Silent Hill 2 is a Survival Horror game developed by Team Silent and published by Konami in 2001. Although it was originally meant for the PlayStation 2, it was soon re-launched for the Xbox and Windows.
As the name suggests, Team Silent was responsible for developing the first deliveries of the franchise. After their unexpected success with the first game, Konami decided to bet on this group that had once been tasked with making a clone of Resident Evil.
Far from continuing to work on a minimal budget and with no supervision, Team Silent had the time and support necessary to exploit all their creativity. Therefore, on September 24, 2001, Silent Hill 2 was released, debated as one of the best horror titles in the history of video games.
History and context
The story puts the player in the shoes of James Sunderland, a seemingly ordinary man who receives a letter from his wife Mary. The letter’s content is a citation to meet her again in Silent Hill, a town they used to visit when they went on vacation.
The twist to this is the fact that although the letter was written recently and is undoubtedly from her, Mary has been dead for years. However, James decides to accept the invitation and investigate. So, with him looking in the mirror outside the town, the adventure begins.
Although it takes place in the same location, the title has no connection to the previous installment, whose story revolved around a cult trying to revive an evil god. Therefore, not only none of the previous characters make any return, but the story changes completely. In this case, the function of the city is to attract souls in pain and confront them with their worst nightmares, where they are forced to overcome their traumas or sink into madness.
In this way, each person who enters the cursed town has a different experience and even though they share the same physical space, they may be seeing different things. This premise works perfectly to portray one of the main characteristics of the game: isolation.
Puzzles and psychological horror
While other franchises like Resident Evil were throwing their characters into an apocalyptic world occupied by various threats from all sides, Silent Hill pointed to something else. The number of enemies is much smaller, but they represent some part of the protagonist’s distorted psyche, like a personal hell.
The feeling of loneliness becomes more intense when, unlike its zombie-based counterpart, the few humans the game presents are not trustworthy. The open spaces are only connectors of the main areas, which for the most part, do not use all the space on the screen and generate a feeling of confinement and claustrophobia.
The title is mostly oriented towards puzzle solving. Most of them are not difficult but force the player to do backtracking and not be able to leave a certain location, which always awaits him with a new surprise. Similarly, their difficulty can be chosen, an indicator that the idea of the developers is not to present a challenge, but a story and an experience.
James, the unlikeable protagonist
The game features tank controls, easy choice for the survival horrors entries of that era. This style perfectly represents how the use of the main character should feel. Unlike the classic heroes, James is an average man, he has no combat training and is not even in shape.
This is evident during the game, where he has little resistance to run and very slow and frustrating speed of reaction when attacking. As a consequence, when a weapon is obtained, one does not feel empowered, just possesses a new survival tool.
This fits perfectly with the premise of the title, which is to gut the players from any sense of comfort, confidence, and tranquility.
The other keys to success
One of the great reasons why Silent Hill achieved the success it does today is its audiovisual performance. In the graphic part, the most technical aspect is obtained by mixing pre-rendered scenarios, full-motion, and real-time videos. These techniques are perfectly blended in different game situations and achieve a great sense of immersion in both cutscenes and gameplay.
However, the visuals shine even brighter in creative decisions. The developers chose a cold palette for the outdoors and places where confinement is more prevalent. In the most open places, fog surrounds the player and forbids him to see too much of the map, generating insecurity in every step.
In closed spaces, darkness absorbs the screen and it is impossible to see outside of James’ flashlight, so a feeling of confinement and anxiety is shared with him. On the other hand, when the city is devoured by the world of nightmares and the enemies are a more real threat, the aesthetics also take a turn.
The palette becomes warm and threatening, staining the walls with different shades of industrial and rusty browns, yellows and oranges, characteristic of the franchise. Similarly, these two facets have in common a very low saturation and intensity of vivid colors, generating a visual discomfort at all times.
Sound effects and music are other vital components of the game. The music composed by Akira Yamaoka, the most popular figure of Team Silent, is made up of low-beat tones and induces a state of melancholy and loneliness.
The title also provides the player with a radio, which emits an interference that gradually increases its intensity if there are enemies nearby. This device is a trap by the developers, which with the excuse of helping the user, generates a squeaky sound effect that quickly induces paranoia.
Finally, the entities that appear have their sound effects. These are coupled with the ones on the radio and when they are damaged or killed, emit very disturbing, dry, and grotesque sounds.
In short, Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece. Each component of the game works in perfect harmony to convey a feeling of helplessness to the player. Without getting into spoiler territory, the script is excellently crafted, addressing issues of depression, frustration, and neglect.
Several years after its release, the title aged well and is still a reference of modern terror, which can hardly expect to see a release like this again.
Image credits: TeamSilent