What Made Silent Hill 2 Great and Why the Devs Don't Get It

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Turning the series into an 'inner demons' franchise with a new crazy person each entry would just get tiring and predictable. "Gee, I wonder if he/she has a dark secret which will reveal itself near the end."

The cool thing about the first 4 Silent Hill's is that they're different from eachother. SH2 was arguably the best, but that doesn't mean the more chaotic fear of SH1 and 3 didn't have their own merrit. I certainly wouldn't want SH2 to become some sort of template.

Shamus, it is also possible that you don't get what SH2 is about, and thus you have the impression that nobody, even the original creators, "gets it". I don't really feel that SH2's story is all that impressive, it's actually very similar to other grim Japanese story-telling(a lot of which has found absolutely no appreciation in the west). I think, instead, what makes a lot of people like SH2 so much, is how much it leaves to the player's interpretation/imagination, while giving very solid building blocks with lots of careful atmosphere.

Take the "leap of faith" sections, for instance. I really think they're primarily a device of level design: The whole level is about "descending" and "entering ever more tight, restrained places". If the devs had then tried to tell the player specifically what this is supposed to represent, you'd probably have been disappointed. However, they didn't. They left it up to the player's interpretation. I think that's what makes it so great. Every player can associate this level with >their own personal< thoughts and life experiences.

In other words, the "good choice" that SH2 made, was the *lack of story*(to a large extent). I haven't played the later games, but I can very well believe that other teams didn't really "understand" this(after all, normally you can't expect the mainstream to come up with their own stories to fill in the blanks).

Not a Silent Hill fan, but we see it more and more frequent how sequels just lift elements or motifs wholesale from the previous titles and apply them without realizing what they're about, I agree.
Whether it's Star Wars' overuse of Lightsabers, Bioshock Infinite's terribly out of place Vigors, or the Horror/stealth gameplay mechanics from RE6/MGS4 respectively, that are completely unfit for the kind of game they are i.e. 3rd person shooters.
It often feels like these things were not made by a human, but some cynical machine that takes a few good parts everyone says he liked, and keeps beating people with it until they've lost all meaning.

At first, I was starting to agree. Then, I realize that Homecoming and Downpour are doing exactly what Silent Hill 2 have done, and the wanted list seems to completely missing the point. In my opinion, the concepts of the newer Silent Hill games can be great if the execution done right, but Homecoming feels like 100% copy pasting SH2 (Even the monsters) and Downpour doesn't feel like a game that wanted to top SH1, 2 and 3. Feels like a DLC to be honest.

Even Silent Hill 4 did something different from three early Silent Hill games, but of course, that clunkyness seems to be the problem of SH4. Safe to say, the brains of the original need to be applied if they wanted to have that FEEL again. The damned Silent Hill movie adaptations does not even get the point. They need to make a female protagonist to replace Harry Mason? Come on, even guys need to be afraid and that's not the only reason why the movie sucks.

In the end of the day, if they can make a better Silent Hill game, they need to look like they put an effort to it. That's what the first three games feel like.

The P.T. demo answers this article best. For the past six iterations of the Silent Hill series, its all be reattempts on trying to get the same experience with different technology, people, characters, and themes. It's time for something new and different from the past three generations. Silent Hill 2 is an amazing game, but so is Silent Hill 1, Silent Hill 3, and arguably Silent Hill 4. They all had their own interesting mechanics, story, characters, and take on the town that worked and gave people what they were looking for. Trying to hit the same feel over and over again is just carbon copying. It limits creativity and any new life into the franchise. Obviously there should be a common thread tying all the games together such as vulnerability, psychoanalysis, radios and flashlights, etc., but you just can't expect to create a original experience. That's what makes it original.

For me SH2 is the standout game from the original trilogy for all the obvious reasons. It's apart from the main Harry & Heather vs the Cult storyline, it shows how the events of the first game have effected Silent Hill and sets the stage for a bunch of future stories of personal redemption or damnation and it establishes so much of the mythology of what Silent Hill was and is.

SH1 and SH3 were great games as well and I like the stories that they tell but 2 is the one that showed how totell stories set in the same universe divorced from the plot and characters that laid the foundation.

