Letters From Nowhere: Silent Hills

James Sunderland reflects on his situation in Silent Hill 2's opening scene

Dear RPS,

There’s a place that I sometimes go to but I rarely talk about it. I can’t find the words. Maybe the only way to tell you is to go back there and to write everything down in a letter. So here I am. The first time I came to this place, this special place, I didn’t have the courage to remain there alone…

It’s easy to forget that Silent Hill 2 is available on PC, if you ever knew to begin with. With no digital download available through legal channels, the physical copies available are usually being flogged on the Amazon Marketplace or ebay for £40+. There’s an occasional cheaper sale, usually unboxed, but the third game is far easier to find at a decent price, and the fifth title in the main series, Silent Hill: Homecoming, is available on Steam.

Unfortunately, neither homecoming or Silent Hill 3 are likely to convince a newcomer to the series that it deserves its lofty place in the horror pantheon. The third game starts well, fracturing an ordinary day at a shopping mall to leave fragments and splinters that burrow and squirm under the skin. However, rather than being a character-driven psychodrama, like Silent Hill 2, or a work of weird fiction, Silent Hill 3 is restricted in its storytelling by the mythology of the series.

It is, in part, a direct sequel and concluding part to the story of the first game, although it does feature a new protagonist and passages of play that are self-contained viginettes as unnerving as could be desired. The reliance on loose threads from the original and an eventual reversion to the muddled and mystical mean that it’s not the best place to start.

Silent Hill 2's first (and least terrifying) toilet scene

As for Homecoming, it’s the equivalent of a direct to DVD release at the tail-end of a once venerated series. It came into the world from the creative womb of a new development team (Double Helix), and a marketing push that emphasised the new combat system. The previous games admittedly had combat that could generously be described as thematically appropriate in its awkwardness, but it’s never a particularly good sign when a survival horror game falls back on fighting rather than frightening.

I think of Homecoming, along with Downpour (another numberless title), as an interlude from the core of the series. But, as I look through the list of releases, I realise that it’s Silent Hill 2 that is the real interlude. Along with the excellent Shattered Memories, the second game is far superior to its silent siblings. The first game deserves mention and credit for introducing the titular town and the initial interpretation of it, as well as the beginnings of the psychological shocks and peeling back of the psyche. It also contains the first threads of The Order and cult mythology, however, that become a crutch for the series’ more familiar horror waffling.

Silent Hill 2 has little in common with its predecessor. As the thirteenth anniversary of its release approaches (on Wednesday), it is still the greatest horror game I’ve ever played. With that anniversary approaching the announcement of Silent Hills for the Playstation 4, I decided to revisit the town in the company of the great pretender James Sunderland on a summer weekend, and found new things to love. Without spoilers, this is Silent Hill 2 and what it means to me.

Arguably Silent Hill 2's most memorable line


Well, I’m alone there now…
In our ‘special place’…
Waiting for you…

Ghost Story

James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife, three years after her death. The letter brings him to Silent Hill, which is a ghost town in a literal and literary sense. Seemingly abandoned and fog-shrouded, it has the qualities of a Mary Celeste, and it would be no surprise to find a great body of water at its boundary, isolating it from the rest of the world. It is a place adrift.

Water is an important motif in the game and when James eventually casts off onto the lake, which is a central element in his own story and the town’s history, it has the qualities of a threshold. The sense of being at the border of reality, of scratching and bruising the liminal, is a vital element of the game’s setting and mood.

James arrives at the town via a secluded walkway, a journey that lasts just a little too long for comfort. It’s a distancing effect, marking the transition from one kind of reality to another, but it’s also a clear denial of genre conventions. No monsters, no puzzles, just a linear path, a walk, a conference of whispers and footsteps.

The tone is perfectly set. At times it sounds as if James is being followed but nothing manifests and if you choose to stand still, as soon as the sound of your footsteps ceases, so does the sound of whatever might be lurking in the undergrowth. The camera angles are indicative of eyes in the fog, things waiting and watching. They don’t pounce though and they don’t make themselves known.

Nothing terrible happens as James approaches the town. A meeting in a graveyard is confusing rather than horrific, and the final stretch of the journey is marked by the banality of chainlink fences and an industrial hinterland. No traps, no jump scares, no sense of an ending.

Silent Hill 2 - the heart of it all.


