The announcement of a proper, full-blown remake of SILENT HILL 2 had me very excited. SH2 was my most defining moment of gaming: It changed my engagement with the medium, taught me to view art and fiction itself, in a way I had never considered at my tender 15 years. It made me fall in love with stories and horror. To say it shaped who I am as a writer, critic and person would be an understatement.
However, my excitement was tempered by the fact that it is being made by Bloober Team. I say this not as someone that has an immediate issue myself, but other horror critics, who I deeply respect, have raised alarms for some time about their often awful and toxic writing and ideas. My only main experience with Bloober has been OBSERVER (specifically, the beautiful Redux): It combined horror with cyberpunk, with an irritating creature feature that did little for the game. However, I loved the world and plot, containing your detective Lazarski (played by the late Rutger Hauer) isolated among beautifully designed interiors in an dilapidated apartment complex.
SH2 is an important work of horror and we, therefore, have high expectations for whomever is taking over. Right now, we do know that original Team Silent members, Akira Yamaoka and Masahiro Ito, are involved. But “involved” is doing a lot of work here. Bloober Team and Konami are nothing if not well-versed in PR so they know what to say to allay fears but healthy scepticism remains.
The horror depicted by SH2 was a careful balance between portraying an ordinary man as both victim and perpetrator; the audience of his own doom because he was the author of another’s. Creatures at once vicious and violent, sexual and schismatic, seemed displaced from our protagonist who these monsters hunted. Yet, part of what makes SH2 a nightmare is discovering who James Sunderland really is. His haunting started long before, his ghosts clinging to him like the fog of this forgotten town. The town of Silent Hill seems to lure the already haunted and damned but it is a basic and boring point to say “the town” feeds on the fear and terror of the people it summons; too shallow and transparent to say it merely brings out what is already there. But being basic does not detract from truth.
Why I personally felt terrified was both the monsters and town, sure, but primarily, how much the game led me to see the world through the eyes of a genuinely bad person. It made me feel trapped since the cage he made out of his terrible choices cracked the ribs of his morality, put him in a vice of a selfishness he draped under a blanket he called self-preservation. I hate him yet the game told me I was him.
He made me genuinely believe he was a victim, but he was nothing but a selfish, horrible man. Yet, this is not a game about judging him and finding justice – the entire game is a sentencing and condemnation of his actions. This is no rooting for the bad guy here, since the game tells you, explicitly, the town only contains bad people. There is no redemption.
SH2’s relentless haunting, dragging a character to hell and telling you he belongs there but forcing you to survive – I had never and still have not experienced anything like it.
The story is a sad one, but James does not deserve your sympathy. It is a world of horror targeting people who often were “made” that way by the world itself – a place that, even outside of Silent Hill, is one we’re told is harsh and cruel. Yet, many other people survive it and manage, despite the nightmare of existence, to remain good.
I love SH2 because it is at once comfort that the awfulness of existence is not just some Goth performance, but one to be accepted. There is contentment in knowing one’s fate, however horrid it may be. It is the uncertainty that is our undoing. SH2 taught me a lot about how great horror stories can be comforting and disconcerting – that paradox that makes up human existence, as it were.
I love this game, as you can tell. I only hope that when new players experience it, that Bloober Team is able to capture what made the original such an important piece of gaming and horror.