One of the burning questions among the video game community is “are video games art?” This is a question that has always been baffling to me. Of course video games are art; somebody had to draw and model the characters. Somebody had to write the story and someone had to act out the lines. Basically every facet of a video game is art, but just like with any other form of media, some art is better than others. The real question should have always been “Can video games ever be held to the same standard as other forms of media in the eyes of the mainstream populace.” And unfortunately, despite the efforts of games journalists giving every pretentious indie and Naughty Dog game a 10/10, games will never be taken as artistically seriously as movies or music in the mainstream space because the average person is not interested in what makes a game fundamentally different to those other forms of media. A movie critic will not understand that a game’s mechanics are what can elevate it above other games in the genre. “So, what’s the point of this opening paragraph Satirical?” you might be asking. Well, the point is that Silent Hill 2 isn’t just a game I like, it’s one of the only games that I would put up there with the great works in other mediums as well, even though a theater critic would be wondering why you have to hold a chunk of plastic to make this off-Broadway play go forward.
Silent Hill is a long running Japanese horror series that takes place in the titular town of Silent Hill, a place that probably doesn’t have many hotels rated highly on yelp. The first Silent Hill was about a bunch of clueless dorks trying to stop an evil cult from ruining the tourist season, but since it came out on the PS1, everything now looks like the week I decided to try origami. Silent Hill 2, released in 2001, was the first game officially released by the newly named “Team Silent” and was able to take advantage of the amazing jump in graphical processing power of the Playstation 2. In addition to being one of the only video game stories I would hold up to works from other medium, it also happens to hold the distinction of being one of the only five games in existence I think are good; alongside Wind Waker, Shadow of the Colossus, Bloodborne and of course, Huniepop.
The game begins when the protagonist James Sunderland receives a note from his deceased wife saying that she is in a town called Silent Hill and he needs to travel there to rescue her. The main aspect that makes Silent Hill 2 such an amazing game is how it makes the gameplay about the town itself, more than just about the minute details of the moment to moment gameplay, and because of this, Silent Hill 2 does atmosphere better than any game I have ever played. Yes, as you travel around the town of Silent Hill, you really get the sense that everything is devoid of life. Even most of the enemies feel artificial, as they skitter around like cockroaches or awkwardly shamble towards you like broken wind up dolls. Hell, one of the enemies is just two pairs of mannequin legs on top of each other. The atmosphere of the game gives this dreamlike sense of detachment from reality that makes the player feel like nothing is ever really happening. This is never more apparent then when you meet one of the many eccentric side characters that all act supremely off kilter like they aren’t occupying the same plane of reality as you are, and it really hammers home the series’ now trademark symbolistic surrealism.
Admittedly, good gameplay has never really been Silent Hill’s strong suit. The stiff melee combat and tank controls still play like the main character is recovering from a botched inner ear surgery, but I would argue it makes sense in context. He’s just an everyday working man, not a close combat specialist, and having him be adept in battle would just give the game lunar narrative dissonance. That being said, most of the rest of the game is just finding items to solve really obtuse puzzles that only make sense if you don’t think about it. So, you might be asking. If Silent Hill 2’s gameplay isn’t that good and its real strength is the story and atmosphere, then why couldn’t it be a movie or a book? And this is why Silent Hill 2 is one of the few games I truly consider to be a masterpiece. The game is absolutely amazing at maintaining a constant sense of dread that weighs down on you like the fog in the titular town. It’s the relentless feeling that no matter how much you progress, your victories are very short lived, and thus, that sense of terror never really relinquishes itself throughout the entire game, until you start to question whether or not the enemy is the town or James himself, and this is something that simply doesn’t work the same in a non-interactive medium. The game is absolutely drenched in symbolism, and this lends itself to the story very well as you get the sense it’s all a reflection of James’ inner guilt and regrets. All the enemies symbolize something about his subconscious; the sexy zombie nurses symbolize his lustful urges when he was in the hospital with his sick wife. Even one of the side characters, Maria is a girl that looks like a sexed-up version of his wife. And of course, there’s the iconic Pyramid Head executioner that symbolizes the Sin and Punishment (Star Successor) that he believes he deserves. This, in addition to the emotional, moving soundtrack build an amazing atmosphere that weaves itself into the narrative, instead of the gameplay and story existing separately of each other.
The game has numerous endings, but I personally think that “In Water” is the most thematically appropriate ending, and it holds the very high honor of being the only game to actually make me tear up. Silent Hill 2 really stands out as being an incredibly well-crafted game, and by far the best in a series of amazing games. Silent Hill 3 is great, but failed to really push the franchise in the same way 2 did, and 4, while having great story and atmosphere, dropped the ball so hard on the gameplay aspect that the ball burrowed through the earth, came back around and hit it on the head. Silent Hill 2 remains one of my all-time favorite games, and a game I can point to when people question why I think modern games just lack the qualities that make games like Silent Hill 2 special. A game like this would never get made today, because not only are ambitious sequels nearly a thing of the past, but there’s no room in the AAA space nowadays for quaint games like this. They’d ruin it by making it an open world game or selling the alternate endings as DLC.