And so I wait…

Industrial Nightmares

Nothing happens but everything is possible. Silent Hill shows its monsters eventually, but it creates spaces for the imagination to fill during that first long walk into town. Silent Hill, as both a game and a place, has mechanical and industrial qualities. Although it rarely reaches through the fourth wall directly, it isn’t averse to displaying and alluding to the cogs and gears that drive the apparatus of the ghost train and the haunted house.

In Philip K Dick’s fragmented nightmare, Ubik, Joe Chip holds onto remnants of reality by deferring to the logic of machines – “Machines could not imagine.” Despite its humanity, Silent Hill 2 is a game that understands the threat of machines as well as flesh. Many of the most uncomfortable scenes contain human-like constructs – Frankenstein’s mannequins – and the sound of metal blade scraping on metal bone. There are tears, blood and at least the suggestion of almost every other bodily fluid as well, but many of James’ ghosts are in and of the machine.

Like so much horror, Silent Hill 2 is about the failure of things – of nerve, of compassion, of organs, of machinery, and of mind and body as a whole. Everything is in a process of decay, a town that has aged decades overnight and still carries traces of lives continuing just around the next corner or through the next door. It’s unclear if James himself is the ghost, walking through lives in process but failing to see them through the shadows of his own state.

A scene from Silent Hill 2: Born From a Wish, an extra chapter of the story included in ports and re-releases of the game.


It’s not that I’m getting better.

Body Horror

Silent Hill 2’s monsters are manifestations of its mysteries. Later entries in the series have been rightly criticised for recycling iconic creatures until they become mascots rather than meaningful entities. The unnecessary reuse of the creature known as Pyramid Head is most often the target of criticism, but I find the regular appearance of the nurses even more bizarre. They often appear out of context and have smoothly transitioned from being a psychosexual horror fantasy, product of a stunted and quasi-Freudian erotic urge, specific to a single character, into pin-ups. That’s not just a symptom of the film adaptations and fan art – it’s evident in some of the later games as well. Everything in Sunderland’s story is precise and there is a cohesion to the cast of malformed creatures, but the same is not true across the series.

The first living (?) things seen on the streets look like straitjacketed patients shambling in the fog, but typifying them as such is evidence of a reliance on the expected tropes of horror. Madness visualised as a dangerous, restrained lunatic, a gurgling, bloody carcass animated by cartoon psychopathy.

Horror often relies on an injection of the unfamiliar into the familiar, but so much that was once unusual and uncanny has become familiar through repeated use in fiction that the box of tricks is depleted. There are several approaches to take, two of which are superbly demonstrated by recent films. The remake of The Evil Dead stuck with a familiar formula and ratcheted up the gore and body horror – it may be broke, but turning up the volume is easier than fixing it. Cabin in the Woods played with many of the same cliches and warped them into a running commentary on the genre, shot through with black humour.

Silent Hills looks to have elements in common with Silent Hill 4: The Room, pictured here

Silent Hill 2 hews closer to Cabin in the Woods but it’s approach doesn’t even have a hint of a smile, let alone a nod and a wink. Part of the game’s genius is in its representation of the supposedly unexpected trappings of horror at face value, and then a slow disintegration of those same effects, leaving something far more uncomfortable and unnerving among the remains.

In this game, madness isn’t a violent force, nor is it loud and angry. Silent Hill 2’s psychology is that of grief, hope and loss rather than a mostly invented animalistic fury. The edges of sanity are malleable, recognisable and human. Sunderland’s doubts and fears are capable of infiltrating and residing under our skin because they are the residue of something already there.

James confronts Maria in Silent Hill 2


In my restless dreams,
I hear that town.

The Sound of Silence

Whatever failings the series may have accrued over time, Akira Yamaoka’s work as sound designer and composer has rarely stumbled. I can recognise almost every room and location in the games by hearing the sounds associated with them. There are places that I have to leave after a minute because the looping, grinding chips away at my own internal health bar.

When I think of audio design in games, I tend to think of Thief’s brilliant mechanical use of sources and interactive sound. Yamaoka takes a different route, composing a jarring symphony that doesn’t affect the avatar or the state of play, but cuts directly into the player. Sometimes it’s an assault and sometimes it’s a lingering sense of dread. Every now and again, there’s a song from the hit parade of another world.

Pyramid Head, when he was still cool.