SH2 also does a great twist ending that pulls into focus all of the events leading up to the reveal of who and what James is. Unfortunately, most the games since then that have tried to pull off the "personal hell" storyline have forgotten that we, as the players already know how Silent Hill works and the twist ending doesn't have the same impact.

To me you can address this one of two ways. Tell a story of personal punishment where we, as the audience already know what the protagonist is being punished for and tailor the story around his/her defiance when faced with their wrongdoings.
Or, you leave us with a blank slate and just reveal the back story through the course of the game.

That second option is obviously a bit harder to pull off as you still need to have a "big reveal" eventually and if mishandled it can fall flat.

Really I think each new development team should just be provided with a copy of Silent Hill Homecomings along with a sticky note that reads. "No!"

Where does this assertion that "For Silent Hill fans, the second one was the first one," come from? I love the Silent Hill series, and the one I adored most was the first game. It was frightening as hell, so much so that a bunch of army guys sitting around playing it in the dark led to the game getting promptly shut off and all the lights getting flipped on. I love Silent Hill 2 and 3 as well, though 4 fell a bit flat for me. There really does seem to be two sets of fans for the series. The ones that liked a lot of what the series did and the ones that came in for Silent Hill 2 and decided that was the game that mattered and that was the game that needed emulated. Silent Hill was amazing before number 2 was even a design document.

Diddy_Mao:
SH2 also does a great twist ending that pulls into focus all of the events leading up to the reveal of who and what James is. Unfortunately, most the games since then that have tried to pull off the "personal hell" storyline have forgotten that we, as the players already know how Silent Hill works and the twist ending doesn't have the same impact.

Silent Hill 1 kinda did the same thing though with the character of Cheryl. It even has a similar build-up with distorted videotapes slowly revealing the truth.

And I could kind of see the ending to SH2 coming pretty early on. I mean, it starts off with a confused possible crazy man looking for his dead wife... in Silent Hill. It also didn't help that I saw Lost Highway not too long before first playing it. I've you've seen that movie, you'll know what I mean.

Gorrath:
Where does this assertion that "For Silent Hill fans, the second one was the first one," come from? I love the Silent Hill series, and the one I adored most was the first game. It was frightening as hell, so much so that a bunch of army guys sitting around playing it in the dark led to the game getting promptly shut off and all the lights getting flipped on. I love Silent Hill 2 and 3 as well, though 4 fell a bit flat for me. There really does seem to be two sets of fans for the series. The ones that liked a lot of what the series did and the ones that came in for Silent Hill 2 and decided that was the game that mattered and that was the game that needed emulated. Silent Hill was amazing before number 2 was even a design document.

I imagine it's because Silent Hill 2 was the first PlayStation 2 release for the series, I imagine many gamers during the PS1s (still very successful) lifespan were on the N64 or the PC as well (Silent Hill 1 being released in 1999).

Evonisia:

Gorrath:
Where does this assertion that "For Silent Hill fans, the second one was the first one," come from? I love the Silent Hill series, and the one I adored most was the first game. It was frightening as hell, so much so that a bunch of army guys sitting around playing it in the dark led to the game getting promptly shut off and all the lights getting flipped on. I love Silent Hill 2 and 3 as well, though 4 fell a bit flat for me. There really does seem to be two sets of fans for the series. The ones that liked a lot of what the series did and the ones that came in for Silent Hill 2 and decided that was the game that mattered and that was the game that needed emulated. Silent Hill was amazing before number 2 was even a design document.

I imagine it's because Silent Hill 2 was the first PlayStation 2 release for the series, I imagine many gamers during the PS1s (still very successful) lifespan were on the N64 or the PC as well (Silent Hill 1 being released in 1999).

Right, and if he'd added the qualifier "most" or "many" that would make sense. As it's written, it suggests that for Silent Hill fans, all of them, number 2 was really the first one, which unfortunately implies that the first game shouldn't really be considered the start of the series. It's possible that he meant that for most Silent Hill fans, the second game was the first one they played, because they didn't have PS1, but the article doesn't really say that.

