This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Silent Hill 2.
My infrequent habit of pausing mid-rant to drop to my knees and wrap my lips around old favourite titles of mine is well-established, and over the last two years Silent Hill 2 has barely had time to wipe my saliva off week-to-week. I guess I've been saving this for a special occasion, but what could be more special than my 102nd video!
*Party whistle blowing*
Sorry. You see, Silent Hill 2 isn't just a game I think is good; Silent Hill 2 is the game I replay every now and again to remind myself that for all the shiny brown, quick-time event, RPG element space marines, gaming is still worth defending. If I were Batman, Silent Hill 2 would be my murdered parents, if you see what I mean.
The strangest thing about it is, from a cold, critical, non-gushy standpoint, the actual gameplay aspect of Silent Hill is kinda shitty. Combat feels like pulling your own teeth out, but then the main characters of the first four games are, respectively, a writer, a clerk, a teenage girl, and a twat, so they're not really supposed to be close-combat powerhouses. But I know they can't all have inner-ear infections, and the camera swings dizzily around like an elastic flail. Most of the puzzles involve looking for various interpretations of keys for various interpretations of doors, and a lot of them only make sense in unique adventure game logic. There's a bit in Silent Hill 2 where you run around gathering a lighter, a wax doll, and a horseshoe to make a new handle for a trapdoor, all the while obliviously lumping around at least fifteen extremely cumbersome ways you could have prised it open! No, intuitive gameplay isn't Silent Hill's strong point; we're here to get our story on.
Silent Hill 1 set the scene: a resort is set on a spot where a lot of people have been mean to a lot of other people over the years and subsequently has an alarming tendency to shift into evil, foggy versions of itself. Then a load of doofuses run around trying to stop an evil cult from summoning a dark god and ruining the tourist trade. But, being on the PS1, it now looks like an arse made out of Lego, and the level of doofy the doofuses exhibited make it hard to take seriously. Silent Hill 2 was smart enough to realise that the only character worth expanding on from that shower was the town itself. So it took the basic concept of an evil town where you can't use a microlight and took it in a new direction. Now the town had always had some dark power behind it and the events of the first game had just let it come out of its shell somewhat. So, having freed itself from the first rack of doofuses, it was now ready to knuckle down and really start fucking with some heads.
Chief head-fuck recipient for Silent Hill 2 was Jaaaaaaaames Sunderland, a man also not above doofus behaviour. He gets a letter from his wife telling him to come to Silent Hill and pick her up, but they've been estranged for three years on account of her being dead, so he's understandably confused. He's even more confused when he gets there and finds out the whole town is trying to kill him, and those bits of it than aren't appear to be trying to sex him up. There is absolutely nothing physical stopping him from running straight back to his car and going home, maybe picking up a hooker or two on the way back, but he refuses to. He really does give the impression of having nothing else to live for, so he's probably one of those clingy types with no friends, and I guess he spent the last three years banging his head against a wall. But in the ranks of game characters, Jaaaaaames has a special place in my heart. His voice acting is on the usual level for this sort of thing - somewhere between midget height and fifty feet below sea level - but he's complex and tragic and determined and wouldn't be caught dead pressing X to not die.
So, if Silent Hill 2 's story and character make up for dodgy gameplay, why couldn't it just have been a book, or a film, or a zoetrope, rather than a game? Because what it does best - and better than any other game I know - is atmosphere, and that wouldn't work as well in an uninteractive medium, as Christophe Gans discovered to his smelly, baguette-eating cost. The atmosphere is like a foot-thick sheet of whale blubber draped over your head and shoulders. It's the antithesis of Silent Hill: Homecoming 's noisy, frenetic slime beast hoedown. This is the oppressive, crushing dread of being truly alone. Most of the time the town feels totally devoid of life. Even the monsters feel more like wind-up toys than living things. The few humans you find are universally unreliable, behaving in subtly off ways, as if they're not seeing the same things as you are. All the other Silent Hills had at least one normal human sidekick whose job it was to stumble about, making confused noises like: "Bwuh?" But here it's mostly just you, Jaaaaames, and a big, cold, haunted town. And after a while you start to wonder which one of the three is Jaaaames's biggest enemy.
You see, Silent Hill 2 is very good at telling a story without words; everything is drenched in symbolism. The basic monsters are all suspiciously effeminate, with the exception of Pyramid Head (in his first appearance before he totally sold out), an uber-masculine powerhouse repeatedly seen plunging his massive, throbbing knife into the others monsters' moist quivering bodies (which obviously symbolises neo-conservative imperialism). You start to think that Jaaaaaames's nightmare is entirely of his own creation, as if the town is handing him a set of jump leads and watching as he sticks them on his balls. It's a fascinating voyage of pain and despair that leaves you emotionally drained and satisfied, like fucking a burning dolphin.
Silent Hill 3 had some great moments, but made the mistake of continuing the story of the Silent Hill 1 doofus brigade. Silent Hill 4 was more interesting, but the gameplay design misstepped so hard that both its femurs burst out of its legs and rocketed off into the sky. And Origins and Homecoming were the crushingly bland butter sandwiches to Silent Hill 2's glorious meatball footlong. The upcoming Silent Hill: Shattered Memories claims that it will have a psychological test on the start and adjust its content accordingly in order to really into the player's head. Interesting, but it's worth remembering that Silent Hill 2 managed that without needing such a gimmick, with just a doofus, a stick with a nail in it, and a big lad with trigonometry for a face.
- Falling down stairs makes me burp: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe I just really like Silent Hill because it reminds me of all the places my parents used to take me on holiday
- There was a critic here. He's gone now
- ↑ The count in the episode is different from the count of this wiki because the three pre-Escapist episodes and the 2008 clip show are not counted by Yahtzee.