…laying here…

Tragedy

Even though it’s certainly the most intensely frightening game I’ve ever played, my reaction to it has changed over the years. It reminds me of A Tale of Two Sisters, a film that can make my blood run cold even just through remembering its most harrowing scenes. But it’s not a horror film, not really. It’s frightening but its narrative is tragic and as I watch it again, I brace myself at certain moments but am more likely to cry than to cower.

Silent Hill 2 is the same. I still can’t play certain sections without company – I am the world’s most cowardly horror fan – but the lasting sense is of sadness rather than spooks. Tragedy requires flaws and the game’s narrative of decay is built upon human failings of every kind. It’s a more sorrowful experience than a stack of melancholy ‘art games’.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a high point in the series.

You promised me you’d take me
there again someday.
But you never did.

Silent Hills

If you haven’t played Silent Hill 2 and have any interest in horror, you must. Indeed, I’d recommend the game to people who simply have an interest in the evolution of the medium, whether they enjoy horror or not. Chances are you won’t actually enjoy it at all, whether your in the mood for terror or not. It’s not a game to be enjoyed, but then neither is Bergman’s Persona – some work is intended to disarm and dismantle its audience.

The HD release of the trilogy on console is poorly remastered but might be the cheapest and most readily available option, but if you can find the original on PC, it’s the definitive version. Not many people realise that – the series is at home on PlayStation but its best entry found a home here, on the computer.

The Room's first-person sections are as terrifying as anything else in gaming, and are similar to the inter-level scares of the excellent Fatal Frame 3.

And I have hope that Silent Hills, which was announced by way of a playable teaser a few weeks ago, will come to PC. That initial concept demo and a new trailer are reminiscent of the fourth game, The Room, which had peaks as high as anything else in the series.

The cynic in me recognises a terrifying take on the walking simulator, which is nothing new or particularly inticing, but there’s a sense of otherness that is still unusual. The ending of the trailer, below, holds the horrible promise of all of the elements above. Hauntings, tragedy, industrial noise and humanity stretched and distorted. Whether there will be meaning behind the monstrous again is yet to be seen, but I’m eager to find out.

If we can have Metal Gear Solid V, perhaps we can have Silent Hills as well. It’d be so good to go home again.

Well, this letter has gone on
too long, so I’ll say goodbye.

This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter program.

68 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    I still hope for a GoG release of Silent Hill 2 and 3. Other than that, I would go for the emulation route, even though that is frowned upon in many places…

    • golem09 says:

      I played my PS2 copy on an emulator just this year, definitely the best way to play the game. The original resolution + widescreen hack + 16AA and the usual noise filter make this game look like a VHS tape, and it fits the assets really well I think. I tried it in 1080p, but that was just too clear and sharp.
      Really gotta replay SH1 with the widescreen hack this year, too. Last time I played it was in 2006, and my memory tells me I liked it even more than SH2, so I gotta check it again.

      • Premium User Badge

        G-Lord says:

        VHS look, that sounds neat ;). SH1 is my second favorite SH game after 2, so I should probably replay both one day.

    • AyeBraine says:

      There is a PC version laying around on torrents. I played it on a PC the first time around.

      • Perkelnik says:

        I really dont like to pirate games (and I dont), but this was one of the rare occassions I had to do it. I cant understand why Konami wont release the games on any digital platoform. Ive tried SH2 recently and it runs fine without any kind of tweaking on W7 64bit.
        I would happily pay for the game, but they just dont care.

  2. Premium User Badge

    JiminyJickers says:

    Scary games scare me too much, haha. I may have to try the new Alien game though, hopefully my nerves and bowels will survive.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Earl-Grey says:

    It amazes me how pretty Silent Hill 2 still looks.
    I played it again last year and, the interiors atleast, are simply gorgeous.
    -largely due to the fantastic lighting, especially from the flashlight.

    The atmosphere in that game, God, it’s so thick it’s stifling. You wish you could cut it with a knife.

    Man, I need to play it again.

    • RedViv says:

      It is one of those rare cases in which the developers exactly know how to not just realise their aesthetic vision for a game in spite of, but even emphasise it with, the limitations of the game engine and hardware.

      • Premium User Badge

        Earl-Grey says:

        Yes, precisely!
        Make due with what you have and let the audience gloss over the rough spots with imagination and suspension of disbelief.

