My Game of the Year 2001: Silent Hill 2 (PS2)

Developed: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Published: Konami
Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: PS2 (reviewed), Xbox, PC, 360, PS3

I said at the end of my Persona 4 article that my favorite game of all time was released in 2001. Well, I thought about it a lot since then and I changed my mind. I do that a lot. Silent Hill 2 is my SECOND favorite game of all time. I'll do my top ten list one of these days.

Silent Hill 2 tells the story of James Sunderland. He receives a letter from his wife, Mary, telling him to meet her in the small resort town of Silent Hill, in their "special place." There's a small problem with that. Mary has been dead for three years. Regardless of that fact, he goes to Silent Hill to search for her and finds things that he could have never imagined. As always, this article will spoil the entire game so be warned.
Silent Hill 2 opens with perhaps the most meaningful opening shot ever. Our protagonist, James Sunderland, stares at himself in a rest stop bathroom mirror. Keep this in mind for the remainder of the article. Anyway, James walks outside and we hear the afore mentioned letter from Mary being narrated in her voice. She tells James that he promised to take her to Silent Hill again sometime, but he never did, and that she's waiting for him there now, in their "special place."

James himself begins to narrate, explaining what I just did about the letter being from his wife who passed away 3 years ago. He states the obvious, saying that it's ridiculous that he came here and wonders what Mary could mean by their "special place." The only place he can think of is Rosewater Park by Silent Hill's Toluca Lake.

He sets off, taking a path through the woods since the road into town is blocked. And now for the longest foggy path ever. Seriously; it takes like two minutes total to get through the whole path and get to town. There's actually an interesting reason for it. The Developers wanted players to feel like there was no turning back once you got into town and I gotta say, it works. At least for my impatient ass.

Along the way to town, James meets the first of several bat shit insane people. As he passes through a graveyard, he finds a teenage girl kneeling in front of a grave and startles the crap out of her while trying to ask for directions. She follows one of the most overused horror movie tropes and tells him not to go into town because it could be dangerous. Oooooooh. Is there a spooky castle on a hill with bats flying around and lightning striking?
It's a show about a smoke monster or something. I dunno. I never watched it.
James says he'll be careful but the girl childishly whines that she's "not lying." James assures her that he believes her but he's going either way because he has someone "very important" to find. The girl concurs, saying that she's in Silent Hill looking for her "Mama," and James continues on, leaving her to her craziness.

James finally makes it into town and it's abandoned of course. As he walks down the street, he finds a huge streak of blood on the street like something dead was dragged and suddenly sees a figure in the distance that quickly disappears into the fog. Okay, now this is turning into SH1's opening.

He runs after the figure and eventually finds himself running down another dirt path. He eventually gets to a dead end at a small, boarded up tunnel where he hears static blaring. He climbs through the boards and finds that the static is coming from a pocket radio when he suddenly sees the figure he was following.

It's a grotesque, human like creature that seems to have a layer of decayed flesh covering its entire upper body. A vaguely human shape can be seen beneath the fleshy cover, with its arms wrapped around it like a straight jacket. The creature is bent over a corpse which it seems to be feeding on, but stops when it notices James and attacks by spraying out a yellowish gas at him. It almost seems to be in pain just existing and wheezes loudly when it sprays the poisonous gas. James quickly grabs a loose board and begins beating the creature until it stops moving. The radio stops making any noise as soon as the creature dies. Huh? Radio? What's going on with that radio?
As James leaves the small tunnel the radio begins to make more noise. A woman's voice can be just barely be heard and she seems to call James' name, though it's barely audible through the static. James decides to take the radio with him because he "might need it." Yep. You never know when a busted radio might come in handy. Actually, the radio is one of your most important tools in the majority of the Silent Hill series. Whenever there are enemies nearby, it emits static so you can get a good warning before you're attacked.

Speaking of enemies, the town is full of them now. James fights his way through them as he makes his way to the lake but he finds that all the roads that lead there are quite literally out. Where there used to be streets, there are now only enormous chasms that James couldn't hope to navigate through.

After a bit more searching, he finds that the only way to the lake is through an old apartment complex. It's in this area where we encounter the first "dungeon" area of SH2. The Silent Hill series, at least before Shattered Memories, has always been pretty formulaic. You start out in an area of the town or in a building of some sort and begin to check every door that is available to you. You have a map which marks the doors you've tried and like 90% of them will be jammed and half of the ones that aren't will be locked by keys that you have to find somewhere nearby.

So all you have to do is check every room for keys and you'll eventually get through each area. There are also occasional puzzles thrown into the mix and they can be quite complex in higher difficulties. Most areas also end with a boss battle so when you find the boss, you're usually home free, if you can beat the boss that is.

Anyway, James looks around for a bit and finds a key on the ground behind some bars that have cut off a section of one hallway. As he reaches for it, a little girl who can't be more that seven steps on his hand and kicks the key away. She laughs at James and runs off before he can say anything. Yay, jump scares!
After navigating the dark hallways for a while, James finds an unlocked apartment that has a dress hanging in the middle of the room with a flashlight clipped to it. As soon as he takes the light, a fun new monster jumps up from the ground. This one is even more abominable than the first. Sewn to a decayed mass of flesh are two pairs of mannequin legs, one on the bottom that it walks on and two on the top that it uses to attack.

