Silent Hill 2 is widely considered one of the best horror games of all time. Whenever there is a list about the scariest games of all time, Silent Hill 2 is almost always near the top of the list or at the top. Anyone who has never played a Silent Hill game may just know the series through its monsters, such as the nurses or the iconic Pyramid Head. But there’s so much more to the series than the monsters. The genius of the Silent Hill series is its subtle use of psychological horror. The series uses an ominous atmosphere, an eerie soundtrack, unsettling camera angles, and an obscured environment to always make players feel uneasy.
But what really makes the Silent Hill series stand out amongst other survival horror games is its psychological depth full of symbols and allusions that add to its overall narrative. In the town of Silent Hill, every character’s strong emotions and memories (anger, guilt, sadness, fear, ect.) create an Otherworld full of dangerous monsters. Every Otherworld is very unique to a character. If players spend the time to observe these Otherworlds, they will see a lot of subtle indications into who that person is and what they are suffering from. This is what makes Silent Hill 2 arguably the best in the series and one of the best survival horror games ever made. It has perhaps the best psychological and emotional depth of any horror game.
Please note there will be spoilers for the game here:
Silent Hill 2 is about James Sunderland’s search for his wife Mary. James receives a mysterious letter from Mary that tells him to meet her at their “special place” in the town of Silent Hill. But what is disturbing about this letter is that Mary died from a terminal illness three years prior to the events in the game. Mary’s terminal illness tormented James because her beauty deteriorated and she became emotionally volatile. With no treatment available for his wife, James fell into a deep depression and started to drink quite often. James remained loyal to their marriage, but this made him feel trapped and sexually frustrated without a partner. He became so tormented by her illness that he actually started to resent Mary. He started to visit her less frequently until her death.
The beginning of the game is peaceful, quiet, and yet very lonely as players walk through misty woods to get to Silent Hill. It really symbolizes how lonely James felt when the love of his life was terminally ill. But at the same time, the eerie music and the sound of the woods creates a lot of tension as if a monster could attack players at any time. This subtle introduction alone will probably make most people put the controller down and step away if they don’t like horror games. This is what they call psychological horror. Silent Hill does have jump scares, but how Silent Hill really intimidates players is through its atmosphere of eerie sounds and ominous environments.
When James arrives in Silent Hill, he discovers that the entire town is completely abandoned and covered in a mysterious fog. As players reluctantly travel through the town they see a mysterious creature walk into the deep fog. The game of course encourages players to follow a blood trail to the creature. Unlike in the previous Silent Hill that had winged demons, giant moths, and monstrous centipedes, every enemy in Silent Hill 2 is humanoid and has a feminine shape (except for Pyramid Head). This is because the monsters are all manifestations of James’s guilt over the death of his wife. For example, the creature James first encounters (the Lying Figure) is shaped like its in a fleshy straightjacket, which symbolizes James feeling trapped in his marriage while Mary was terminally ill.
Most of the game consists of traveling through dark hallways and rooms full of monsters. Like every survival horror game, most of the game consists of killing enemies, collecting items, discovering new areas, James jumping down metaphorical holes, reading notes that delve into the mystery of the town, and solving puzzles (very weird puzzles). Players have several options in how to handle the monsters. They can use melee weapons such as a pipe or wooden plank, ranged weapons such as a handgun or a shotgun, or they can just avoid the monsters. The monsters are pretty easy to handle and there’s plenty of ammunition and health items scattered around the town depending on the difficulty. But they can definitely be scary for first time players when walking down a dark hallway or in a dark room with just a flashlight. Plus even if a monster is taken down, it can crawl like a spider on the ground and quickly maneuver toward players.
Every enemy and human character in the game ties into James’ character. The big reveal in the game is that Mary didn’t die from her terminal illness. James suffocated her with a pillow to end his and her suffering. It is quite possible he killed her shortly before the game even begins and has repressed the memory of her murder. After killing her, James carried the body and put it in the backseat of his car. The game starts in an empty parking lot near James’ car so it is very possible Mary’s body is in the backseat right from the start. That means the main focus of the game is to get James to accept the truth of his actions and how he truly felt about Mary. The darkness and terror of James’ Otherworld could be a representation of the harsh reality of the truth.
Players will eventually encounter the most iconic villain in the series, Pyramid Head. While he appears in several other games due to his popularity, he was originally a manifestation of James’ guilt for killing his wife and his desire to be punished for it. Pyramid Head is the only masculine enemy in the game and he is often found molesting and raping the feminine shaped enemies in the game. This represents James’ sexual frustrations as he couldn’t have sex or be in relationship with another person due to his marriage with Mary. This feeling of being trapped in his marriage is represented through Pyramid Head’s helmet. The giant spear and knife that Pyramid Head carries can be seen as phallic imagery. Pyramid Head stalks James throughout the whole game to get him to accept the truth that he killed his wife. When he finally admits the truth, the double Pyramid Heads stab themselves in the chest. They have finally completed their purpose. James no longer needs an external force to judge him. He can now judge himself.
