The announcement of the remake inspired this Silent Hill 2 review. For a good reason, this has often been hailed as one of the greatest horror games of all time. When Silent Hill 2 came out in 2001, nobody had ever seen anything like it.
Silent Hill 2 was an extremely mature and artistic achievement from a major publisher that also pushed technology in a striking way. Today, it will still impress with its ingenious approach to its visuals, without current day effects or rendering tech.
How well does Silent Hill 2 hold up? The gameplay is very standard “Resi-Like” design; something that may not impress gamers today. Many indie devs have made a career lifting from Team Silent’s playbook. Are their inspirations warranted? Can the upcoming remake live up to the unbelievably high standard set by the 2001 original? Find out in this Silent Hill 2 review!
Silent Hill 2
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 (as part of the Silent Hill HD Collection), PlayStation 3 (as part of the Silent Hill HD Collection), Xbox, PlayStation 2 (reviewed)
Release Date: September 24, 2001
Silent Hill 2 is often thought of as one of the most deliberately designed horror games ever made. While it is true that Team Silent are masters of their craft, a lot of what makes Silent Hill 2‘s uncanniness is pure lightning in a bottle.
Accounting for the weird PlayStation 2 architecture and localization choices, Silent Hill 2 ends up with a totally unique flavor. The non-actors deliver unusual lines with a stilted cadence that makes each scene feel like a terribly awkward dream. These aspects work together with the psychological story that makes the experience feel all the more surreal.
When the inevitable remake comes, it will likely polish off all the qualities that made Silent Hill 2 so iconic. You won’t be left with much, other than another third-person, over-the-shoulder game wearing the skin of a familiar loved one. It’s deeply ironic that Silent Hill 2 is about spending time with a profane imitation of someone who’s death you refuse to accept.
Silent Hill 2 begins ominously with James Sunderland receiving a letter from his dead wife. In the letter, she says she will be waiting for him at their “special place”, in the town of Silent Hill. In a disturbed state of mind, James heads out to the town and it isn’t long before what lies in the pit of his fears begin to manifest.
James isn’t the only troubled person in Silent Hill, there are other characters who are also dealing with their trauma that he will encounter. Due to the events in the first game, this quiet town is haunted by a psychic spiritual power that can literally make your dreams come true. In the case of this story, it is the subconscious of the characters that is given physical forms.
The manifestations come in many varieties. The most common are the surreal, abstract monsters that make God very angry. These things are unbelievably unnerving and are not scary in the traditional sense. They make the player feel sick, disturbed, and also feel kind of pathetic – yet you absolutely want to stay as far away from them as possible.
There was a lot of care put into the design of everything in Silent Hill 2. The entire game is steeped in symbolism and has subtle cues that hint at greater implications. The way the mechanics of how the town are able to do this is kept deliberately vague. It isn’t important to the story, but anyone who wants to know should play the original Silent Hill on PlayStation.
Creating physical manifestations of trauma and repression that want to kill you is only one way Silent Hill 2 messes with the player. The world design and layouts are crafted in a way to put the gamer in a state of confusion and disorientation. The symbolic fog always clouds the way, like the state of mind of the characters themselves.
Everything holds up beautifully in spite of being a very early PlayStation 2 game. Models are very detailed and textures have a palpable verisimilitude that makes everything feel real. The dank derelict apartments look like they smell like mold and the lighting effects from James’ flashlight give a powerful impression.
Silent Hill 2 has a filthy and sickly quality to its visuals. Given the themes of the narrative and where the story goes, it is very appropriate. All of the imagery is further bolstered by Akira Yamaoka’s impeccable music and sound design.
The most haunting sounds that will make your blood run cold will be heard while roaming Toluca Prison. The creatures sound utterly inhuman and yet still are able to convey uncanny emotion with their noises.
Yamaoka’s eerie and somber score is the signature of Silent Hill 2‘s atmosphere and for the series at large. The dreamy tones in the more relaxing areas have some slow hip-hoppy elements. The nightmarish sequences tend to go full industrial noise – the kind of sound that drives a person mad and makes their muscles clench in tension.
Silent Hill 2 isn’t a case of style over substance; the gameplay is still gripping and thrilling as it ever was. Like most survival-horror games from the early 2000s, Silent Hill 2 relies on exploring, puzzles, and combat. Puzzles and exploration are especially emphasized over combat in this instance.
Combat in Silent Hill 2 is a means to an end. This is a game from a genre that was born out of point-and-click adventure, not action. Most battles are a choice and are more used to establish tension between the player and the environment which may or may not have a monster lurking.
Having a choice of weapons of varying properties puts players in a state of mind that there is a real chance of overcoming a threat or dying. Many modern horror games lose this when they opt for no combat or hide-and-seek style gameplay. Silent Hill 2‘s combat is as standard as it gets for 2000s era horror game, but at least James can move+attack unlike S.T.A.R.S. members.
The real fun of Silent Hill 2 is in navigating its settings and piecing together its mysteries, while avoiding confrontations where possible. Exploring labyrinthine levels, collecting esoteric puzzle items, and experiencing gradual change in the area is where the game is elevated to a masterpiece and it is so carefully executed.
The way the developers toy with expectations is also a stroke of genius. Some choices may seem like questionable direction, but it is all done for a higher purpose in mind. A good early example is the very long hike from James’ car, to the town. The sound effects and level design ramp up the tension as the player will ponder how far they’ve gone and must continue.
Silent Hill 2‘s best moments are when the game uses psychology on the player, and it does it a lot. Some parts that affect the ending are handled in a very organic way- purely relying on the player’s actions over a menu or dialogue choice.
The puzzles in Silent Hill 2 still rank as some of the best. There are a lot of them and there is also a difficulty setting for how difficult they can be. This is wonderful and very forward thinking on the developer’s part. Gamers can choose to have a lighter experience when it comes to dealing with foes, but get to really be challenged when it comes to solving the riddles.
To solve many of these quandaries, expect to pay close attention to the various notes and environmental details. Even on the easiest riddle setting, there is no brute forcing a way past these. Silent Hill 2 is a game that respects the player and does not treat them like a child.
There is also a lot of fun to be had with new game plus. Replays with a good rank can net players secret weapons and bonus endings. Silent Hill 2 has six endings – two of them are joke endings and are totally worth the effort to earn for a good laugh.
Silent Hill 2 is very modern and forward-thinking in its design. Gamers who struggle with tank-controls and fixed camera angles get an option that offers relative analog movement. The various modes that allow anyone to get to experience makes it incredibly accessible.
Unfortunately, Silent Hill 2 has become rare and cost-prohibitive, ranging past the $100 mark in eBay listings. The HD Collection is not a preferred way to experience this classic. It is rife with bugs, crashes and horrendous slowdown. If you want to play Silent Hill 2, be sure it is on the PlayStation 2, the extended cut on Xbox, or look into the fan-made “enhanced edition” that is currently in development.
Survival horror games are often made to be cheap thrills. The fact is that the horror genre can be some of the most thought-provoking experiences a gamer can have while gaming. To be effective at making the player feel real fear, a good horror game should be psychological and Silent Hill 2 is the gold-standard.
Silent Hill 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 2 using a copy purchased by Nichegamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Silent Hill 2 is now available for Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2.