What makes this enemy even more creepy is their tendency to stand completely motionless until they notice your presence and attack. When they're in this idle state, your radio doesn't react to them which leads to one really good jump scare in the apartments where you enter a room that you think has no enemies until you check one of the bedrooms and have the camera suddenly switch to a view of an open closet and BAM! A mannequin attacks!

James kills the creature which somehow roars whenever it's hit despite having no visible mouth and continues searching the apartments until he finds a creepy room with bullet holes completely covering every surface. He finds a handgun that I guess has seen a lot of use sitting in a shopping cart for whatever reason and takes it. As he walks down another hall, James suddenly hears a man scream and runs to the source of the sound where he finds a horrifying sight.

Behind another set of bars is a creature that defies description. It appears to be a man in a bloodstained smock, but atop his head is a gigantic helmet that would put Dark Helmet to shame. The helmet appears to be made of a rusty, sharp metal and is shaped like a pyramid with the lower angles jutting sharply downward. It looks like a horribly painful thing to wear. The creature is bathed in red light that seems to be coming from nowhere. He stands completely motionless, and seems to stare at James despite his helmet having no visible eye holes.
James stares back for a moment, but soon enters a nearby apartment to escape the creature's gaze. Static blares as soon as he enters, but it isn't his radio. A television is on nearby, with nothing but static displayed on the screen. The corner of the TV is stained by fresh blood and sitting in a chair just in front of it is a dead man who is completely covered in blood and is missing a large chunk of his skull.

James goes to the back room of the apartment where he finds a grandfather clock. After a silly puzzle, he pushes the clock aside and finds a hole in the wall that he enters. He finds himself in the next door apartment and just outside is the other side of the fence and that thing. James apprehensively steps outside but finds the hall empty.

After a bit more exploring, we're treated to perhaps the most shocking scene in the game. James finds another unlocked apartment and soon after he steps inside, he witnesses a horrifying sight. The Pyramid monster, who is called Pyramid Head by the way, has two mannequin monsters that he has prinned up against a kitchen counter. It isn't exactly clear what's going on at first but he seems to be violently raping the monsters. Instead of running out of the room like any sane person would do, James runs into a nearby closet and shuts the slatted door. And doesn't turn his flashlight off...
Pyramid Head finishes his deed and slowly drags one of the mannequins by its leg before stomping it to death. We get a good, long, close-up look at Pyramid Head here. He awkwardly grabs at his helmet and seems to be sniffing the air in James' direction. James panics and fires a barrage of bullets at the creature who seems only slightly fazed by the assault. He roars at the closet before stomping out of the room.

After wandering around a bit more, he enters an unlocked apartment where he hears what sounds like a man vomiting. James sees a corpse in a nearby refrigerator that appears to be completely mutilated. He follows the source of the vomiting sound and finds a college aged young man hunched over a toilet, vomiting up what seems to be an endless supply of stomach contents.

He stops long enough to speak with James and immediately claims that he "didn't do it" and "he was like that when I got here." James introduces himself to the young man (and to the audience actually. His name isn't used until this point) whose name is Eddie. James stupidly asks if Eddie is friends with "that red, pyramid thing" which only seems to confuse him.

Eddie's guilty conscience seems to keep getting the better of him and he continually denies that he did anything wrong and says that he isn't even from this town. James asks him if he was "called to this town too" which Eddie seems to agree with. James tells him to be careful and leaves him to his endless vomiting.

After crossing over to the apartment building next door, James soon finds the girl from the cemetery laying on her side in a room with a full sized mirror covering an entire wall. She's holding a bloody kitchen knife which she seems to be staring at dreamily. James finally introduces himself to the girl, whose name is Angela. She seems to be completely out of it, as if she's on some kind of medication or drugs; neither would surprise me. She speaks in an almost drunken tone, telling James that he's running away, just like her, but immediately apologizes. James asks if she's found her mother yet to which Angela replies, "She's not anywhere." How meaningful.
Here's where the game's cover comes from I guess. Dunno why they'd put the character who probably has the least screen time on the cover.
He shows her a picture of Mary, asking if she's seen her, which Angela can only shake her head at. He tells her that Mary is dead, but assures her that he's not crazy, at least he "doesn't think so." Angela gets up to leave, but James asks what she plans to do with the knife. She tells him he should take it because she doesn't know what she might do with it, but when James reaches out for it, Angela recoils in horror and yells, "No! I've been bad...  Please don't.", before dropping the knife and leaving. James takes the knife for some reason and leaves. Man, is there anything sane in this game?

James nears the back door of the apartment building but after going into the exit stairwell, he's treated to yet another disgusting scene of Pyramid Head having his way with another monster. To his credit this time, James attempts to leave through the door he came though but can't get it to open. Pyramid Head advances on James slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, because he's carrying a gigantic sword that complements his novelty sized helmet quite nicely.