        Somewhat of topic, but still a PS2 beaut:
        Shadow of The Colossus. Damn that game looks fantastic, even the barren environments are gorgeous.
        I played on the PS2 when it came and I’m currently replaying the HD version on the PS, it is simply divine.
        – controlling the avatar can be total ARSE sometimes, but it sometimes adds to the atmosphere.

        In other words: power =/= beautiful games.

        I sometimes feel that games have too many graphics these days. Then I remember how much I like graphics.

        • RedViv says:

          I like nice aesthetics. If they come with really advanced graphics, fine with me. But not required. Advanced graphics are never a solution to aesthetic-artistic problems. Possibly even more of a hindrance, seeing how many, many hours you have to put even into the most simple of objects.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            Games that were deemed ahead of their time graphically, technologically, seem hilariously dated now, a few years later.
            Remember how impressed you felt with Half Life? Even the sequel isn’t nearly as pretty as it used to be.
            Games that shoot for just being as realistic as the tech will allow inevitably age quickly. But there are plenty of old games that still look absolutely gorgeous – games that had their own distinct visual style and stuck to it. There’s a good reason why there’s been such a resurgence in heavily stylized pixel art, and it’s not by any means because it’s easy or lazy. Good tech becomes crappy tech in just a few years, but a good style is quite possibly timeless.

            I also think horror games have a bit of an advantage in this area? Certainly System Shock 2 is horribly dated now, but still has a certain, hard-to-place visual appeal. It might just be that horror games are never really aiming to be attractive in the first place. Sometimes ugly is good.

          • Toadsmash says:

            Alien Isolation is the obvious counterargument to that idea. Damn that game is pretty.

          • rabbit says:

            actually, i think half life 2 has stood the test of time remarkably well. i still think it’s absolutely beautiful. though yes, i do agree with most of your points otherwise.

    • ulix says:

      Speaking of games from the 6th Generation with amazing aesthetics that still look great today, especially if played with an Emulator:
      Metroid Prime! (and it’s sequels). I still remember how amazed I was by the visual variety and stylishness of that game. No room looked even remotely similar, even simple hallways were always unique and very atmospheric.

      I guess people should play the trilogy version for Wii if they planned on playing it. The Wiimote controls in Prime 3 were good and worked fine. I wish there would’ve been more 1st-Person-Shooters (or generally 1st Person games) for Wii. Definitely superior to playing with analogue sticks.

      • Premium User Badge

        Earl-Grey says:

        YES!
        You, +1, good sir!

        The Gamecube Metroids and the Wii sequel look absolutely spectacular still.
        And the atmosphere in those games, as Kaeoschassis stated above, have an almost palatable je ne sais quois.
        -pretentious, moi?

        I can’t really understand why Nintendo haven’t tried launching a new, proper, Metroid on the Wii U.
        If a game of such pedigree can’t help sell consoles, no game can.

      • GameCat says:

        I’ve recently replayed Spyro on ePSXe. God, how pretty it is with higher resolution. A PSX game, ~15 years old thing. And if you add cartoon shader it looks like something from PS2 era.

  4. RedViv says:

    I do hope Silent Hills will come to the PC. After all, that’s what the FOX Engine was made for. ALL the advanced platforms.
    Most of all though, I hope that it will be as scary as the playable teaser is. That one was genuinely unsettling, to a degree that I only ever experienced in the Project Zero series. Will we have to worry about Kojima doing His Things too much? How much influence does del Toro actually have?

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      I thought about this after watching a playthrough on YouTube. My mind instantly went to Twin Peaks and David Lynch and Mark Frost, where I believe they complemented each other and evened each other out to create something neither one could’ve done on their own; at least, not in the same way. That’s just my own personal hope, of course, because I really want another really great Silent Hill game.

      • scatterbrainless says:

        So many of my favorite creatives work better under some kind of constraint, whether from another person’s input (Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish) or genre conventions (Chandler, Soderbergh). Some people are great when you let them off the chain, some are at their best when they’re straining against it.

    • rabbit says:

      blegh … I hated project zero. played through it with a friend (maybe that was where I went wrong) years back and was somewhere between bored and amused the whole time. gave up on that one real quick.

      don’t doubt that the problem lay with me rather than the game, though, as I’ve heard so many good things about it since.

  5. TheApologist says:

    I have only played Silent Hill 3, and your critique of it rings absolutely true. The aesthetic of the horror seemed self-referential, and ultimately self-regarding, but then there moments…powerful ideas still on show. The industrial soundtrack in particular still lives with me. It was enough to make me think I must go back and seek out 2, I think.

