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Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2) review

"Grade A nightmare fuel"

Silent Hill 2 asset

The mechanics of Silent Hill 2 are mostly forgettable. There are few sequences that require precision or timing or articulate button pressing. Even the combat, which mostly consists of plain gunplay and rudimentary melee fighting, is less than appealing. Before you start in with protestations on how I'm grilling this game on the wrong elements, know that I am actually praising the game at this point. For what kind of pre-Resident Evil 4 survival horror game actually features intricate combat or intense mechanics? Usually not a good one...

What I remember most about Silent Hill 2 isn't crushing suckas and ruling the game like a king. No, I recall running like hell, screaming like a child, and complaining that I didn't want to advance into scary places or open filthy, creepy doors. I didn't want to know what lurked behind those doors, but at the same time I was dying to know. I desired very much to enter a room and bump into a hellish entity, a grisly manifestation, or some shocking piece of scenery, and get myself so bloody scared that I might consider turning on my living room lights. I love the game because it humbled me by turning me into the exact opposite of a badass.

I certainly didn't feel empowered as I entered the town, traipsing along a foggy natural path whilst shadows played in the distance and snarls sounded from mere feet away. I didn't stay to find out what manner of beast produced these growls, but took to flight instantly. Life didn't become any cushier once I entered the ghost town proper. Nightmarish beasts shambled through the streets and sometimes even darted out from beneath vehicles, threatening to give me a heart attack. I tried to find solace within several of Silent Hill 2's buildings, but only discovered corridors plunged in absolute darkness. Demonic beings ambled through the structures, sometimes creating the illusion that rooms and hallways were far less spacious than they appeared.

Silent Hill 2 screenshotSilent Hill 2 screenshot

It also wasn't only the creatures that tormented me, as the game itself seemed to be in on the joke. Now and then I'd traverse the streets or a hallway and hear a murmuring, a thud, a tap, or various other bumps in the night. I'd turn on my heels, gun drawn, teeth gritted, heart pounding, only to find nothing there. Little did I know that this game took notes from Pavlov. At times I'd assume that the ambient sounds were parlor tricks used to scare me, as they proved to be earlier, only to find a many-legged horror threatening to kick my face off and dine on my dead flesh. Because of that, I was never at ease during my stay in Silent Hill, and found myself forever on edge.

Perhaps the creepiest moment for me involved entering a dinky building that served as Silent Hill's historical society headquarters. As I accessed the building's second room, I heard an ungodly baying emanating from an abyssal staircase. I asked the game, "...And you want me to go down there?" Against my better judgment, I descended the impossibly deep stairway and listened as the ululations grew louder and more monstrous. The stairs eventually gave way to a door--always with the doors!--that I didn't want to enter. I decided then and there that sanity was overrated, so I turned the knob and lost my mind.

...and to think, I was going through all of this because of a letter the protagonist, James Sunderland, received.

James lost his wife Mary to an unnamed disease. Following her passing, he obtained a letter from her instructing him to meet her at their "special place in Silent Hill." As with any horror tale, there's more to the story than what the audience initially sees. As it turns out, James has a few repressed memories revolving around his wife's death. The events that transpire in Silent Hill 2 serve only to resurrect those memories, more to James's chagrin, of course...

Arriving at the city doesn't alleviated him of any of the stress he's undergone before and after her death. Instead, the city seems to bore into his psyche, draw out his figurative demons and transform them into literal ones. I say this because each creature seems to bear subtle hints and references to his wife's death. The man-legged mannequins, for instance, can be construed as a reference to the sexual frustration that mounted while his wife was too ill to make love to him. Others have stated that they could also be a symbol of James's unmet basic needs or desires, and not purely sexual. While it's tough to say for certain what any given monster is meant to stand for, I'm glad that the game didn't beat its audience over their heads with its allegories. That way people can actually use their intellects and puzzle out what the creatures symbolize, or even just ignore the symbolism all together, if they so please.

Silent Hill 2 screenshotSilent Hill 2 screenshot

Amidst these allegoric entities, there's a certain hulk of a monster who stalks the grounds with a measure of malevolence so impure that he'll even abuse his own kind--both physically and sexually. The game refers to this being as Pyramid Head, a blade-wielding juggernaut donning both a bloody apron and a triangular cranium. You can pump bullets into Pyramid Head, and he'll never fall. You can run from the beast, but he'll catch you. When you think you're safe, he'll appear behind you, ready to flay your skin with his grand-sized knife and possibly wear it. Other times, he won't damage you physically, but psychologically. He'll stand behind barred locations, locked in an eyeless stare as if he's peering into your soul, never moving except to breathe and grumble menacingly. Pyramid Head is the kind of brute you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, but likely will anyway.

Silent Hill 2 is not a perfect horror game. It's psychologically taxing and terrifying, despite its lack of variety in regards to enemies. It makes do very well with what it has, and delivers a stunning, nightmarish experience. Sadly, it doesn't seem that the franchise will ever reach a vista this lofty again (although it came close with Silent Hill: Origins). In that respect, playing Silent Hill 2 is almost depressing. It reminds us that there was a time when the brand was considered a budding, young series with promising years ahead of it. Sadly, by the time Silent Hill 3 hit, the series' best years were behind it...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 04, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted October 04, 2013:

If this site falls down tomorrow -- and I'm not saying it won't -- the thing I will miss the most about it is how it had such a concentrated love for Silent Hill. From killer reviews from Marc, OD, True, Bloomer Zipp and some others I apologise for forgetting off the top of my head, I never get bored of reading work on the same series due to the sheer quality this site seems the catalogue. Perhaps the nicest thing I can say is how this truly belong within those ranks. Great review.
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overdrive posted October 04, 2013:

Yep. Another great SH review for this site. We've had a nice bit of SH reviewing going on recently with the scary stuff contest and now Joe breaking out his 31 reviews of October work.

I just don't know if I'll be able to add any more after doing HD Collection. To do so, I'd about have to start buying the more mediocre/poor games that came after 3 and nowadays I just don't know that I have the time or desire to buy games I know are going to be potentially less-than-fun.

After typing this, I will go over to my "games to play" pile and look at Venetica (bought earlier this year) with mild confusion in my eyes.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 04, 2013:

Thank you, gentlemen! There will be more SH reviews coming, too (3-Homecoming, including Origins).

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