning behind them is harrowing. The Abstract Daddy which looks like a Door Monster, is somewhat repulsive, especially after reading what it symbolises!
Other than that, honestly can’t think of any thing.
The combat can be described as being naff, but I don’t count it as a negative. It makes sense to the game. Just like Harry in SH1, James is just a normal bloke so isn’t proficient in using guns, and like most of us, he struggles to bludgeon scary monster nurses to death with a crappy lead pipe.
On hard mode, the Pyramid Head chase in the basement is a little difficult to do the first few times. There are only a few spots you can shoot at him and miss Maria so some in game guidance on what you were supposed to have done is needed.
On the PS2 version there are 5 endings, and they are all different. They are also all awesome!
What is particularly impressive -though can be frustrating on replays- is that the endings are not binary. It isn’t a “set thing” no, do A for X result. I got the Maria ending on my playthrough, and after reading a guide on how to achieve this, I actually did very little of it. I did all the “suicidal” things (because I was inquisitive), I looked at the Mary picture/letter, I listened to the whole HARROWING conversation with Mary in the corridor.
So while it could be frustrating if you’re trying to get all the endings, it is nice that it doesn’t boil down to one decision.
Silent Hill 2 is a great game, and there is a tonne to discover. With loads of endings there is a huge amount of replayability to be had. Personally, I am too drained to play it again. The full letter that reads before the end credits is gut wrenching. It is excellently written, and voice acting is remarkable, I was in pieces and just wanted it to end.
Not since I watched the finale to Breaking Bad have I felt this bruised, and if all games were like Silent Hill 2, I’d be heading for an “In the Water” ending…
Pros: Drenched in symbolism, genuinely heartbreaking, Puzzles are awesome, endings are non-binary
Cons: Bosses, crying like a little bitch because of the end narration