Queue the easiest boss battle ever. You don't even have to attack him once. In fact, he's impossible to kill and leaves after a set amount of time, so you're wasting your time and ammo if you do attack him. Also, one of his attacks is a one hit kill on any difficulty so just run.
I know I can't be the only person who thinks of this when they see Pyramid Head's one hit kill attack.
After a few minutes, a familiar siren rings out in the background. That's right SH1 fans! It's the sirens that turn the world into hell! Nah, actually all this one does is make Pyramid Head turn and leave like it's quittin' time at the mess with James' head factory. For the third time, James goes through a door that he knows Pyramid Head is on he other side of but finds an empty alleyway instead. Your luck is bound to run out one of these days, James.

He hurries on toward the lake and finds the little girl who stomped on his hand earlier. She's busy reading a letter which James asks about. She quickly runs off, yelling, "None of your business. You didn't love Mary anyway!" James is shocked that she knows about Mary and begins to give chase but the child proves to be too quick for him. He gives up and heads straight for the lake.
As he arrives he is shocked by what he finds. There's a woman who James says looks like she could be Mary's twin, but realizes that she looks a bit too different to be her. The woman interrupts his rambling by saying, "My Maria." Clever. James copies Harry Mason's shtick of asking the same damn question to everyone he meets and asks if she's seen Mary. Of course she hasn't and James decides sounding crazy is a great idea as he tells her about Mary's unfortunate bout of death and the letter that spoke of their "special place."

She asks if they had any other special places in Silent Hill and James remembers the Lakeview Hotel that they stayed in. Maria suddenly gets really inappropriate and remarks, "The hotel was your special place? I'll bet it was." Classy. James begins to walk off but Maria flips out and asks him to take her along on his dead wife hunt. She then says another hilariously foreshadowing line, "I look like Mary don't I? You loved her didn't you? Or maybe you hated her..." Subtle.

James brings her along and they run down the road to the historical society where they can take a boat across the lake to where the hotel is. Along the way, they find a corpse with a map near it that points toward the bowling alley so they head there for whatever reason. Maria waits outside because she "hates bowling" while James heads inside where he overhears the little girl and Eddie talking about Eddie's apparent criminal past.

The girl asks him what he did to make the police come after him to which he replies that he ran because he was scared and that nobody would ever forgive him. No one makes any damn sense in this game. James wanders into the main room where he finds Eddie eating a pizza and I would really like to know here he got that with Silent Hill being populated by nothing but monsters.

James asks about the little girl who Eddie tells him is named Laura, which is her queue to step out of the shadows and runs outside. James tells Eddie to help him catch her but Eddie seems way too calm about the whole situation which prompts James to say the goofiest line in the game:
Here's a fun bit of trivia: I listened to an interview with James' voice actor late last year and he still remembers this line as his least favorite in the game, 10 years later!
James runs outside where he and Maria chase after Laura until they come to an alleyway too narrow for an adult to fit through. They cut through a strip club where Maria apparently works since she has the THREE keys needed to unlock the back door and follow Laura to Brookhaven Hospital. Yay, the obligatory hospital level. No, really. There's been a hospital level in every Silent Hill game so far, though I hear the upcoming Silent Hill: Downpour is finally gonna break that tradition.

As they begin to search through the hospital, James and Maria are soon attacked by demonic nurses who are all wearing skimpy fetish uniforms but have grey, cracked skin and horribly deformed faces. We'll talk some more about this and the other monster designs much later.

Maria decides a filthy bed in a monster infested hospital would be a swell place to take a nap so she rests for a bit while James keeps searching for Laura. Up on the roof, we learn that Pyramid Head can apparently teleport when he appears out of nowhere and knocks James off the roof, down into the psych section of the hospital, appropriately enough.

Now for the most passive aggressive puzzle ever! James finds a metal box with two key locks and two combination locks on it. Whatever's in there must be IMPORTANT! Actually, there's nothing in it. Just look:
Actually there's a few strands of hair in the box which James takes like a good little adventure game character. I'm just soooo sure those'll be used in some stupid puzzle where you combine them with a bent needle or something to fish a key out of-
Yeah. Sure. Whatever. So James takes his magic key and rides the locked elevator to a blocked off section of the first floor where he finally finds Laura. He asks her how she knows Mary but immediately calls her a liar when she says they met at the hospital last year, because as you'll remember, James said Mary died 3 years ago. He apologizes and says that the important thing is to get out of this hell hospital but Laura seems confused when he asks how she hasn't been hurt yet.

Laura tells James to follow her to a nearby room where there's another letter from Mary and James, the gullible bastard, walks into the dark room only to have Laura lock him in. He bangs on the door and yells at her to open up but she runs off just as a trio of abominations descends from the ceiling and attack James. He fights off the bizarre hanging monsters but falls unconscious as sirens sound off in the distance. Something unseen loads him onto a gurney and we see a first person view of James being wheeled through the hospital, only to be dropped off in the central courtyard unharmed.

He re-enters the hospital but finds that it's a bit different. It's time for SH2's first "other world" segment. In the first SH game, the world would often shift to a hellish world made of rusty metal and corpses, but in SH2 the other world segments are much more subtle. They make up for it in SH3 & 4 where the other world goes absolutely bat shit insane routinely.