After reading the article and some of the comments I really feel like the biggest fault is using the imperial "We" to describe Silent Hill fans. In saying "our" first was Silent Hill 2, or that "we" are not obsessing over SH1, 3 or whatever it seems like you do kind of inadvertently alienate anyone who considers themselves a fan of the series to which those things don't apply. (I know that's how I felt being as SH1 was my first and favorite experience with the game). Seeing some of the comments seems to solidify that people have varying opinions about the qualities of each game.

It actually seems to me that there is a possibility that it could be a case of "the best Silent Hill is the one I played first," as happens with a lot of franchises. Your first journey into Silent Hill is going to be your most memorable as it is your first time entering such a dark and twisted reality, and any attempts at replication are more likely bring back nostalgia rather than the true terror you first felt, when everything was still unknown.

All that said I think many of your points are well made, whether or not the advice given will make the next game a true descendant of the Silent Hill legacy would remain to be seen, however in general it is just good advice for making a good horror game.

Getting another Silent Hill 2 has been - and even with these media giants now at the helm, still will be - a long shot. Getting that perfect blend of psychological thriller, suspenseful anticipation and viceral horror is a serious challenge, even for the best game designers. I think SH2 definitely showed that some of the best horror stories aren't epic ones, but ones that are character-focused. Personally I don't think the cult as a plot device is a bad thing; when handled PROPERLY, cults can be ominous, menacing forces that play on fears of oppression, mindless fanaticism, conspiracy and the influence of larger, enigmatic and malevolent entities. The issue, though, is they're frequently not handled with the subtlety they need. SH3 did a pretty good job of this with Vincent and Claudia. Vincent definitely came across as slimy and manipulative while Claudia was fanatical but seemed to be just sane enough to be dangerous. The thing is the cults can't be too flamboyant, otherwise they cross a line that goes from disturbing in their behavior and beliefs to just ridiculous.

Like Sean said, combat needs to be balanced between being functional without making the player feel like the monsters there facing aren't a threat. Condemned 1 & 2 did a great job with this (1 more than 2, honestly) by having very limited gun use and forcing you to fight hand-to-hand with homicidal psychopaths that would come snarling at you out of the shadows as you nerviously crept through poorly lit buildings, listening for the bloothirsty lunatics as they skulk around in the dark, waiting to jump you and bash your head in with a piece of rebar. You're capable of fighting back, and effectively, in these games, but the enemies come across as being just as effective as you are and also having the advantage of knowing the area better than you -and- outnumbering you. Meanwhile, you look at games like the Resident Evil series; these are still fun games to play, but nobody can really say they're scary outside of the occasional jump scare. Being armed with a hand gun or a shot gun is one thing, but when you're giving characters assault rifles and grenade launchers, you feel pretty well equipped to deal with any mutant or undead creature coming your way. At this point, it's not so much a survival horror game as an action-sci fi game.

Pacing and buildup are important elements too. Making sure to give players enough time between monster attacks and tense situations to catch their breath keeps them from getting burned out from neverending bloodstained walls and twisted creatures throwing themselves at the player. Amnesia: The Dark Descent did this well, particularly in one section where you come to a safe-looking haven, only to later come back to it and find it's been overrun with the murderous force you're trying to stay ahead of. It's a genuinely shocking moment; you come back to a place were just a short while ago you'd felt like you could rest and find some relief from the nightmare you're in, only to have that sense of safety suddenly torn away, forcing you to realize your haven is gone and you have to keep moving forward, because the nightmare isn't going to let you rest for long.

V4Viewtiful:

gamegod25:
Recently I watched a couple videos of PT and it honestly never scared or even startled me. As someone who watches a lot of horror games it was basically all stuff I'd seen done before in those indie horror games. There were mildly disturbing parts but that's all they were, nothing made me jolt in my chair or put me on edge....it was just a lot of "ah yeah, this old trick".

That's not always the case, horror isn't just about scares but making you feel uncomfortable or just uneasy (wait, doesn't that mean the same thing). if either is achieved the horror works, Alien never scared me but it made me uncomfortable.

