Silent Hill 2 - An Influential, Artistic Experience

User Rating: 10 | Silent Hill 2 PS2

The first time I played Silent Hill 2 I didn't quite grasp what I was playing. It simply was something that had clunky (to me) controls and a depressing atmosphere that ruined my attraction to the game. I put it away and didn't attempt playing it again for years later when I was given a copy of the PC version of the game. It didn't work so I ended up getting a copy of it for PS2 again. Being a bit more mature at this point, I was able to fully embrace the Silent Hill 2 experience as it was intended and I was able to see it for the truly masterful piece of art that it is.

There is a lot to say about this game- the thousands of YouTube channels, blog posts, articles and other forms of media that still talk about this video game are testament to that. Never has a game touched on such mature- or so real, subject matter as physician assisted death, sexual abuse or personal failings. Spoilers, but it's not a stretch to say that by the time all is said and done when the story of Silent Hill 2 wraps up, the most horrifying monster in the game is the character you play.

The majority the monsters are manifestations of main character James' guilt over the death of his wife Mary. The iconic lying figures are symbolic to how Mary was dying of melanoma, these creatures are trapped in a straight jacket of their own skin and spew acid from the heart, but aren't terribly confrontational as they feign death and like to hide. These beasts are more of a nag than a true threat. Symbolically speaking, Mary was trapped in her own skin thanks to her skin cancer, and as time progressed she became dejected and cruel towards James, the most painful acidic words coming from her heart. James would like to forget those moments, thus why the lying figures like to hide and can be easily avoided. This is just one of the many close readings one can do on the game and it's contents.

While it probably hasn't aged the best (and lets not get into the whole HD Collection Debacle - get it if you absolutely feel you must play the game and don't have access to an older version is my standpoint on it), the controls are still kind of clunky but they have a rhythm to them and there are subtle nuances, such as the harder you press the attack button the harder your characters hit is. He's not the greatest fighter, just a regular guy, so he's not ducking behind cover and getting headshots - he's holding a gun for the first time and trying to not blow his own fingers off. This kind of character you don't see much in games anymore- and I think for horror this works great. He's vulnerable.

The sound design is superb, Akira Yamaoka does an amazing job creating a contemporary soundtrack that builds on the intense dread that permeates every nook and cranny of the town. The sound effects are equally impressive, each footstep has nuance, all the monsters have their own personality that is further fleshed out by the sound design; the scraping feet of the clumsy walk of the lying figures, or the sound of metal on metal as Pyramid Head drags the large rusty blade along a steel floor all bring these elements further to life.

Some of the voice acting is suspect- not downright terrible but it has this awkward motion to it. Angela's voice actress does a terrific job however, her character is meant to be this awkward mess and it's portrayed very well. The weird voice acting does have a bit of charm however, and it helps instate this kind of "dream-like" state of the game's atmosphere. It's not for everyone is what I'm saying, but it shouldn't hamper the experience.

Whether or not the game is scary is up to personal preference, it's not a jump scare fiesta or is it necessarily a really gory game. I say this is a game that relies on the disturbing and subtle side of horror. It's meant to make you feel uncomfortable throughout with it's intense focus on atmosphere and symbolic imagery, rather than scared senseless.

As noted earlier, it's amazing how this little horror game has still affected people today- the numerous forums and videos out there a testament to it's influence. I'd highly recommend watching as many videos and reading as many posts on the game's elements before or after trying the game out yourself in order to get a full experience of the game's themes.

You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not trying it out regardless if you are a horror fan or not, it's truly a prime example of "Video Games as Art".