James heads to the basement and bumps into Maria who got transported to the other world too I guess. He tells her that he's glad she's okay and here's how she responds:
I overuse the term "anyway" a lot in my writing and every time I do I hear Maria screaming "ANYWAY!?" ...I've played this game too many times. By the way, If I hadn't already made the joke just now, David Silverman would be in the corner of this picture because Maria looks exactly like him right here.
Also, this scene violates the 180 degree rule HARD. There's a reason for it though, at least in my opinion. More on that later.
After picking up a few puzzle items and some more emasculation, they get on the elevator and this happens:
Video courtesy of YouTube user JamieRozs.

Thankfully, that quiz game is optional but if you happen to know the answers or use a guide, you can get a ton of extra ammo and healing items. After that's dealt with, they head to the last locked door in the hospital which is unlocked by putting a couple of rings on hands coming out of it. Yep. After a long descent down a previously unreachable stairwell, they end up in a loooong hallway when an old friend shows up. Yeah, it's Pyramid Head again, but this time he got rid of that ridiculous buster sword and picked up a spear so he can RUN now.

James and Maria do likewise until they reach an elevator while some of the best freak out music ever plays. James makes it inside, but the door shuts on Maria's arm and Pyramid Head stabs her just as the door closes and the elevator ascends. James broods for a minute but soon recovers and finds a wrench and a marked map in an office on the first floor. He sees Laura walking away from the hospital outside and follows her.

After a silly puzzle where he digs up and unscrew a box back at Rosewater Park so he can get a key, James finally makes his way to the historical society where the afore mentioned boats to the hotel are located. That was quite a detour. After stepping inside, he finds a fun painting with a familiar face, or rather familiar helmet on it:
Yeah so either Pyramid Head is a real person and not just a demon created by the town or that painting was created by the town too just to mess with James. In the next room, James finds something else that the town must have created, a burnt staircase leading underground that takes no less than 50 seconds to get down at top speed. That's some pretty literal symbolism there. A burnt staircase that leads impossibly deep underground. I wonder what's at the bottom...

All kinds of wackiness it turns out. First James finds a prison lobby-like area and soon finds a deep hole that he jumps in since there's no other way to go. Makes sense. He lands at the bottom of a well and the game really expects the player to try everything here because the only way to get out is to hit the right spot on the wall several times until it breaks revealing a door. Guide dang it!

Right after that, you enter a small room with a key sitting on the ground. When you pick it up, your flashlight runs out of batteries. Thank God we happened to find exactly the type of battery James' flashlight uses back in the hospital. When you turn your light back on, the room is suddenly FULL OF GIANT ROACHES and you have to figure out the code for a keypad by the door to get back out. Three of the buttons are lit up so you know which ones to push, you just have to figure out the right order.

Once James gets out of there, he finds another hole that he jumps down, and this time it's a sideways hallway. Ignoring that, when James lands, he finds himself in a prison cafeteria and sees this:
Delightful. Right in front of Eddie is a recently shot man that he says he had to kill because, "He was makin' fun of me with his eyes." Good reason. He goes on to say that he's always let people walk all over him until now, "Just like that stupid dog. He had it coming too!" What the f... He then claims that he was joking and that the man was dead when he got here. Sure. He quickly leaves, with James, and the player, being left supremely confused.

Now for the most vexing series of dungeons in the game. James wanders around the prison for a while until he finds all the tablets he needs to complete a puzzle so he can get a horseshoe (which literally appears out of nowhere) and combine it with a wax doll and a lighter to create a handle for a trap door. I'd think that if recently melted wax would be strong enough to open the door, he could do it with his hands but whatever, this is Silent Hill.

James jumps down another hole, then, after a disgusting morgue room, he jumps down another hole where one of the most horrible sound effects ever to come out of a synthesizer plays. Only listen to this if you really wanna get chills down your spine. I warned you:
Video courtesy of YouTube user PeyserConley.

Man, Silent Hill series composer Akira Yamaoka comes up with some crazy shit. In SH1 there's a similarly horrific sound effect that he apparently made by distorting the sound of a dentist's drill so who knows how he did this one. Thankfully this sound only plays in one small room which has, you guessed it, another hole! James jumps down it and finds himself in a dilapidated industrial building. He enters the only open door, which leads to a cargo elevator that starts on its own and heads down even farther into the earth for about 30 seconds. James must be a mile underground at this point.

He finally stops jumping down holes for a while as he makes his way through an abstract area called the labyrinth. Hmm, I wonder if the boss will be Jareth, the goblin king. James heads down a ladder to a circular area where Pyramid Head just roams around like a regular enemy. And he's still invincible. That's just cruel. In a room in this area, you can find Pyramid Head's giant sword and use it yourself and apparently if you equip it and turn your light and radio off, monsters will run from you thinking it's Pyramid Head. I've never actually tried this for whatever reason.

Back upstairs, there's a physically impossible puzzle where you rotate a large stone block with faces carved in it which causes a room nearby to rotate in unison. You have to line up the doorways in the room correctly to proceed on and after you do, you find Maria, alive and well.