    (Also, this was a great piece – thanks!)

  6. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Have you guys got rid of the Supporter icon for such articles? Made it easy to scan through and find them on the main site is all!

    Either way, wonderful article I must go back and play this.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    “Along with the excellent Shattered Memories, the second game is far superior to its silent siblings”

    OMG yes. Silent Hill 2 love is common but Shattered Memories is really underappreciated. Also some of the best use of the Wii’s unique controls I’ve played.

    • GameCat says:

      For me, Shattered Memories is the pinnacle of the series (with SH2 and SH right behind it) and pinnacle of horror games in general.

  8. DrScuttles says:

    Silent Hill 4 was rightly criticised for repeating its environments and becoming a pain in the bum escort mission, but its atmosphere was superbly bleak and oppressive. I recall first playing it at uni on the communal Xbox in the halls of residence common room late at night. After everyone had retired to their rooms, I’d sneak down and sit illuminated by the telly in the corner with my back to a large, dark empty room; bars on the windows and in need of a lick of paint sort of place. You need to isolate yourself for these things. It was great.

    Great article. Maybe it’s time to go back to Silent Hill.

    • rabbit says:

      so glad you’ve made this point ……. was beginning to think i was the only one that found silent hill 4 absolutely terrifying. remember only snippets of it but one thing in particular that made me absolutely shit myself was that there were enemies that you just couldn’t kill – i remember i think being in the underground (the ‘tube’ or ‘metro’ or ‘subway’ or whatever regional equivalent) and there were these ghost thingies that came out of the walls and JUST_WOULDN’T_DIE.

      yeah, i thought that was a very good one. never finished it though. got stuck …. ahh i can’t remember what it was exactly – it was somewhere between a lighthouse and an asylum if memory serves and there were holes in the walls for the doctors to observe the patients?

      • Premium User Badge

        Adam Smith says:

        The Panopticon. Hideous place that calls back to Foucault!

        link to en.wikipedia.org

      • Antistar says:

        Yes, Silent Hill 4 is underrated. Not nearly as good as SH2, but personally I like it more than SH3. I could never really get into the staid SH1-SH3 “weird cult trying to birth their dark god” storyline.

        SH4 has one of the best representations of ghosts I’ve seen… anywhere, really. And though you can’t kill them, you can permanently trap them by stabbing them into the ground with a special ceremonial sword (that can’t be used as a normal weapon). The game does tell you about this, but maybe it’s not obvious enough about it. Those swords are incredibly rare, too; you can’t go merrily stabbing every ghost you see.

        (… Computer games!)

  9. tumbleworld says:

    Wonderful. Evocative. Disturbing. Great retrospective, Adam. And no, I had no idea SH2 was on PC as well!

  10. Anthile says:

    That was fantastic.

  11. Vartarok says:

    “There was a hole here.
    It’s gone now.”

    That bit from Silent Hill 2 is easily the most horryfing thing I have experienced in any media, not just games. The only stuff that made me feel something comparable is Yume Nikki, and the Winkie’s scene from Mulholland Drive, which I think it’s the real adaptation to cinema of the Silent Hill universe.

    • AyeBraine says:

      Oh my God, I thought I remembered it, but you telling that it’s scary gave ME a vicious flashback. Blood literally left my arms&legs. I never liked horror games or movies (these that just scare you) – but SH2 was more of a Lovecraft/Poe thing. It mesmerized and fucked minds.

      • Synesthesia says:

        The one that got me the most was that room in SH3 where the door locked behind you and a giant mirror showed the room getting corroded by black lines, getting even your reflection, until the image on the mirror FROZE and the lines started manifesting in your own room , through a water pipe. Jesus, I couldnt get out of there fast enough.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Hoo boy. Sounds like this needs to go on the list of things I really need to play some time. Maybe when it’s easier to get, and when I’m better at playing scary games.

  13. funkstar says:

    On the PAL PS2 special edition (and according to google, only on that edition) there was a bonus DVD which had a ton of content about decisions made to increase the feeling of unease. Off the top of my head, things like: the room where the TV gives off the same static as your radio, making you wait for a jump scare that never comes, there’s a room with a dead body that actually is the same model as the main character, though this is a subconscious thing, and finally the really *really* long flight of stairs you have to run down at one point towards the end.

