Silent Hill 2: “For me, it’s always like this” (Part 1)

I’m not ashamed to admit it: horror games scare the crap out of me. And yet I love them, and none more so than the Silent Hill series.

When Resident Evil was released in 1996, it ushered in a new era of “survival horror” games. Technology had finally reached the point where a game could be truly immersive and scary.

Well, not that scary.

Three years later, Silent Hill was released on the Playstation, and while both series were lumped into the horror genre, they each had a distinctive way of eliciting scares. RE relied more on surprising the player, such as the infamous hallway early in the first game in which a Cerberus (the game’s zombie hounds) bursts through a window without warning.


Silent Hill, conversely, creates atmospheric, psychological horror – a lingering feeling of creeping dread that pervades the entire game. Sometimes you wish something would jump out at you just to break the tension.

Let me put it this way: many games have some sort of disclaimer at the beginning, warning the player that they contain violence, sex, foul language, etc. Silent Hill 2 bears the following (refreshingly blunt) disclaimer: “There are violent and disturbing images in this game.”

The fact that they specifically warn about disturbing images says a lot. I wouldn’t categorize Silent Hill games as excessively gory, considering that they are horror games, but they are certainly disturbing, and in a more subtle way than the ol’ dog-through-the-window gag.

This difference extends to the player-characters as well. In Resident Evil you play as a badass special ops agent and wield a Rambo-like arsenal including machine guns and grenade launchers. In Silent Hill, on the other hand, you play as an everyman who gets winded if he (or she) runs for too long.

Running is hard, I know.

I consider Silent Hill 2 (released for the PS2 in 2001) to not only be the best in the series, but one of the best video game narratives of all time. The series is known for having deeply symbolic plots that rely more on player interpretation than anything else.

And there’s a whole hell of a lot to interpret. Check out the plot analyses over at GameFAQs. In particular, note user SilentPyramid’s document, which analyzes the first four games in the series and is 213 PAGES LONG. Dude could have written a doctoral thesis with less time and effort.

I’ll try to be concise here, but the point is that there’s a lot going on here, and I can’t hope to do it justice the way others have.

(Warning: Spoilers!)

Setting the Stage:

Silent Hill is a fictional town in the Northeastern US. It was evidently a popular tourist destination until a cult turned it into a fog-shrouded hell. Periodically it will alternative between the “normal” Silent Hill – which is scary enough – and the “Other World,” a nightmarish industrial hellscape.

The town is also now a reflection of a person’s soul, where any guilt, shame, or hatred they hold on to will become manifest. In other words, Silent Hill appears different to different people.

As Silent Hill 2 begins, James Sunderland is just arriving at the eponymous town, having received a letter from his wife Mary instructing him to meet her at their “special place,” which he presumes to be the Lakeside Hotel in Silent Hill, where they once vacationed.

Wait, did I mention that Mary had died of an illness three years earlier? That’s probably important to note.

So James ventures through the mostly abandoned town. On his way he meets a few curious characters, most notably a woman named Maria who is physically identical to Mary, but her dress and mannerisms are noticably more provocative. At one point James and Maria must pass through an abandoned… gentlemen’s club… to which Maria inexplicably has the key.

Hey there.

Among the monsters that plague James throughout his journey is Pyramid Head, who has oddly become a sort of unofficial mascot for the series. According to Konami, his name is technically “Red Pyramid,” but since that name is never said within the game and he has a pyramid for a head, people just call him Pyramid Head.

Look who brought a knife to a gun fight.

The Scenes:

Pyramid Head kills Maria. Then he kills her again. And again. Each time Maria reappears later on with no explanation for the whole coming-back-to-life thing. Keep this in mind for later.

To be continued…


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