Sometimes its a matter of perspective but neither has to be right.

That was my point, PT never made me scared or uneasy or uncomfortable. Because it failed to do that then (to me) it was a failure as a horror game. Sorry if that did not come across well enough.

Whatever the reason it just didn't click for me.

Therumancer:

shiajun:
I guess it always comes down to what the developer understands as horror. It could be that revolting and uncomfortable feeling induced by violent, loud and gory imagery, or that disturbing and panic inducing feeling from your mind simply not knowing what's happening and filling in the blanks with the worst it can come up with. I've never played Silent Hill 2, but it clearly went for the second version. I think in an interactive medium it's the most effective one, since you don't really have complete control of when and how the player will find your "horror setpieces" so you let them passively do most of the heavy lifting. However, it doesn't do great "trailers" to show off, so many developers go for the first version. It's not flashy enough. The down side is that for that "horror" to work you need heavily scripted and guided environments, which gameplay wise becomes limiting and boring.

For the record, I though the Sonic games 1 to 4 (or 3 extended, if you see Sonic and Knuckles as that) were great. They all shared the same design philosophy and overall feeling. It's aftwards that it all went weird. So it wasn't just one flash in the pan, it was a reliable construct that got levelled over the years.

I personally do not think it has to be an either/or relationship between "violent, loud, and gory imagery" and "fear of the unknown" you can have both of those things together. I've already more or less explained where I think the series went wrong. I think a good part of the problem is they became afraid to upset people, which is sort of the point of horror games, and as a result it became "mommy horror" so to speak, full of recycled spook-house tropes that largely do the expected, but don't go out of their way to be especially shocking, most of the "original" stuff are things they had developed from the very beginning and keep-reusing.

I've always suspected a big part of why the game industry pronounced that survival horror was dead was because it realized it wouldn't be able to make good horror games without offending people, and giving the anti-video games movement more fuel. We're seeing an attempt to bring them back, due to the way indie developers have sort or resurrected them, but at the same time indie developers are small enough to not get much fire, and there is only so much they can do with their limited resources. In bringing back horror games to the big time, it remains to be see if the industry is going to be willing to push the envelope, and of course embrace a niche genera that by definition will never be for everyone and cannot be judged by the success of titles like "Call Of Duty".

That said, I think all of the "Silent Hill" games have had something going for them, and that even includes "Book Of Memories" but the quality does vary greatly.

Oh, I agree with you. It shouldn't be an either/or situation within the game. There should be place for both types of scary stuff. My ideal setting would be dread and anxiety for the most part, and just when you start to realize that it's mostly you playing tricks on yourself, the actual violence and gore come in. That way, for the stretches of non-violent horror you're never sure when or if some other adrenaline raising moment may come by. It's no longer "just my imagination", but an actual possibility. However, when designing games I've seen developers go too much to either side, probably due to time/budget/staff concerns and that always becomes predictable. Classic horror games (and movies and books, and plays) find the right balance of both.

Eh, I disagree with a lot of this. I liked the cult fine in the games it was used in, but its story is pretty much over by now. And besides, we already have SH2. We don't need another one. But then again, I actually like most of the games, and even the ones I'm not overly fond of, like 4 and Origins, I can still have fun with. And I maintain Downpour is a good game that could have been great if Konami allowed the developers to put more time and money into it.

Skops:

No. God no. These clowns are one of the worst things to happen to the fan base since the very beginning. They deliberately spread misinformation and try to pass off their own fan theories as facts. They're a bunch of nitwits who don't deserve any more clicks than they already have.

Shamus Young:
Silent Hill is a haunted town. In Silent Hill 2, it's portrayed as a place where you're pulled into your own personal hell. People with terrible secrets are drawn there, and the monsters they see are born from the stuff they have going on in their own head. The journey is a kind of pilgrimage, where you either suffer the punishment you deserve or overcome the monsters and find some kind of forgiveness and solace. There are four pilgrims in Silent Hill 2. One of them is an innocent little girl, and for her the town has no monsters because she doesn't have any blood on her hands. The other three pilgrims each find the town a little different, and they all have their own terrors to face.