    Im sure the whole thing is on youtube now, but it’s well worth checking out

  14. Wowbagger says:

    Props for the ubik reference; it is a singular experience that left me feeling disquieted in much the same way silent hill 2 did.

  15. Oozo says:

    “Tragedy requires flaws and the game’s narrative of decay is built upon human failings of every kind. It’s a more sorrowful experience than a stack of melancholy ‘art games’.”

    I have to admit that this is the kind of horror that stays with me the longest. One of my favourite horror movies is, for all its obvious flaws, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (also known as Pulse). The most famous scene in the movie, the one where the horrors become manifest for the first time, is just… divine. It’s done with the most simple tools — basically, just some make-up and a dancer in full control of her body –, but it feels at the same time completely otherworldly, uncanny, and profoundly sad. That’s actually the tone of the whole movie: sure, people are dying, and there are supernatural forces lurking somewhere, but in the end, it is just very, very melancholy and sad.

    To a lesser degree, the same is true for the more recent It Follows, a movie that has an enigma so great, simple and original that the director doesn’t really know what to do with it. But he actually grounds the horror in a kind of teenage nostalgia, which elevates the movie to something that really stays with you, long after your nerves have calmed down again.

    It’s rarer in games, which prefer to go for the more easily achievable gross-out and the horror (to use King’s taxonomy) — I think Lone Survivor gets it almost right (and, of course, Jasper Byrne first got known with a demake of Silent Hill 2), and there are hints of it in Deadly Premonition (which is mostly silly in tone, but, in its most glorious moments, also melancholy in a camp way).

    All this said, I have never played Silent Hill 2, but I will do so at the next occasion for certain. Thanks for the write-up (it’s not the first one that showed me that this is a game for me, but it’s the one that is finally tipping me over to actual go and get it).

    • AyeBraine says:

      Please, try it out, download it, borrow it or something. I remember this game silently, wordlessly connecting me and my best mate, in all the darkest and saddest thoughts we could have at that age (and there was a lot – unhappy love stories all around). I mean, we loved it, we happily acknowledged that we both do, BUT WE DIDN’T DISCUSS IT. Even though we’d talk for hours about other games and music.

      • tornflags says:

        Same here… I have so many fond memories about this game. It’s simply, a tragic love story and the only game ever made which I would consider a work of art.

    • Antistar says:

      Ah, I was going to mention Kairo too; my favourite movie, and also the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. It prompted me to spend an awful lot of time in the years since I first saw it looking for other horror movies that are even nearly as good as it. (Not much luck so far.)

      Obligatory public service announcement: If you see this and think “hey, I might check that out… looks like there’s an American remake; guess I’ll watch that one”; don’t do it – it’s a trap! I realise it’s a cliche to say that remakes are worse than the original, but in this case, the remake really is awful. Just awful. Watch the original first, at the very least.

      Anyway, I’ll have to look into It Follows too, by the sound of it; once it comes out.

  16. Toupee says:

    Although I don’t remember much specifically about it, I remember loving Silent Hill 2 when I played it on the Xbox. Maybe that’s a good thing; when I eventually return to it, maybe alone, maybe with a friend who’s never experienced it before, I’ll experience it all over again.

  17. couches says:

    Silent Hill 2 is still my favourite game ever, bar none.

    I found even accidental details just helped the dreamlike quality of it, from James’ ineptitude with weaponry to the voice acting. Which isn’t great but all the actors sound like they’re on hefty doses of valium, which only goes to enhance the dreamy mood of the game.

    And the soundtrack is the only soundtrack for movie or game that I listen to outside it’s context. The disassociated sounds and ebbing flow of it’s tempo are surreal.

    Thanks for a brilliant and lovingly written piece on an amazing game

  18. mpk says:

    I only played through the first two Silent Hills in full, but it never occurred to me to even try any of the further sequels. it’s one of those franchises that was brilliant-but-flawed in its first incarnation, then perfected, never to be bettered, in its second. (Imo, of course.)

    I ran a local video rental store at the time of the first game, and we had a wee sideline in N64 and Playstation game rentals – I remember having to laminate solutions to several of Silent Hill’s trickiest problems and include that in the rental box. Although I much preferred the first game’s atmospheric switching from the real world, where all the streets were named after horror writers, to the Silent Hill of chainlink fences and blood and decay*, the writing in the second was far superior. Also less fundamentally insane. I can still remember the melancholy and the deep, unsettling ambience of the whole experience. Fabulous pair of games.