I love this scene so much that I won't even try to summarize it. Here it is:
 Video courtesy of YouTube user fungo.

Anyone who insults the acting in this game can kiss my ass. Konami can as well for replacing these voice actors in the upcoming HD re-release. By the way, the voice actors also did the motion capture for their characters. Just another reason to be pissed at Konami.

Anyway, in the event that video is taken down, James finds Maria inside a jail cell alive and she seems to speak like, behave like and even possess the memories of Mary. She soon turns back into Maria mode however and tells James to "come get her."

James runs off to find a way to the other side of the bars and soon finds a hallway full of newspapers, one of which pretty much says that Angela killed her father but the police couldn't find much evidence. Also, the knife that James has been carrying around since the apartments is probably the murder weapon. As he approaches a room near the newspapers, he hears Angela screaming from inside and runs in.

Inside he finds a room that can only be described as the inside of a womb with cylindrical objects sliding in and out from the walls. Gross. Angela is cowering in the corner with another piece of rape symbolism looming near her. A monster that is designed to look like two people having sex on a table attacks James. He quickly kills it and Angela walks over, kicks the creature, then picks up a television from the corner of the room and drops it on the abomination.

James tries to calm her but she goes on a tirade, accusing him of being a rapist and saying that he probably didn't want Mary around anymore because he found someone else. She storms out of the room as James weakly states, "That's ridiculous... I never..."
What an uplifting game.
After some charming suicide symbolism, James finds the other side of Maria's jail cell and what a surprise, she's dead again. James grieves some more and eventually leaves. Right down the hall, he finds a graveyard that seems to be outdoors despite it being thousands of feet underground and all. There are a few graves you can read, including the grave of Silent Hill 4 antagonist Walter Sullivan, so I guess they either had that game planned this far ahead or they just decided to reuse his name and serial killer backstory. Also among the graves are open graves for Eddie, Angela, and in the back corner, one marked James Sunderland. Which contains another hole that James jumps into.
Woo! Call...forward I guess.
He lands in a looong hallway that slowly turns dark red as he runs to the end of it. In the next room, we find Eddie who has completely snapped at this point. He has apparently killed several people in the room, again for looking at him the wrong way. That reminds me of Early Cuyler's "he looked at me crossways" defense. Eddie rants on and on about various crazy shit until James tells him that he's gone nuts, which is Eddie's queue to attack.
I just love Eddie's crazed expression here. He's so photogenically insane.
Now for kind of an annoying boss fight. You fight him in a tiny room at first but he soon flees to a larger one. James follows him and Eddie rants some more about how he shot a football player in the knee and killed his dog. Kind of an interesting thing on that subject. If you check the room across from the bathroom where you first meet Eddie, you'll find its full of football posters. Foreshadowing I guess.
Now THAT is foreshadowing.
James laments killing a person, even in self defense, then asks himself a very odd question, "Mary...did you really die three years ago."

Now for the craziest part of the game. James steps through the nearby door which leads outside to the back porch of the historical society where he started. So after traveling arguably miles underground, he somehow ends up a few yards from where he started. Holy nuts. And now for the most boring gameplay segment in the game, especially on harder difficulties! You have to get in a row boat and row it to the other side of the lake. Sounds pretty easy and it is on up to normal difficulty where you just have to point the boat toward a light in the distance and hold up on the control stick.

On hard however, you have to rotate each analog stick in unison to go forward, giving this part a bit of a learning curve. Though if you got this far on hard, you're already doing pretty damn good. Also, you gotta love the symbolism here, which I'll talk about after the plot summary.
James FINALLY arrives at the Lakeview Hotel and soon finds that the sexy time monster that was attacking Angela has now become a regular enemy, though thankfully they're less powerful. He finds Laura who gives him the letter from Mary she teased him with earlier in the game. In it we find out that Mary was still alive A WEEK AGO. That's a bit less than three years, James. What aren't you telling us?

James wonders if Mary could really be alive somewhere in the hotel when Laura realizes that she dropped another letter from Mary that she had and runs off to find it. Man, these letters from Mary are really getting to be a dime a dozen.
Yo' protagonist is so fat, he goes over elevator weight limits by himself!
James soon finds an elevator that is somehow over the weight limit even though he's alone. Now if the hair box in the hospital was the most passive aggressive puzzle, then this has to be the most passive aggressive gameplay segment. You're forced to leave ALL of your items on a shelf near the elevator and I mean all of them, including your flashlight and even the letter from Mary, as if that would weigh you down...

Once James relinquishes all of his items, the elevator suddenly works and he's able to explore the basement. After collecting some puzzle items and dodging a few mannequin monsters that he's helpless against, James finds a large can in the hotel kitchen that he opens and finds that it's full of light bulbs for whatever reason. He takes one that he uses in the very next room so he can see the keyhole on a door in a dark room. Dumbest puzzle ever.
I think this is where I would normally say, "See! I'm not making it up!", but what's the use at this point.
Back upstairs, the game gets passive aggressive again when James reaches the hall outside the room where his items are. There are three mannequins blocking his path in the small room and after he collects his weapons and can defend himself again, they disappear. This game is devious.

