Whilst Resident Evil has come out on top of the survival horror genre there is another game that has long been a close competitor, a series that might not be as big, and might not feature as much action and adventure, but in many ways is a lot more frightening, and pushes the horror part of survival horror: the Silent Hill series.
Following the critical success of the first game, as well as the fact that it sold enough units to enter the ‘Playstation Greatest Hits’ line, a sequel was quickly put into the works for the new horror series. With Konami having little information about the upcoming Xbox and GameCube they decided to focus their attention on crafting the game for the new Playstation 2; this allowed them to bring new graphics and flare to the series, allowing for the team to create a more dynamic and disturbing environment than the first game.
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The story of the game had almost no connections to the first, something that was something of a surprise at the time of its release, as many were expecting it to return to the story of Harry Mason. Instead, the game centres on James Sunderland, a man who receives a letter from his dead wife, Mary, claiming that she is alive and well and waiting for him in the town of Silent Hill, where the two of them holidayed together in the past. James heads to Silent Hill looking for answers, but finds a deserted, fog covered town filled with bizarre, nightmarish monsters.
Not long after arriving in Silent Hill James comes across a woman named Maria, who looks exactly like Mary. Maria claims she has no knowledge of who James is, and the two of them work together to get through the town. Unfortunately, a monstrous entity called Pyramid head appears and kills Maria. Despite watching her die at the hands of the monster James later finds Maria alive and well, until she is once again killed by more of the monsters. James soon comes to the realisation that he’s being punished for killing Mary years before, smothering her as she lay dying in hospital, and that the creatures of the town are aspects of his broken psyche come to torment him for his crime.
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Whilst the first game in the series dealt with supernatural forces, and delved into the history of the town and explained some of what was going on, Silent Hill 2 takes a very different approach to its story. It’s not concerned with some grand narrative related to the town and the creatures that make it their home; instead focusing on one man’s journey and his guilt over what he’s done in his past. This not only makes the game feel a lot more focused, but it also leads to some interesting development choices too.
There are clues scattered throughout the game thanks to other people that James meets in Silent Hill, also apparently being punished for crimes in their past, whilst the creatures that follow him and try to kill him were all designed to reflect parts of Jame’s subconscous, as well as an element of humanity. One of the most obvious examples of this is the creature that would become the most iconic monster of the entire franchise, Pyramid Head. This tall, hulking creature was designed to evoke ideas of an executioner, one who has come to punish James for his crime and bring justice for Mary. The creature was also, according to artist Masahiro Ito, designed with a rusted, jagged metal head to evoke ideas of pain, as well as sexual frustration that James felt towards his wife as she was dying.
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This focus, this care in the design and functions of the monsters was definitely an improvement over the first game, and led to a much more visceral reaction to the scares. And the scares in this game work so well, allowing for the slow build of atmosphere, with disturbing sound effects and strange music creating an ever pervading sense of unease, unlike other horror games that rely on jumps and big moments to frighten the player.
Upon its release the game was very well received, with high review scores from critics and excellent sales figures. The game went on to become one of the most beloved of the series, and was ported to other consoles, as well as receiving a HD re-release a decade later. Possibly one of the best examples of the Silent Hill series, Silent Hill 2 is a game every horror fan should make time to try out.
Silent Hill 2 was released on 24th September 2001.