    *oh god that siren still haunts me

  19. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    not a fan of horror but I really enjoyed reading this!

  20. thekelvingreen says:

    Silent HIll 2 is ace and one of my favourite games of all time. It perfected the formula, which is not bad for the second game in a series.

  21. Kaeoschassis says:

    The Room is the only one in the series I’ve played.
    I loved it to pieces – as much as one can ever love a horror game – but that was years ago. Might just have to see if I can get my hands on Silent Hill 2.
    Either way, fantastic article. And that’s coming from the world’s second most cowardly horror fan. <3

  22. Eight Rooks says:

    Yeah, a great piece, as everyone else has said. I still think blood-and-thunder primal horror can be legitimately frightening – and in a cerebral sense, not merely by way of being over the top or aggressive – but while I don’t know if I’d call Silent Hill 2 the greatest horror videogame ever made it’s certainly in the running. I’m not really sure that it escapes its technical limitations, as some people are suggesting here – it’s not much of a “game”, game, and it’s very much of its time, visually, IMO. But it’s still amazing. I think it’s due in no small part to how astonishingly good that storytelling is, despite the lukewarm writing and the weird, drugged-out voice acting.

    I still remember reading a GameFAQs post from (supposedly) a gay man who related how the game had prompted a conversation between him and his boyfriend over what they’d do if one of them contracted AIDS. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone saying so explicitly that yes, this videogame made me think Deep Thoughts about stuff to do with the real world, and it more or less blew my mind. It was one of the first games to make me think “If games can tell stories this good, why should I settle for less?” …so I suppose it’s one of the main things that turned me into the insufferable snob I am today. ;)

    Thanks for giving The Room some kudos, too. I never did finish it – I couldn’t face the backtracking the first time I played it, and never got round to a serious playthrough in the time I next owned a PS2. But I still think it was an absolutely brilliant opening, even if it did ultimately get suffocated by the series’ silly mythos – I’d argue RPS gets a little too smug and superior over the merits of a lot of genre writing at times (dismissing anything and everything as “fantasy waffling” and the like), but hey, I’m certainly not going to defend Silent Hill’s cultists.

  23. haradaya says:

    This makes me so glad 15 year-old me bought the Director’s Cut PC version on-top of having finished the PS2 version. If I remember right from a few years ago it was pretty painless to setup to work with a 360 controller.

  24. AyeBraine says:

    Thank you for this. The article is amazing! I think in this case, downloading a cracked version via torrents is the perfectly prudent course.

    Silent Hill 2 was unerringly artistic, very precise and, amazingly, after all these years, it never lost a gram of its emotional punch or raw originality. Every scrap of the game was perfectly, even _hopelessly_ connected to characters it brought to life. Nothing, literally nothing was a filler or “just there”. Everything, from the tiniest sound to the smallest texture, was connected. Cutscenes etched themselves on the back of our eyelids. The most “gamey” parts of it didn’t distract – on the contrary, they managed to force your mind further into the plot and the atmosphere.

    I think no game before or since can boast this – a quality usually reserved for films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, or Touch of Evil, or whatever cinema masterpiece you could think of.

    After all, I can’t remember a game that started by showing us the cheesiest and most banal “looking at the mirror” shot in a dirty restroom, and then made that starting scene haunt us for the whole game, and the years that followed.

  25. Gog Magog says:

    And the voice acting is hilarious! Don’t forget that.

  26. airknots says:

    I know that the genre is different, but the trailer really reminded me of Tomb Raider.

  27. Jake says:

    Silent Hill 2 is my favourite game. I did really like 3 as well, which I think does everything SH2 does better except for the story, I really like Heather as a character, it has better graphics and less annoying combat (although I think being crap at combat is essential to a SH game, there are still some bits in SH2 that are just maddening), it’s a really solid game in it’s own right. And The Room had pretty much the best concept I have ever seen in a game or book or film – you wake your apparentment that has been sealed from the inside with a warning to never leave – fantastic. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to that initial promise.

    But SH2 is in a league of it’s own when it comes to storytelling in games. I think what’s telling is that you have to compare it to films or books – A Tale of Two Sisters is a great example because it’s so crushingly sad when you finish but you aren’t so sure why, and you can analyse all these scenes and their meanings, just like you can with SH2. Mulholland Dr. mention up the thread is another good one.

