Silent Hill 2 was released over 20 years ago, yet it still remains the most horrifying game I’ve played.
Granted, I’m a gigantic baby and don’t play all that many horror games, I’d rather watch other people do that while seated several feet away from my screen. But something about this game drew me in and stuck with me long after the end-credits rolled.
The premise is fairly simple: you play as James Sunderland who has come to the mysterious town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife telling him to meet her there. Which is odd, considering his wife has been dead for three years.
The town is creepy, as you might expect, with fog that keeps you from seeing further than a few feet ahead, and monsters lurking all around. These monsters aren’t just grotesque spooky abominations, there’s much more to them than that.
Each monster in the game represents something about James’ psyche. Many of them take highly sexualized or feminine shapes to represent his sexual frustration, while others represent his repressed aggression, guilty, or distorted perception of reality.
The town itself mirrors James’ mind as well. The further you explore the town, the more otherworldly and completely unnatural it becomes. Words scrawled along the walls that, earlier on just seemed like random graffiti, become messages that address James by name. Later on, the game has James descend a staircase and fall through holes in the ground far deeper than should be humanly possible. This comes just as you’re starting to delve into the truth of what’s going on in James’ mind.
Adding to the horror of the game are the other people still left in Silent Hill. Strangely enough, the town isn’t entirely abandoned. There’s a few people still around that you’ll run into throughout the game.
Yet, seeing another human isn’t a moment of comfort or warmth. They’re not outrightly hostile or anything. They’re just off, somehow. Their dialogue is often stilted and unnatural, and you get this sense that they’re not seeing the same things that you are.
I think, more than anything, the interactions with the other humans in the town are what stuck with me. Talking to people and really not being able to understand or connect with them, and getting a feeling that you’re both in entirely separate worlds; that was painfully relatable. It’s that familiar feeling of being surrounded by people, but still feeling that they’re so far away from you. The people in Silent Hill aren’t there to comfort you, they’re there to make you feel alone. To remind you just how isolated you are here.
But you do get to know these people, at least somewhat. You find out what brought them to Silent Hill, and what’s keeping them here. It’s through their stories, as well as James’, that Silent Hill 2 explores themes of abuse, mental health, sexuality, guilt and grief.
Often, horror is whittled down into bite-size pieces. There’s a scary serial killer or demon or whatever, and it jumps out at you in the theater to spook you. And then when you go home, you might be a little more wary of the shadows in the hallway, but after a little while you’ll get over it. And that’s the point. It’s supposed to be entertaining, and you’re not meant to think about it too much after.
But Silent Hill 2 is different. It worms its way into your brain and demands to be unpacked, for its many layers of symbolism and meaning to be unraveled. The fog-covered, personal hell of Silent Hill stays with you. Silent Hill 2 is a psychological horror in the truest sense of the term, and an essential experience for anyone that has even the slightest sense of fondness for the genre.