Oh, poor Aaron Linde. He doesn't realize what he's done. By lending the reins of BBL to me this week and approving the rabid horror enthusiast within to venerate Silent Hill 2, you may be stuck with one of the most long winded, overly excitable BBL's ever written. Fear not, however -- I will do my best to remain objective, and when I feel I will weep with joy or dance with delight over the rapture caused by inanimate mannequin rape and bloodied corpses, I'll step away from the blog to breathe before I take you deeper within one of my favorite locales within a video game.
Shall we go to Silent Hill?
Allow me to preface this BBL by warning you of two things. One, if you like fast paced games, this is not the game for you; if you like a slow, steady descent into an utter mindfuck riddled with guilt and terror, this ought to hit the spot. Two, if you get creeped out easily (or even not so easily), play with caution. Replaying it a full six years after the first time, I still find myself shuddering over things that I already know are coming. Talk about effective replayability!
It's likely that even if you have never played a Silent Hill game, you know what they are all about -- kind of a survival horror thing, notable for really weird baddies, right? That's most people's general assumption about this chapter of the series, and the truth is, it's a really poor definition for a game that goes above and beyond the average survival horror offering. Silent Hill 2 is a psychological horror title, aiming to scare not with sudden attacks by foul creatures, but instead by showing you as the player more and more disturbing things that make less and less sense.
You play the role of James Sunderland, a man who has returned to the town of Silent Hill because of a letter from his wife Mary saying she was waiting there for him. Seems normal enough, except Mary died from an unnamed illness three years before. It seems as if anyone in their right mind would know it was a joke ... but how would anyone else but Mary know about their "special place", as she referred to in the letter? James heads out to Silent Hill to find out the answer.
Of course Silent Hill isn't the place James remembers when visiting there with Mary years before, and it isn't long at all before he's chasing the meaning of multiple mysteries in a struggle to stay alive. What the game does have in common with survival horror titles is the system of defending oneself from attacks. There is limited ammo available and all weapons must be found. There's plenty of exploring and puzzle solving to do too, so you'll have your hands full.
Atmosphere is key in all the Silent Hill games, most famously defined by the dense fog that renders the town nearly indistinguishable. The shifts between the light and dark dimensions never fail to inspire a sense of dread, and clever use of sound only further deepens the dark feel of navigating the space around you. Few games from this time period deliver such complete immersion as this one, and the care and detail really show.
Silent Hill 2 is also memorable in that it introduced one of the most frightning characters in any video game to this day. Pyramid Head, so named because of his gigantic metal helmet, has a sword so heavy he drags it behind him on the ground and never speaks throughout any of James' encounters with him. As is Silent Hill's tradition, Pyramid Head is an elusive figure, perhaps representing multiple concepts, but leaving the interpretion of them open to the player.
The journey that James takes to find Mary is one of the most powerful I've ever played through in a video game. What seems like a spooky premise quietly transforms into a completely emotionally engaging experience and one of the few to actually make me put down the controller and cry at the end of the game. I have no question that I am a wuss, but after finding out this game had the same effect on many other people, I feel safe to say it wasn't just me that found SH2's story left an unusual impression.
Missing this title the first time around is a true shame, but thanks to the Bargain Bin, you can score a second chance. Even better, if you own a 360 (and who doesn't these days?), you can pick up Restless Dreams (the Xbox specific version of the game) and get some extras the PS2 version didn't have. Do yourself a favor if you're a fan of the genre: If you're looking for a resonant horror experience in a game, Silent Hill 2 will not fail you.