Monster Monday 3: A Look Back at Silent Hill 2


Welcome back, fans of horologic symmetry. It’s Monday again and that means another installment of our series of looks into the creatures and games which cause fright in our favorite past time.

This season’s games don’t seem to be giving us the real variety needed to have a different monster every week with pop culture’s zombie infatuation seemingly overtaking every game writer’s imagination. The biggest horror game for the past few months has been the Walking Dead, and the recent release of the new Resident Evil hasn’t done much to buck the trend of a zombified genre.

Of course, aliens, those spunky ET’s that we mentioned last week, have been gaining traction as our new monster du jour, but those aren’t really creatures of horror in the same way that the classic characters like Dracula, the wolfman and even zombies are. Aliens are more a creation of science fiction and the trope of an invasion plot line is not a surprising one. This current state of affairs is a bit disappointing when you remember some of the best horror games didn’t use the mainstream monsters at all. Even with the hardware limitations of older systems, there are examples of truly unique approaches to horror.

Probably the most successful of these was the classic Silent Hill 2 on the Playstation 2. In this creepy psychological thriller, you play the character of James Sunderland, a man with an unclear history, a shaky psyche and pretty terrible fashion sense. He receives a letter from his wife asking him to meet her in the town of Silent Hill, which wouldn’t be too odd, except that she’s dead. This leads James to go to the town to find her. He arrives to find the town inhabited by things: odd collections of limbs and aggression that look to be the creation of someone with some serious intimacy issues.

The most intimidating of these lessons in Freudian perversion is a man of sorts with a large sword and a giant pyramid-shaped head, not surprisingly, named Pyramid head. This executioner figure pursues you through the game and adds levels of slow tension and panicked escape that are all but absent from shock-horror serials like Resident Evil. A thick fog and the scratching sounds of your pursuers around you (along with radio interference caused by their presence) keep James from ever reaching a place in Silent Hill that can alleviate the pressure of his impending demise.

Silent Hill’s emptiness and the corrupted layout of its streets also play a role in the game’s success. Locations in the town meander from a mundane, if empty, street to surreal, bloody depictions of an alternate world. As you travel through the world there’s a constant, nagging suspicion that the reality of the game is only true to James. There’s a strong case to be made that everything you see has been filtered by James’s weakening grasp on the truth. Are you really fighting for your life or is it all just the fantasy of a madman? Even after the game’s conclusion you cannot tell.

The reason I bring this game and its psychotic creations up is to show that our concepts of horror monsters are not chained to the limits of the archetypal choices. Not everything needs to be a zombie or a vampire. Some can be, like in Silent Hill 2, animated mannequin parts, while others can be, like in my nightmares, Disney characters with butcher’s knives, which may say a bit more about me than it does about the horror genre. It’s up to game designers and writers to make unique concepts and to not limit themselves to the easy choices.

Now, I love to kill zoms and blow away aliens, but I find that a new and unknown enemy is a much more tantalizing prospect. The fear of that which we don’t entirely understand has been a strong motivator of humanity since before societies existed. Even now, the thought of an uncontrolled situation can bring some of us into a state of paralysis, and conversely give us elation and a sense of power when that fear is conquered. That sense of accomplishment stays with you much longer than a console cycle. Here’s to hoping that something new to scare us will appear soon.


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