Silent Hill has a mysterious force that draws people to the town. The first human character that James encounters is Angela who is drawn to Silent Hill to find her “mama.” Angela is a very shy and nervous woman, especially around men, as she was sexually abused by her father. Before the events of the game, Angela actually killed her father by stabbing him multiple times with a knife. With nothing to live for as a fugitive with no loved ones, Angela contemplates suicide. Angela’s anger, suicidal thoughts, and history of sexual abuse manifests itself into an Otherworld in Silent Hill.
Her Otherworld is covered in flesh with pistons in the wall that thrust back and forth, suggesting sexual intercourse. One of the bosses, Abstract Daddy, takes the shape of two figures having sex in a bed under a fleshy sheet. This of course being a clear manifestation of Angela’s history of being sexually abused. Later on, Angela’s Otherworld is perceived as a burning staircase, which represents her life as a literal living hell. Angela ascending up the stairs represents her suicide and venture into the afterlife. Angela represents a possible ending of James committing suicide since players will get the suicide ending the more they observe her knife and diary.
James also meets Eddie who was relentlessly bullied for his weight until he eventually snapped. Before being drawn to Silent Hill, he shot and killed a dog that belonged to one of his bullies and then he shot that bully in the knee with his father’s gun. Eddie’s Otherworld consists of people (or monsters) mocking him. When James first encounters Eddie, he seems very insecure and defensive. As the game progresses, Eddie begins to lose his mind as he begins to see murder as no big deal. He plans on killing anyone who he perceives to be ridiculing him.
When James eventually walks into Eddie’s Otherworld, it takes the shape of a cold meat locker which symbolizes Eddie’s desire to eat food, his detachment from reality and his cold attitude towards people. The meat is in the shape of bodies, which represents the bullies who tormented him. James tries to reason with him, but Eddie is too blinded by his insanity and thinks James is mocking him too. Eddie attacks James, which forces James to kill him in self defense. The purpose of Eddie’s character is to get James to see that he is a murderer too and that he has no business judging Eddie’s resolve. Eddie tells him, “Don’t get all holy on me, James… This town called you, too. You and me are the same. We’re not like other people.”
Laura, on the other hand, contrasts with every other human character in the game. She has no darkness in her heart so she doesn’t see any of the horrors of Silent Hill. Her main role in the game is to guide James to the truth as he spends most of the game looking for Laura while he searches for Mary. She drives the narration forward with her actions. In the apartment buildings, she kicks away the keys which forces James to take the long way that leads to his first meeting with Pyramid Head, another guide to the truth. Her appearance in the town forces James to chase after her, which leads him through the Brookhaven Hospital. When she locks James in a room with monsters, James is forced to delve deeper in the Otherworld of Silent Hill, which is a metaphor for James delving deeper into the truth.
Plus the letter given to Laura by the real Mary wishes her a happy 8th birthday, which Laura claims was last week. This means Mary couldn’t have died three years ago and that the murder of Mary happened very recently. As the story progresses, the writing on Mary’s letter disappears. When James learns the truth, the letter disappears completely. This symbolizes that James has overcome his delusion.
Perhaps the most important human interaction for James is Maria. She physically looks just like Mary and has some of her memories, but her appearance and personality is far more sexually outgoing. She is the manifestation of what James desired Mary to be: seductive, energetic, and cheerful. She is very clingy and seductive, which gives James a lot of mixed feelings because she is the Mary he’s always wanted, but it’s still not Mary. Throughout the game, she follows James around and constantly tries to get him to accept her. Silent Hill created Maria to seduce James so that he can be eternally trapped in his suffering due to his refusal to let Mary go. Depending on the ending, James will either move on and escape this seductive manifestation, or he will fall into Silent Hill’s seductive trap.
What is unique about Silent Hill 2 is that it has multiple endings depending on the actions of players throughout the game. There is no canonical ending so nobody knows which ending is the one that actually happened. This leaves open an enjoyable debate between fans and adds to the replay value of the game. James will either leave Silent Hill and adopt Laura (moving on from the past), commit suicide by driving into the lake to reunite with Mary, fall in love with Maria who begins to cough hinting that she will suffer the same fate as Mary (falling into Silent Hill’s trap), or he will try to resurrect Mary using demonic artifacts. There’s also two comedic endings where a dog is controlling all the events or where a UFO abducts James. While many people claim the suicide ending is the canonical ending, the true ending of Silent Hill 2 will continue to be debated for years to come.
Silent Hill 2 was unique for its time. It’s one of the first games to show that video games can be art and just as complex as any other medium. It tackled topics rarely seen in games (even to this day) such as depression, suicide, guilt, abuse, bullying, and much more. Silent Hill 2 remains one of the most complicated and thought provoking games ever made. It is a masterpiece in its genre and should be played by all horror fans alike.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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