Which is one of the main reasons why Shattered Memories is such a massive disappointment (the other being the lack of combat). Considering that the plot was built around the idea of psychoanalysis that was actually done pretty subtly for the most part it was a perfect opportunity to tailor the atmosphere, monsters, challenges and scares to the player specifically, adding an immense amount of replay value in the process. This was an opportunity they squandered due to the game basically being exactly the same regardless of what the player did with the exception of a few superficial changes. In short, the amount of potential lost was painful. Add in the lack of combat and thus the annoying chasing sections and it's easily the worst of all the Silent Hill games, and besides it's so divorced from the mechanics and story of the series I wouldn't really call it a "Silent Hill" game at all, more like Clocktower or some game like that.

Aside, I also hate the cult because there's nothing about it that's ever been scary and in fact made the games less scary by demystifying them. The best part about the town of Silent Hill is that it has no motivation or sentient driving force behind it or what it does, it just IS. Many characters in the series and the fanbase itself have tried to come up for reasons for the town's existence and why it traps people there or believe that they know, but none of them are truly right. It's this mystery that makes the town a terrifying and compelling entity, if it even could be called an real being of any sort rather than a force of nature. Trying to figure out what Silent Hill is and why it does it's nonsensical actions to the characters despite the futility of trying is a big part of the appeal of the series, and having a cult that created it or something like that only cheapens that appeal.

Pink Gregory:

Also, I don't believe that you could conceivably do the 'the town is shaped by your psyche' story more than once in the series.

I strongly disagree, in fact I'll say the opposite, they could conceivably do the "town is shaped by your psyche" story countless times and not have it get old, as long as they keep the symbolism subtle and done well and keep the psyche varied. Doing another story about a guy who kills his wife could even in itself be varied by how and why he did it, not to mention other crimes and self destructive aspects of the human mind that can be shown an represented in countless ways. Actually, I'd say the entire series has always been about a "town shaped by a psyche", it just depends on whether we're talking about the protagonist's (2, 3 in terms of the Alessa=Heather and a bit of specifically too, Homecoming, Origins, Shattered Memories, Downpour) or the antagonist's (1, bit of 3, 4, and both the movies) psyche, with a few other people's psyche thrown into the mix every once in a while. Depending on who it is that's the main psyche we get the most character development out of them.

KiramidHead:

No. God no. These clowns are one of the worst things to happen to the fan base since the very beginning. They deliberately spread misinformation and try to pass off their own fan theories as facts. They're a bunch of nitwits who don't deserve any more clicks than they already have.

Agreed, I especially didn't like how they whined about the story being deep and complex and open to interpretation instead of it and the answers being spoonfed to them in the most blatantly obvious manner possible and about the combat no longer being so clunky and prone to frustration as it used to be while making sure that the player wasn't an overpowered commando at the same time somehow made it bad.

Yep. Had to stop reading after the second paragraph from sheer bloody annoyance at the flat-out insistence that of course all real Silent Hill fans are primarily fans of 2 and don't think any of the other games came close. It's such a bizarre stance to take, when there's vast quantities of people who talk about "The original Silent Hill trilogy... and the other not-as-good" ones. Personally I find the "only Silent Hill 2 is the real Silent Hill" fans as obnoxious as the ones who want more Pyramid Head all the time.

So, as someone who loves 2 & 3 equally, with 1--of all things!--following not far behind, in one bold move you've undercut your entire article. You've told me I'm not welcome in your premise and in your ideal vision because I can't accept the gospel truth of the perfection of this one game above all others.

Also, man alive, what would it take to get a proper HD remake of 1? 2 and 3 got it (and not in a good way) and they still look okay and handle just fine, but 1 is a pixel-y mess with a control scheme that goes beyond "difficult in the way that makes you feel vulnerable" and into "I and my controller aren't on speaking terms anymore." But the "And then suddenly, the world was horribly wrong" aspect of 1 is something the other games never quite will have, because they're all building on the shoulders of the previous stories. 1 was our gateway into a fundamental distrust of reality and I'd love to see it done up to modern visual standards. Or even 5-years-ago visual standards, honestly.

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