After a silly puzzle involving music boxes, the path to room 312, the room James and Mary stayed in, is finally open. James heads in and finds a VCR where he watches a home movie that he taped during their trip. That soon ends however and we see a much blurrier image of James speaking with Mary in her hospital room. We can't hear them but they're clearly saying something important. James leans over her and seems to kiss her before grabbing her pillow and smothering her with it.
James sits in silence for almost a full minute before Laura bursts in the room and asks if he found Mary. He's unresponsive at first but finally looks up and tells her the truth: Mary is dead because he killed her. Laura flips out on him, slapping him as she yells at him. All he can do is say he's sorry and she eventually relents as she storms out of the room. Mary's voice can suddenly be heard from James' radio. She begs him to come find her which finally snaps him out of his miserable state.

He runs out to the hall but finds that he's suddenly been transported to the other world again. The hotel seems to have been burned up then flooded and most of the doors are jammed. The game decides to get really confusing by have several of the doors warp you around the hotel, though if you watch your map, you can get through this area in no time.

There's a couple of optional scenes coming up that I'll cover. Watching them actually impacts which ending you get, but they both contribute to the story. The first one is a quick scene of James listening to an audio tape of Mary's doctor and James arguing over her condition. The whole scene takes place from an exterior view of the hotel where the camera focuses on a bed that seems to be floating.

After that, James finds Angela in a stairwell that is engulfed in flames. She's really lost it now, mistaking James for her mother at first but realizes it's him and ridicules his attempts to calm her. She asks for her knife back but James refuses hand it over. She asks if he plans to use it himself and walks upstairs into the fire. James comments that, "It's hot as hell in here," to which Angela replies, "You see it too?":
James leaves the way he came and heads down the linear path set in front of him. He finds a grid of 9 save points next to a door. I guess they REALLY want you to save here. That grid of save points is actually the Japanese cover of the game. That's pretty minimalist stuff there.

He heads through the ominous door and finds a large room with Maria hanging on a torture rack on a nearby balcony, somehow alive again. There are TWO Pyramid Heads now which impale her with their spears, killing her again, causing James to have another revelation.
James looks so badass in this scene, standing up to TWO Pyramid Heads at once when he used to be terrified of just one.
He addresses the Pyramid Heads directly as they set upon him. He tells them that he was weak and needed someone to punish him for his sins, but he knows the truth now and tells them that "it's time to end this." He battles the monsters and is actually able to injure them. After a while though, they seem to just give up and simultaneously commit suicide by impaling themselves on their spears.

The second optional scene plays as James makes his way down a long hall. We can hear a conversation that he and Mary had as her illness began to take a toll on their relationship. He comes to visit her in the hospital, only to have her yell at him, driving him away. We hear Mary express regret as soon as he leaves however and she begs him to come back.

For once, James heads UP. Really high up in fact. He runs up a long staircase and eventually finds Mary in a large room at the top. Depending on what ending you're gonna get, the woman will either behave like Mary or Maria, but regardless of the ending, she transforms into a creature that resembles an even more twisted version of  the upside down torture rack Maria was killed in by the two Pyramid Heads.

She attacks by floating around the room and either shooting a swarm of moths at James or by choking him with one of her newly sprouted tentacles. James fights her off until she falls to the ground and, just like in Metal Gear Solid 3, the game will wait for you to deliver the killing blow before it will continue. Next is the ending, and there's 6 of them so I'll describe them all I guess.
First is the "leave" ending, which is the happiest one and my favorite because I'm such a sappy wuss. Before the final boss fight, Mary speaks like Maria and gets pissed at James for mistaking her with Mary again. He's not listening to her bullshit this time though and she transforms into the final boss. After the final boss fight, James suddenly finds himself in a different room with Mary. James beats himself up some more, saying that he wanted her out of the way so he could have his life back, but Mary pretty much forgives him and tells him to move on with his life. The scene changes to James and Laura walking away from Silent Hill as a much longer version of Mary's letter to James is read. I think it's supposed to be implied that James adopts Laura though it isn't explicitly stated.

The "in water" ending is very similar but rather than the scene with James and Laura leaving Silent Hill, James is seen carrying Mary's body off. The screen fades to black and we hear James speaking as the sound of a car speeding off is heard. The sound suddenly cuts off and it cuts to an underwater shot as Mary's letter is read. God damn. As if this game wasn't depressing enough. Let's have the main character kill himself in the end. That's just plain cruel.

In the "Maria" ending, James speaks with Mary before the final boss fight in a scene that is similar to the post boss scene in the previous two endings but Mary blames James rather than forgiving him and transforms into the final boss. After the fight, James is seen leaving Silent Hill with Maria who begins to cough, possibly implying that she's going to get sick too.

In the "rebirth" ending, the pre-final boss cutscene is the same as the first two endings but after the fight, James is seen in a boat as he narrates. He pretty much says that he plans to use the power of the dark gods of Silent Hill to resurrect her.

