Silent Hill 2
By: Tristan Jones on September 26, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: PS2, Also available on: XBox, PC
Developer: Konami
Players: 1
Year: 2001
How many movies can you look back on and say that it was a genuinely disturbing experience? Not pretty disturbing, genuinely disturbing. Now think of how many games you've played that you can do the same. Alright, now that you've worked that out, would you say the game was more disturbing than the movie? No? Obviously you've never played Silent Hill 2.

A sequel really in name only to 1999's PlayStation hit Silent Hill; Silent Hill 2 opens with James Sunderland reassessing recent events in a grimy public toilet block. You see James has just received a letter from his wife, asking him in a rather cryptic manner to meet her in their 'special place' in the secluded town of Silent Hill. This is all well and good, except for the fact that James's wife, Mary, died three years earlier to a terminal disease.

Shortly after arriving in the town itself, it becomes very clear that something is very wrong with this place. Thick banks of rolling fog enshroud everything, blood on the road indicates some sort of struggle and what appears to be a woman ambles along the road in the distance. After giving chase to the woman, you discover that that was no woman, what it is, is almost indescribable. A featureless straightjacket of flesh and bizarrely effeminate legs (even that doesn't do this monstrosity justice) shakes and quivers as it moves, and it knows you're there. With nothing to defend himself with, James breaks off a fence paling, and you find yourself having to bludgeon this thing do death. In fact, for the majority of the game, you find yourself armed only with a pocket radio and a flashlight, along with a couple of makeshift weapons like a board with a nail and a steel pipe, as even though firearms can be found, ammunition doesn't just lie around as randomly as does in certain other survival horror titles.

What makes this game a truly defining experience in horror is its atmosphere. There's a sense of isolation found in this game that is yet to be emulated to anywhere near the same extent, in both games and films, and beneath that sense of isolation is a feeling of dread that rises to the surface as the game progresses. You meet only four other people while in the town, and as you run into them more and more, it becomes clear that none are what they seem, and are very clearly psychologically unstable. James also begins to question himself and the extent of his involvement in his wife's death when he comes across a woman called Maria. There are some very interesting moments between James and Maria, who looks and sounds exactly like the long dead Mary, and even seems to carry some of her memories, which leads James to think: "Could she be…?"

Occasionally too, this sense of dread will peak at the most unexpected of moments leaving you to stop completely and just look at what is on screen in complete bewilderment. A particularly disturbing moment occurs in the hospital when your radio suddenly tunes itself into a netherworldly quiz show. There's another moment in a rundown apartment block where you find yourself bearing witness to what can really only be described as rape, which is truly disturbing. I won't forward any more details, as the true effect of the scene would be lost; suffice to say that it involves a humongous man-like creature with a pyramid for a head that looks like it's formed of congealed blood.

The game touches on a number of taboos that are almost unheard of in a number of films let alone games (and often nowhere near as well too). Rape, murder, child abuse, incest, cults, suicide, domestic violence, euthanasia, Silent Hill 2 doesn't pull any punches, it assaults you from angles you'll never see coming. The best part is, each is so well handled that often you don't really even realise what you've just witnessed until you've had a chance to process everything.

There's also a very subtle psychosexual element to Silent Hill 2. If you manage to get your hands on the Special Edition release with the DVD (most Electronics Boutique stores will have it second hand), you are given a behind the scenes look at what went into the design of the monsters. The designers took the two most thought about subjects of the human mind and incorporated these into their works. Those two subjects were sex and death, and it's this sexual element that makes the monsters truly disturbing. Creatures vary from being a mess of mannequin legs to hobbling monstrosities that look as though they've had their skin stretched out over a doorframe. There are even nurses who would probably be quite hot… if they didn't move like someone having an epileptic fit and have faces that look like bloodied sacks.

All of this is backed by an amazing score by Akira Yamaoka, blending discordant droning and industrial sounds with everything from heavily distorted percussion to acoustic guitars to flutes, bolstering the whole feel of the game, and it's a soundtrack well worth the money for anyone who can find it. The voice acting is bizarre. It's delivered in ways that vary from being very naturalistic to quite jarring, but it still feels right in the context of the game.

Too many games nowadays take classic horror elements, your monsters, your zombies (a big favourite nowadays), vampires, ghosts, your whatevers, and smack them into a game where you find yourself a gun and paint the walls a new shade of gore. Silent Hill 2 manages to avoid every single cliché and stands alone as probably the most cerebral experience one can find on a home console. If Christophe Gans can translate even half the qualities of this game to his upcoming Silent Hill movie, then it could possibly be one of the best horror films to come around in a long time, but if not, this game is still probably the deepest horror experience anyone could own.
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