A few months ago, I reviewed one of the central pillars of horror gaming… Resident Evil – Now, upon the request of Luke and many of my other coworkers here at Respawning, I’ve been asked to review Silent Hill 2, heralded as one of the best horror games ever created.
I’m going to level with you here. A few hours into Silent Hill 2, I wasn’t having a good time. In fact, I would even go as far as to say I even hated the game – To me, the cheesy voice acting, bad controls, boring environments and lack of interesting enemies or events just meshed together into a bland, uninteresting, mediocre game – Our protagonist, James, was nothing more than a stick in the mud who was obsessed with finding his dead wife…
…But then something changed. Something inside me stirred as I started to think about what I was actually playing – Sure, wandering through Silent Hill is still as boring as anything, especially with the abhorrent fog that only aims to disorient you (Yes, I know it’s a staple of the series), but it was in those rotten hallways that I realised that… Maybe this was all by design…
Upon first loading the game, I was ‘treated’ to a slightly out-of-place opening sequence accommodated by the theme of Laura, one of five main characters in the game, showing off the characters I’ll be meeting and interacting with, as well as some of the monsters James’ll be facing off during his time in Silent Hill – At first, the game starts innocently enough with James wandering through the streets and outskirts of Silent Hill, encountering at first only a few minor enemies, known as Straight Jackets; meeting our first character, Angela, it’s clear something’s up with not just the town of Silent Hill, but also all of it’s inhabitants – Everyone is flawed in one way or another, and it provides a sense of unpredictability and uneasiness whenever a new living character is thrown into the mix – Take for instance the innocent Laura, who starts off being a somewhat innocent girl hanging out with another character by the name of Eddie, a shifty and lax person more occupied with finding food and running away from his past, to becoming the antithesis of evil itself by playing pranks on you and, in the midsection of the game in the Brookhaven Hospital, locks you in a boss room with three horrifying monstrosities known as Flesh Lips – The game makes you trust nobody, and most importantly, makes you distrust even James’ own actions and sanity.
More on those monsters, at first all I saw were two different kinds of monsters, known as Straight Jackets and Mannequins, which were extremely easy to defeat in combat by just wailing on them with a pipe; however, as the game progresses, the game becomes more and more twisted with it’s enemy designs and interactions, with the aforementioned Flesh Lips taking the cake in the mid section of the game, representing a twisted vision of one denouncing another on their deathbed, with their last words being those of condemnation – Every enemy in the game has this bizarre layer of symbolism to them, including everything from the mob enemies, to the beetles that infest each building in Silent Hill, to the infamous Pyramid Head – It’s an impressive feat that I’d like to see in more modern titles, especially when topics and themes are far deeper than you may have initially given it credit for.
For my playthrough, I decided to go through the game on Normal Difficulty for the gameplay, and Normal difficulty for the puzzles; saying this, however, I would advise anyone going through this game for the first time to perhaps go with Hard on both, mainly due to the combat being somewhat on the easy side, and puzzles not being difficult enough; most of them were relatively easy to understand and beat, with only one or two puzzles stumping me throughout my still-incomplete playthrough.
So, I seem to have rabbled on quite a bit about Silent Hill, but what about those initial doubts? Those feelings of boredom? Well, honestly, it all changed upon entering the mystical space known as the “Otherworld”, a twisted reality signalled by the sound of an air horn throughout the town, which overlaps James’ plane of reality – This twisted, nightmarish world is what I had signed up to see from Silent Hill, and boy does Silent Hill 2 deliver in providing gruesome imagery – Lowly monsters being abused and dominated (Yes, sexually) by larger, more threatening monstrosities; walls made of flesh and sinew; hell, even during one of the later portions of the game, against a boss named Abstract Daddy, the walls are literally made of fleshy innards that are being pounded by red, bloody pistons inserting and exiting out of equally fleshy holes, nodding to the theme of rape, molestation and sexual abuse that the boss represents.
Small moments like that are what make Silent Hill 2 great, and fondly remembered, however for someone who hasn’t got the same nostalgic feelings towards it, and coming to it many years after it’s release, it has some major apparent flaws that do obstruct gameplay. It’s one of those bizarre games where you’re not playing it to play it, you’re playing it to experience it, and to me, it’s a hell of an experience… I just wish it was less of a slog.
I understand Silent Hill 2 may be a legend among legends in the horror gaming genre, and has notably achieved a mass cult following due to that – Saying this, however, I fail to see how the actual gameplay itself lives up to the legend; the story is very ‘do-it-yourself’, with the gameplay occasionally intervening in any sense of enjoyment, but the themes and setting of Silent Hill are strong enough to keep me coming back… Even against my own will..
…Perhaps that was the intent all along.
I give Silent Hill 2 a 7 / 10 – It’s seriously one of those games that needs a good remaster and modernisation in order to fully achieve it’s full potential. Shame we’ll never see it. Perhaps I’ll update this review as I progress even further into the nightmare that is Silent Hill… But for now, these are my definitive opinions…