The last two endings are joke endings. I'm not kidding. Silent Hill 2 has TWO joke endings. The first is the "dog" ending where James finds a control room in the other world hotel. Inside the control room is a dog sitting at a control panel. He says, "So it was all your work!" in Japanese for whatever reason. And it's the same voice actor as the rest of the game. He apparently speaks English and Japanese. Pretty cool. Here's the ending itself, along with the hilarious credit sequence that plays afterward. I just love the dog's stoic expression during the credits:

Video again brought to us by YouTube user fungo, who uploaded every cutscene from the first 4 Silent Hill games. Impressive.

The other Joke ending is the "UFO" ending which is actually a recurring ending in most of the Silent Hill games. I think the only one that doesn't have a UFO ending is Silent Hill 4 but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, in this particular UFO ending, Harry Mason shows up along with a horde of alien ships. He asks James if he's seen a little girl but James cuts him off and asks if he's seen Mary. Now that's some lampshade hanging right there. One of the aliens suddenly shoots James with a laser and we see Harry and the alien carrying James off as Harry gives the alien a thumbs up. What in the world... Actually, the UFO ending of Silent Hill 3 shows James and the alien living with Harry and (SH3 spoilers) Heather so I guess that's where that lead.

I think that about covers the endings so lets get on with this crap... I'll try to keep this short because I could write an essay about how layered Silent Hill 2's plot is. Every scene, every character has been interpreted to death but here's my interpretation of it all.

The whole game is going on in James' head. He killed Mary and was arrested, then thrown in prison and is executed. The historical society dungeon is a perfect allegory for this. He ends up in a prison that is impossible to backtrack from and that area ends with him going down to the hell-like labyrinth area which itself ends with James jumping into his own grave.
Remember this picture? Remember how I said it was relevant to the whole article? That's because the whole game is a reflection of James' messed up head.
The various characters in the game represent either James or Mary in some way. Angela represents Mary as a victim with her paranoid actions seeming to mirror the terrified thoughts of a person who knows they are going to die soon. Eddie is a bit more complex. He represents James' slow decent into madness and his willingness to kill to avoid his problems. More obvious is the fact that he is a representation of James' denial of killing Mary and finally accepting it. One could argue that James killing Eddie right after jumping into his own grave also represents him committing suicide.

Laura is Mary as a sick, sexually unavailable, and verbally abusive tormenter. Not much more to that. Maria is both James' desires physically and his worst nightmare emotionally. She constantly tempts him but when she's not chastising him, shes getting killed by Pyramid Head. Speaking of which, Pyramid Head is pretty obvious.

He's pretty much James' id on crack. He does whatever he wants, even committing rape and murder on a whim. He is the most obvious of James' tormenters and is a literal representation of his denial. He is stalked by one invincible Pyramid Head for most of the game and after killing Eddie, he finds two but by this time, he has come to terms with what he's done so the Pyramid Heads lose their invincibility.

The enemies are all similar to Pyramid Head in that they are extreme representations of various emotions. The first enemy is a sick sounding humanoid that is quite literally trapped in its own body. The second and third enemies, the mannequins and nurses, are both monstrous personifications of sexual desire and the nurses in particular are also a terrifying version of James' delusional view of the healthcare system.
That's about enough of my crazy view of this game. Let's actually review this sucker. Like the previous three games on this particular top 5 (Max Payne, Final Fantasy X, and Metal Gear Solid 2) Silent Hill 2 was a game with some amazing visuals for the time and I think it has probably held up the best out of the four. Character and enemy designs are detailed and fairly subtle actually. Maybe it's just me, but Eddie looks a lot like a fat version of James. Maybe he's supposed to be an alternate, more monstrous version of James. Environments are similarly well designed with the standout areas for me being the historical society dungeon and the hospital.

In the audio department, Silent Hill 2 is an absolute marvel. As I said in the middle of the summary, sound designer and composer Akira Yamaoka is insanely talented. The music in this game ranges from touching, to bizarre, and completely horrifying. The song that plays as James monologues at the beginning of the game, which I think is called Letters, is one of my favorite songs and for whatever reason it isn't on the official soundtrack which is a total shame. The game's sound design is also amazing with the monsters making some noises that I can't even imagine how Yamoaka managed to pull off.

Gameplay is the one weak area of Silent Hill 2. It plays a lot like old school survival horror games. Hell, it IS an old school survival horror game at this point. Exploration and puzzle solving are done well enough but combat is where the game gets kind of frustrating. Shooting works okay, though like many survival horror characters, James has kinda crappy aim.

Melee combat is what I'm specifically referring to. It is done fairly simply; all you have to do is hold one button to ready your weapon and press another to attack, but it seems like melee attacks miss constantly. The fact that tapping the button does a weak attack and holding it does a strong one can also cause some annoyance because it doesn't always work correctly. Maybe I just suck.

One other gameplay element worth mentioning is how you get the various endings. The "rebirth" and two joke endings have specific things you must do to get them so they aren't much trouble. It's the first three that have some of the most esoteric requirements that I've ever seen in any game. Things like how quickly you heal damage, which items you examine in your inventory, and how attentive you are to Maria all have an impact on what ending you get.