    I can’t think of another game where you can do that. For me, the feeling I was left with after I finished SH2 and sat down to think about what it all meant has not been duplicated in another game. I’ve had it when reading some Ligotti, or with the film Martyrs (another story about suffering, empathy and extreme body horror).

    I will play Silent Hills if I can but I have to admit I am not expecting that much from it. I think SH2 just felt personal, it felt like you were playing/reading something that really meant something to someone and it was a bit worrying how much they had put into the game. I don’t expect Hills to do that, although I have no doubt it will be a well polished experience. Also having a recognisable actor doesn’t work for me, that seems to add an extra level of detachment to the experience.

    Oh and another vote for the soundtrack being excellent, not just the sound design. The voice acting has grown on me too, quite Lynchian in the way they sound drugged, like they are not talking to each other or are slightly out of sync.

  28. racccoon says:

    Incredible work & depth.

  29. dethtoll says:

    I still have my old copy. I played it for the first time in some years last year, and despite it looking like butt on my widescreen TV (older PS2 games have trouble not looking like ass on anything newer than a CRT) it was still just as good as I remember it.

    As long as we’re talking about Silent Hill, though, it behooves me to link to some Silent Hill inspired music.

    Without further ado, I give you the ambient black metal band Axis of Perdition and their all-ambient sideproject Pulsefear.

    The former is scary and unsettling. The latter is straight up sinister (and well worth the 5 bucks and month-long wait)

  30. Gesadt says:

    what does “stunted and quasi-Freudian erotic urge” even mean? isnt that just saying James had good-ol nurse fetish?

  31. CloudPS says:

    £40, wow. In Germany it’s way cheaper (20€ = £15 at amazon).

    Hm, I would sell my copy (Silent Hill 2 Director’s Cut PC) for the prize of a RPS subscription + shipment = £25. If somebody wants the game (and help me get a subscription): mostral @ gmx.de. I hope it’s okay to post this here…

  32. Valkyr says:

    “The sense of being at the border of reality, of scratching and bruising the liminal”

    Oxforddictionaries says liminal is not a noun? What does it mean?

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      It’s an adjective that has become a noun here because I’m sort of leaving a gap after it, even though there’s a full stop – ‘the liminal [fill in the blank].” I think to write the ‘liminal state’ sounds clumsier, but the meaning is more or less the same.

      I like that construction but I also like bludgeoning language with a steel pipe.

      • deejayem says:

        There must be a name for that, an adjective used as a noun. It’s a fairly common construction – rob the rich to feed the poor, etc. For what it’s worth, Adam, I think your use of language is far more scalpel than steel pipe. (Erm, that was meant to be a compliment.)

        • Lamb Chop says:

          It’s formally known as an adjectival noun, and it’s generally used when referring to a class of things with that attribute or an abstract concept. So, no, not really, hah.

          link to en.wikipedia.org

  33. asthasr says:

    So, I just picked up on something… the “Paradise” neon light in the bar is clearly and obviously formed in the shape of a pregnant woman, with rounded breasts and belly, rather than the typical “truckers’ mud flaps” style of woman’s silhouette. It makes for a contrast with Maria…

  34. Premium User Badge

    DantronLesotho says:

    I didn’t know SH2 was available outside of emulation, so that is good to hear. I really wish they would port all of them to Steam though; I would love to go through them again. I’ve always been partial to SH1 because I like the open world feel to it even though it really wasn’t, but I think SH2 is superior in game design, story, and everything. One of the best games ever made IMO and well deserving of its praise.

    Now if we could get them to just stop making Pyramid Head clones…

    Edit: also, could you specify in the images which ones are from SH2 and which ones aren’t? The giant woman’s head is from 4 and the diner is from another one; Shattered Memories maybe (haven’t played that yet). But it’s not from 2.

  35. Synesthesia says:

    SH 1, 2 and 3 made me. Oh my. I really, really miss this school of design. Thank god for walking simulators, they are the ticket back. Tremendous piece, thanks for writing this.

  36. Alien says:

    I love horror games but I have never played a Silent Hill game. After reading this great article, I will definitely play SH2 and Shattered Memories.

    May I ask some questions:

    1.) Is SH2 (PC) playable with mouse and keyboard or do I need a gamepad?
    2.) Shattered Memories is only available for Wii or PS2? Is emulation a viable option?