Silent Hill 2 is widely considered one of the best horror games of all time. Whenever there is a list about the scariest games of all time, Silent Hill 2 is almost always near the top of the list or at the top. Anyone who has never played a Silent Hill game may just know the series through its monsters, such as the nurses or the iconic Pyramid Head. But there’s so much more to the series than the monsters. The genius of the Silent Hill series is its subtle use of psychological horror. The series uses an ominous atmosphere, an eerie soundtrack, unsettling camera angles, and an obscured environment to always make players feel uneasy.
But what really makes the Silent Hill series stand out amongst other survival horror games is its psychological depth full of symbols and allusions that add to its overall narrative. In the town of Silent Hill, every character’s strong emotions and memories (anger, guilt, sadness, fear, ect.) create an Otherworld full of dangerous monsters. Every Otherworld is very unique to a character. If players spend the time to observe these Otherworlds, they will see a lot of subtle indications into who that person is and what they are suffering from. This is what makes Silent Hill 2 arguably the best in the series and one of the best survival horror games ever made. It has perhaps the best psychological and emotional depth of any horror game.
Please note there will be spoilers for the game here:
Silent Hill 2 is about James Sunderland’s search for his wife Mary. James receives a mysterious letter from Mary that tells him to meet her at their “special place” in the town of Silent Hill. But what is disturbing about this letter is that Mary died from a terminal illness three years prior to the events in the game. Mary’s terminal illness tormented James because her beauty deteriorated and she became emotionally volatile. With no treatment available for his wife, James fell into a deep depression and started to drink quite often. James remained loyal to their marriage, but this made him feel trapped and sexually frustrated without a partner. He became so tormented by her illness that he actually started to resent Mary. He started to visit her less frequently until her death.
The beginning of the game is peaceful, quiet, and yet very lonely as players walk through misty woods to get to Silent Hill. It really symbolizes how lonely James felt when the love of his life was terminally ill. But at the same time, the eerie music and the sound of the woods creates a lot of tension as if a monster could attack players at any time. This subtle introduction alone will probably make most people put the controller down and step away if they don’t like horror games. This is what they call psychological horror. Silent Hill does have jump scares, but how Silent Hill really intimidates players is through its atmosphere of eerie sounds and ominous environments.
When James arrives in Silent Hill, he discovers that the entire town is completely abandoned and covered in a mysterious fog. As players reluctantly travel through the town they see a mysterious creature walk into the deep fog. The game of course encourages players to follow a blood trail to the creature. Unlike in the previous Silent Hill that had winged demons, giant moths, and monstrous centipedes, every enemy in Silent Hill 2 is humanoid and has a feminine shape (except for Pyramid Head). This is because the monsters are all manifestations of James’s guilt over the death of his wife. For example, the creature James first encounters (the Lying Figure) is shaped like its in a fleshy straightjacket, which symbolizes James feeling trapped in his marriage while Mary was terminally ill.
Most of the game consists of traveling through dark hallways and rooms full of monsters. Like every survival horror game, most of the game consists of killing enemies, collecting items, discovering new areas, James jumping down metaphorical holes, reading notes that delve into the mystery of the town, and solving puzzles (very weird puzzles). Players have several options in how to handle the monsters. They can use melee weapons such as a pipe or wooden plank, ranged weapons such as a handgun or a shotgun, or they can just avoid the monsters. The monsters are pretty easy to handle and there’s plenty of ammunition and health items scattered around the town depending on the difficulty. But they can definitely be scary for first time players when walking down a dark hallway or in a dark room with just a flashlight. Plus even if a monster is taken down, it can crawl like a spider on the ground and quickly maneuver toward players.
Every enemy and human character in the game ties into James’ character. The big reveal in the game is that Mary didn’t die from her terminal illness. James suffocated her with a pillow to end his and her suffering. It is quite possible he killed her shortly before the game even begins and has repressed the memory of her murder. After killing her, James carried the body and put it in the backseat of his car. The game starts in an empty parking lot near James’ car so it is very possible Mary’s body is in the backseat right from the start. That means the main focus of the game is to get James to accept the truth of his actions and how he truly felt about Mary. The darkness and terror of James’ Otherworld could be a representation of the harsh reality of the truth.
Players will eventually encounter the most iconic villain in the series, Pyramid Head. While he appears in several other games due to his popularity, he was originally a manifestation of James’ guilt for killing his wife and his desire to be punished for it. Pyramid Head is the only masculine enemy in the game and he is often found molesting and raping the feminine shaped enemies in the game. This represents James’ sexual frustrations as he couldn’t have sex or be in relationship with another person due to his marriage with Mary. This feeling of being trapped in his marriage is represented through Pyramid Head’s helmet. The giant spear and knife that Pyramid Head carries can be seen as phallic imagery. Pyramid Head stalks James throughout the whole game to get him to accept the truth that he killed his wife. When he finally admits the truth, the double Pyramid Heads stab themselves in the chest. They have finally completed their purpose. James no longer needs an external force to judge him. He can now judge himself.