For example, to get the "Leave" ending, you must heal yourself as soon as you take damage, examine the photograph of Mary and her letter a few times during the game, make sure NOT to examine Angela's knife, stay away from Maria as much as possible, don't read the diary on the roof of the hospital, don't listen to the tape of James and Mary's doctor arguing, and finally, make sure you DO listen to the entire conversation between James and Mary before you take the stairs up to the last boss. All of those things are just for one of the endings. You don't actually have to do ALL of those things, like examining inventory items. I never bothered with that and I've gotten all three of the original endings.

I don't have much else to say. I'm holding back a lot of plot analysis BS for the sake article length so I'll just do my usual thing and tell you to buy the game. However, there are a few complications with this one. Silent Hill 2 is available on PS2, Xbox, and PC for now with 360 and PS3 versions coming out next month. I have problems with every version of the game however.

The PS2 version doesn't work well on PS3 so if you have a backwards compatible PS3, don't expect it to run perfectly. The Xbox version is even worse in that department with an absolute plethora of texture and crashing issues when the game is played on a 360. The PC version has always been a buggy mess but it's even worse on newer computers and I don't know it works on Windows 7. I'm gonna guess not. I can't speak for how well the HD re-release works since it isn't out yet but I can complain about one thing: Konami jerkin' me around when it comes to the voice acting in the HD versions of Silent Hill 2 and 3.
Rant incoming.
I already wrote a whole article about this where I dropped the only F-bomb on this blog, so that should be an indication of how much this annoys me, but here are the details. An HD bundle of Silent Hill 2 and 3 has been in development for a while now for 360 and PS3. It was supposed to come out at the end of last year but it was delayed until March 2012 for whatever reason. That's all well and good except for the fact that Konami decided to re-record all the voice acting in both games. In many other situations, I wouldn't really care, but Silent Hill 2 & 3 are two of my favorite games ever and I've gotten very used to the original voice cast, so this really, really bothers me.

It was revealed near the end of last year that the original voice acting would be an option for SH2 but not 3 which just confused and annoyed me even further. Then I heard the interview with James' voice actor, Guy Cihi, that I mentioned earlier. He finally explained what happened. Guy and the rest of the cast of SH2 are actually Americans who reside in Japan so they recorded all their lines directly for the developer rather than dubbing over Japanese voice actors.

Also, as I said before, they did the motion capture acting for their characters too, so they were pretty involved in the game. Guy learned about what they planned to do to the game and he took action. He contacted ALL of the other actors from SH2 and asked them to waive their rights to the game which they all agreed to if only to preserve their original performances. So they will make no money from this re-release.

That's what it comes down to. Money. Konami doesn't give a shit anymore. That's why this "collection" is so lazily done. There are 7 games in the Silent Hill series. How does releasing a bundle of 2 of them count as a collection? Hell, next month two other SH games are coming out, Downpour and Book of Memories, so it'll be a 9 game series.

That's another thing to complain about, as if there wasn't enough about this to complain about already. Why in the name of Oscar Wilde are they releasing three Silent Hill games in the same month? Did Konami suddenly turn into Ubisoft? Seriously, game publishers: SPACE OUT YOUR RELEASES. You aren't going to make any money if you have your own games competing against each other. If you think consumers have the money to buy unlimited games then you obviously have forgotten about the used games market.

Uhg, that's enough. Here's my point: I won't endorse the Silent Hill HD Collection but I also won't criticize anyone who wants to buy it. At this point, Silent Hill 2 & 3 are getting kind of hard to play, so at least more people will get the chance to experience these two wonderful games. I just wish Konami didn't feel the need to mess with the voice acting. Konami re-released Metal Gear Solid 2, 3, and Peace Walker last year with all the original voice acting so I don't know what the issue is here.

ENOUGH. God dammit. I rant way too much.
Silent Hill 2 is an utterly amazing experience. James Sunderland's tale of self punishment is one of the most subtly written stories in any video game. It's a game that is NOT for the faint of heart. I consider it to be the third scariest video game in existence (Behind Amnesia and a Half-Life mod called Afraid of Monsters. HELL YES, I'M AFRAID OF MONSTERS NOW!), it is extremely violent and very, VERY maturely themed. Any game with a monster that sexually assaults other monsters is definitely not for kids. If you are of the right mindset, you may find something to love in Silent Hill 2.
I couldn't resist.
I really, really suck at this. I started my top 5 games of 2001 back on December 13, 2011 and I'm finally finishing it over two months later. Damn I'm awful. Also, I totally messed my list up. Super Smash Bros Melee is on my 2002 list. The only problem is it was released in 2001. Whoops. I really thought it came out in early 2002 for whatever reason. I think that's the only mistake on my list though. I hope...

Number 5 in my top 5 games of 2011!
An amazingly fun third person action game based on a hugely popular tabletop game.

I'll leave you with my favorite song from the game which I mentioned earlier. It's not on the official soundtrack so I don't know if it has an official name but fans call it Letters, as it's the song that plays as James talks about Mary's letter at the beginning of the game. Video brought to us by YouTube user Zaberpalo.

1 comment:

  1. I loved it the first time I played it. It's so enigmatic and deep treating love and psychological experiences that I ended feeling some kind of empathy and plaint for what happens to James and his wife-