Playing an HD remake of an old favorite.
The graphics are almost good as I remember. (Certainly better than they actually were). We join James Sunderland as he searches for his dead wife Mary. After receiving a letter from her beckoning him to Silent Hill, he embarks on a journey of trauma and madness. One of the things that jumps out to me immediately is the changes to the music in the HD remaster. The music is one of the most celebrated aspects of the game—why change it?
Despite a difference of only two years, the sequel’s graphics hold up much better than the first entry into the series. Silent Hill 2 represents the quintessential horror game for many people I know (that is called a convenience sample if you didn’t know). The thought is that this game hits all of the right notes all the time. So, how does it hold up? It has been years since I replayed this game.
First impressions, the game is as I remember. The voice acting still isn’t great, there are awkward pauses throughout. The music (which has changed) still packs an atmospheric punch. I do not remember the growls when I first descend toward to the graveyard to meet Angela (more on her later). Overall, it feels familiar in a good way.
(Note: This review is going to have some spoilers)
Characters (the ones I see as most important)
James Sunderland: James’ story is interesting. It is hard to say whether or not he is a “good” guy. The fact that Silent Hill has summoned him to torture him means there has been some sort of trauma in his life. I remember feeling more sympathy for him when I was younger. Now I question everything about him. In this way, the game seems to be better played as an adult. I take the narrative less at face value now.
A gripe I do have with James is his absurd dialogue with people. His interactions seem completely unaware of the reality of the situation surrounding him. The latter portions of the game, where James realizes what is happening, is when he starts to be become a more understandable character. The limitations of the medium are in part what holds him back.
Angela Orosco: Angela is perhaps one of the most interesting characters to be put into a videogame, and also probably the most tragic. Her story arc allows the game to transcend basic “play” and become a form of genuine criticism and art. The trauma that Angela has experienced is clear from the first moment you meet her, and it becomes a central point of the interactions with her.
The manifestation of Angela’s father as a monstrous door is one of the most powerful images in a videogame. As we discover that Angela’s father sexually abused her, the door makes sense. It is the door behind which the abuse occurred. To see such a traumatic event covered so symbolically and seriously in a video game is in small part what makes this narrative transcend most others.
The final scene involving Angela, which reveals that her world is literally on fire and the pain is constant, is incredibly powerful. There is no escape from trauma within this series. Perhaps the most shocking admission is when Angela says that her mother thought she deserved the abuse. This singular statement encapsulates more horror than countless other games, films, or books.
Maria: The doppelganger of James’ wife, or manifestation of James’ guilt, provides an interesting character. Maria challenges James in interesting ways through guilt and sarcasm. Her constant deaths force him to relive his trauma constantly. I think her actions could be an affirmation of James’ guilt/cruelty toward his late wife.
Much of Maria’s dialogue could easily be directly spoken from Mary. James’ willingness to leave her in danger, or alone, and his questionable caring are things that appear present in his previous relationship.
Eddie Dombrowski: Eddie is given perhaps the least charming introduction a character has ever received in a video. Complete with plumbers’ crack and an endless stream of vomit… James’ awkward introduction whilst the man barfs makes me laugh. In a game full of interesting characters, I have never fully understood Eddie’s purpose. He isn’t likable, or relatable, but he has been summoned to Silent Hill, same as James.
Why would anyone eat pizza in Silent Hill? Who would eat after such epic vomiting?
I get that Eddie represents what can happen when the town eventually destroys the individual’s psyche, but man, he sure is annoying. He does represent the tragedy of bullied victims, but he unfortunately doesn’t work as well as a character as Maria or Angela.
Pyramid Head: Possibly the most recognizable villain in horror videogames. A creature created to punish James for the guilt he feels. Pyramid Head is one of the greatest creations in the entire Silent Hill series. One of the most memorable bosses ever.
This game (more than the first) works to create the place of Silent Hill. The town seems to have a literal mind of its own. How it chooses to manifest itself differs from person to person. The setting is one of the finest aspects of this game (though it is easy to get lost sometimes). There is a hint of familiarity, but enough has changed or been added to where it is still unclear what lurks around each corner.
The opening of the game bombards you with fewer enemies than the first entry in the series. This helps the setting come into its own a bit more. However, there are so many trash enemies that it becomes easier to simply move around them than to bother fighting them. This is a bit of an issue with a lot of games. Too many enemies does not automatically make a game scarier. After a while, smashing the enemies lacks any sort of punch, and their scares diminish quickly. Further, with the radio chirping the whole time, it hurts the atmosphere. I might be harping on this point a bit too much, but the atmosphere is the best aspect of this game, and to have it hurt by something so simple is bothersome.
For example, the first encounter with the freaked-out mannequin monsters in the apartment is tense. Running across crap in the streets isn’t. Seeing Pyramid Head through the bars, staring back at you—now that is scary. The subtle things are where this game excels.
Claustrophobia is embraced throughout much of the game. Feeling trapped adds to the suspense and terror that the player experiences. Also, being trapped with two Pyramid Heads pretty much sucks. Then you get to encounter the worst enemy of all—the camera!
As the environments become more decrepit, the claustrophobia and darkness closes in. I think this is one of the best aspects of the game. It feels like things are decaying around you as you search. As you descend deeper, the game continues to feel more like a one-way trip. Although you do circle back to several areas, forcing James to jump down so many holes gives the impression that you are committing to something you can’t turn back from—this is where the game is truly scary. The checkpoint system hadn’t been made yet, so you could easily trap yourself in an area while ill-equipped.
James doesn’t run like he is about to crap his pants (which puts him above Harry), but he still moves with the grace of a drunk hippopotamus. The actual movements of the characters have been a limitation of the series more or less as a whole. The gunplay feels a bit tighter, and the melee swings are more responsive. However, you don’t play this game for the combat.
The exploration and the puzzles are top notch in this game. The player is rewarded for doing their due diligence in searching each area. There is a genuine level of thought that must be put into most puzzles, and this is something I miss in modern games. Puzzles seem to either be the sole focus or an afterthought anymore.
The boat trip. That boat trip sucks.
The gameplay holds up surprisingly well, overall. There is a grace in the simplicity of it all—not a whole lot can go wrong when the character is limited. It isn’t the most exciting action, but the story propels the game all the way through.
Aside from Eddie, the characters all work incredibly well. The tragedy of trauma and guilt as a horror manifestation is done with adeptness in this game. It is amazing how much it still stands up as a masterpiece after so many years. The story is told through every action, room, puzzle, and piece of dialogue. The team that created this game had a singular vision, and it paid off greatly. This classic deserves its place as being one of the greatest horror games ever made.
Drive off the bridge and all is revealed. An absolute tragedy. This is art. 10/10