In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week, Andy admires the carefully crafted nightmares of Silent Hill 2.
When James Sunderland arrives in Silent Hill, he ﬁnds strange creatures roaming the empty, fogbound streets. On the surface they’re simply enemies waiting to be shot or bludgeoned to death. But nothing in Team Silent’s horror masterpiece is that simple. As you journey through the town and learn more about Sunderland, you begin to realise that there’s more to these monsters as well.
They’re so unusual. None of art director Masahiro Ito’s designs can be traced to creatures from other horror ﬁction. “I wanted to give them a human aspect,” Ito said in a 2001 making-of documentary. “When you ﬁrst see one as a silhouette in the distance, obscured by fog, you think it’s a person. But then I undermine this human aspect by giving them strange movements and using improbable angles for their bodies.”
When designing monsters, most artists look to horror ﬁlms for inspiration, but Ito was inﬂuenced by the grotesque, emotionally charged paintings of Francis Bacon. And he wanted to make sure that each creature not only looked scary, but affected you on a subconscious level. Speaking about perhaps his most famous creation, the monster commonly known as Pyramid Head, he said: “The triangle has right angles and acute edges. Its sharpness suggests the possibility of pain.”
This design philosophy is part of what makes the creatures in Silent Hill 2 so special. But it goes deeper. Their designs are also intrinsically tied to the story, which gives their presence a meaning often lacking in horror games. Each monster represents something lurking in the dark corners of Sunderland’s psyche. They’re manifestations of his guilt, fear, insecurity, and sexual urges. He’s ﬁghting his personal demons in a very literal sense.
One type of creature, named Lying Figures by Team Silent, resembles faceless people wearing straitjackets made of their own ﬂesh. They writhe and squirm, seemingly in agony, which represents Sunderland’s inner suffering. Another type, Mannequins, are feminine torsos with long, slender legs attached to them: manifestations of Sunderland’s sexual frustration. And Pyramid Head, who stalks him for most of the game, represents his desire for punishment—a desire that makes sense when you reach a certain pivotal point in the story.
At ﬁrst we sympathise with Sunderland, thinking he’s someone who accidentally stumbled into the haunted town. But the ﬁnal act makes it clear he’s been lured here to face judgement for something he did; something he’s repressed to the point where he’s completely disassociated himself from it.
The monsters that haunt you in Silent Hill are unique to you. Sunderland meets other characters in town, and subtle clues in the dialogue reveal that they see creatures too, but in a different form tailored to their own psychological issues. Eddie, for example, sees them as people laughing at him. The horrors in the town mirror the emotions and neuroses you bring into it, but no one visits of their own accord. They’re tempted there by something, in Sunderland’s case a letter from his deceased wife.
Silent Hill 2 has a depth and complexity that’s sorely missing from most games, particularly in the horror genre. Everything is designed with intent, and closely linked to the story. “Psychological horror has to shake your heart deeply and uncover your emotions,” says Sato Takayoshi, character artist. “Sex and death are something people think about every day, which is why both are core themes in the game.”
Silent Hill 2 is now out of print on PC, and there’s nowhere to buy it digitally. It’s a shame something this important isn’t more easily accessible. But there are ways to ﬁnd it, and it’s worth seeking out if you haven’t played it before. Sunderland’s trial is a powerful one, because this is a game that understands that sometimes the scariest monsters are the ones lurking in your head. Other games in the series are devoted to the mythology of the town and the source of its evil, but the intimate, personal story in Silent Hill 2 is far more interesting. Sadly, with Team Silent long since disbanded, we’ll never be told another one like it.