So I’ve replayed Silent Hill 2 recently and let myself get properly sucked in to the world this time, I’ve done speed runs to get bonus endings and stuff in the past, but this time I took it in slowly, listened on headphones and played it late at night to really get absorbed into the world. One thing I’ve been reminded of in replaying is just how detailed the world is. Every time you enter a room it tells a story. Sometimes, an obscure, indecipherable story, but there’s a reason it’s there. The room in the apartment complex with all the butterflies – I’m not sure why it’s there, but there’s a probably a good reason for it. The riddles and puzzles in the game are there to explore specific themes. The hospital in particular constantly brings things back to mental illnesses. You could tell some fascinating backstories based on the puzzles and memo’s found in Silent Hill games, and indeed the plot of SH4 was based on a newspaper article found in SH2.
What Silent Hill has, and Silent Hill 2 in particular has that other games lack is that the whole experience feels like someone is fucking with you. Everything is tailored towards you. One of the differences in Resident Evil games for instance is that the world still operates without you. This is a normal world gone wrong, but one of the fascinating aspects of Silent Hill games is there’s the sense that someone has been there before you and left all these hints for you to find. But you can never tell if they’re on your side or not. You always feel that there’s some intangible presence, whose mercy you’re constantly at, and whether they’re enemy or friend you can never be certain. There’s something that actively hates you and wants to punish you and make you unhappy.
There’s also no other game world that feels so grimey and decaying. It’s irritating that the art direction in Silent Hill games would subsequently come back to the iconography of the first game as if the mist world/otherworld divide was all there was to it.
SH2 seemed more pre-occupied with things that have become rotting away. It’s harder to describe it simply because the idea of the ‘otherworld’ is much more blurred in the game. You don’t get an ‘otherworld’ until the hospital and that has more the look of a condemned, bombed building. The prison and labyrinth beneath the historical society all already feels like a nightmarish alternative world when you arrive, and it’s debatable just how real that is anyway. So the only other place with an otherworld is the hotel, which feels more flooded and burnt than anything else. [Spoiler] And the implication is, the hotel had burnt down, so the otherworld version is the real version of the Hotel [/spoiler]
So many themes and ideas are reinforced in every aspect of the game. So for any future developers that want to do something “that gets back to SH2 roots” what you need to do is think about how everything you include in the game adds to the overall piece. You can’t just throw a load of Silent Hill clichés at the wall and hoping they stick together.