Silent Hill has a mysterious force that draws people to the town. The first human character that James encounters is Angela who is drawn to Silent Hill to find her “mama.” Angela is a very shy and nervous woman, especially around men, as she was sexually abused by her father. Before the events of the game, Angela actually killed her father by stabbing him multiple times with a knife. With nothing to live for as a fugitive with no loved ones, Angela contemplates suicide. Angela’s anger, suicidal thoughts, and history of sexual abuse manifests itself into an Otherworld in Silent Hill.
Her Otherworld is covered in flesh with pistons in the wall that thrust back and forth, suggesting sexual intercourse. One of the bosses, Abstract Daddy, takes the shape of two figures having sex in a bed under a fleshy sheet. This of course being a clear manifestation of Angela’s history of being sexually abused. Later on, Angela’s Otherworld is perceived as a burning staircase, which represents her life as a literal living hell. Angela ascending up the stairs represents her suicide and venture into the afterlife. Angela represents a possible ending of James committing suicide since players will get the suicide ending the more they observe her knife and diary.
James also meets Eddie who was relentlessly bullied for his weight until he eventually snapped. Before being drawn to Silent Hill, he shot and killed a dog that belonged to one of his bullies and then he shot that bully in the knee with his father’s gun. Eddie’s Otherworld consists of people (or monsters) mocking him. When James first encounters Eddie, he seems very insecure and defensive. As the game progresses, Eddie begins to lose his mind as he begins to see murder as no big deal. He plans on killing anyone who he perceives to be ridiculing him.
When James eventually walks into Eddie’s Otherworld, it takes the shape of a cold meat locker which symbolizes Eddie’s desire to eat food, his detachment from reality and his cold attitude towards people. The meat is in the shape of bodies, which represents the bullies who tormented him. James tries to reason with him, but Eddie is too blinded by his insanity and thinks James is mocking him too. Eddie attacks James, which forces James to kill him in self defense. The purpose of Eddie’s character is to get James to see that he is a murderer too and that he has no business judging Eddie’s resolve. Eddie tells him, “Don’t get all holy on me, James… This town called you, too. You and me are the same. We’re not like other people.”
Laura, on the other hand, contrasts with every other human character in the game. She has no darkness in her heart so she doesn’t see any of the horrors of Silent Hill. Her main role in the game is to guide James to the truth as he spends most of the game looking for Laura while he searches for Mary. She drives the narration forward with her actions. In the apartment buildings, she kicks away the keys which forces James to take the long way that leads to his first meeting with Pyramid Head, another guide to the truth. Her appearance in the town forces James to chase after her, which leads him through the Brookhaven Hospital. When she locks James in a room with monsters, James is forced to delve deeper in the Otherworld of Silent Hill, which is a metaphor for James delving deeper into the truth.
Plus the letter given to Laura by the real Mary wishes her a happy 8th birthday, which Laura claims was last week. This means Mary couldn’t have died three years ago and that the murder of Mary happened very recently. As the story progresses, the writing on Mary’s letter disappears. When James learns the truth, the letter disappears completely. This symbolizes that James has overcome his delusion.
Perhaps the most important human interaction for James is Maria. She physically looks just like Mary and has some of her memories, but her appearance and personality is far more sexually outgoing. She is the manifestation of what James desired Mary to be: seductive, energetic, and cheerful. She is very clingy and seductive, which gives James a lot of mixed feelings because she is the Mary he’s always wanted, but it’s still not Mary. Throughout the game, she follows James around and constantly tries to get him to accept her. Silent Hill created Maria to seduce James so that he can be eternally trapped in his suffering due to his refusal to let Mary go. Depending on the ending, James will either move on and escape this seductive manifestation, or he will fall into Silent Hill’s seductive trap.
What is unique about Silent Hill 2 is that it has multiple endings depending on the actions of players throughout the game. There is no canonical ending so nobody knows which ending is the one that actually happened. This leaves open an enjoyable debate between fans and adds to the replay value of the game. James will either leave Silent Hill and adopt Laura (moving on from the past), commit suicide by driving into the lake to reunite with Mary, fall in love with Maria who begins to cough hinting that she will suffer the same fate as Mary (falling into Silent Hill’s trap), or he will try to resurrect Mary using demonic artifacts. There’s also two comedic endings where a dog is controlling all the events or where a UFO abducts James. While many people claim the suicide ending is the canonical ending, the true ending of Silent Hill 2 will continue to be debated for years to come.
Silent Hill 2 was unique for its time. It’s one of the first games to show that video games can be art and just as complex as any other medium. It tackled topics rarely seen in games (even to this day) such as depression, suicide, guilt, abuse, bullying, and much more. Silent Hill 2 remains one of the most complicated and thought provoking games ever made. It is a masterpiece in its genre and should be played by all horror fans alike.