Are you sure you want to blow out those candles? It’s pretty dark in here…
It was one of those games that a generation played without parental supervision, and regretted it. With denser fog than a Beijing barbecue and more twisted creatures than a children’s beauty pageant, the too-much-late-night-cheese nightmare that is Silent Hill 2 turns 15 years old today.
All too often in gaming, the horror genre falls short of the truly frightening. Layers of graphic violence, waves of hideous freaks and ghouls, and replayed horror clichés smeared thick over a crispy base of jump scares. Sure, it’s nasty, but is it enough to truly conjure that awful creeping sensation as something watches you from the darkness? The lurch of hopelessness when you realise that you don’t know where you are? So how did Silent Hill 2 reach out and haunt players in such a way, that we’re talking about it fifteen years later?
Instead of from the perspective of a seasoned hero, a fearless and strong protagonist equipped with the skills and the will to survive the terror, true fear comes from being as far from a position of strength as can be. It comes from being unprepared and under-equipped for the unknown, the knowledge that death can come so easily and terribly, or simply by having no idea what the hell is going on. This is when Silent Hill 2 gives us James Sunderland, an unremarkable and unnervingly normal man, and drags us kicking and screaming into the gloomy depths of his own personal hell.
Awkward and uneven combat boosted the player’s sense of vulnerability. The persistent fog that engulfed the town of Silent Hill shrouded the terrible unknown (and conveniently, the limited draw distance available) to keep the player feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The invincible and relentless manifestation of James’ own pain and self-loathing, Pyramid Head; became one of the most iconic horror monsters of all time. A horrifying ‘otherworld’ which forces the player to question whether the nightmares are real or not. This is how Silent Hill 2 forged for itself such a solid fan base, and secured Silent Hill’s future as a psychological horror franchise.
Fifteen years, five games, and two unpopular forays into feature films later, Silent Hill 2 is still the franchise’s defining moment, one which the series has struggled to surpass in this last decade and a half. Now, all hopes of a revival appear to have been crushed by the doomed ‘Silent Hills’, the rejuvenation co-creation between the father of Metal Gear, Hideo Kojima, Norman ‘Daryl Dixon’ Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro that appears to have mutated into the mysterious Death Stranding. It seems that Silent Hill has slipped into an endless, hazy void of its own. Possibly controlled remotely by a maniacally adorable little dog (who saw that coming?).
It’s clear today that Silent Hill 2 is atop the great gaming shelf alongside the relics of a bygone gaming era, but its appeal lives on as a true classic, an original innovator of video game storytelling, and gaming’s first true psychological horror – something even modern day titles simply haven’t matched.
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