Video games have often allowed players to fully immerse themselves into the world of the game. From the very first game I played, Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo, to the most recent game, Metal Gear Rising, games have the ability to transplant you to a place in time that may be wholly foreign to your normal, everyday life. The first game that made me think differently was Grand Theft Auto 3. The game initially didnt strike me as immersive, but as I played, switching to cars I liked, finding the right radio station, I soon realised I was engrossed in the game, lost in its nuances and trivialities. When Vice City came out, I found myself playing just to drive around and enjoy the environment. In a horror game, the same is true, though instead of longing for a familiarity, I'm ill at ease by it, uncertain and sometimes even terrified by what the game delivers.
The first horror game I played is really the first horror game that affects me still. And while it was recently re-released, I doubt I'll pick it up, not wanting to sully the memories of that terror. Silent Hill 2 was a terrifying adventure. Unlike many modern games that try to pander to a wider audience, Silent Hill 2 caters to the horror audience alone. Others may partake, may find it diverting, but fans of pure horror will appreciate what Silent Hill 2 accomplishes.
The ambiance of the game is the first thing that struck me, the game felt eerie and off-putting from the very beginning. In most games, it is important to be able to see whats going on, hear things as they approach. In Silent Hill 2, a great dense fog descends and permeates every corner of the city. The protagonist, James, returns to this town after receiving a letter from his dead wife. Once he arrives, he is struck by his inability to see too far, needing a small radio, flashlight and his own sense of hearing to navigate away from things as they approach. The game is steeped in trying to disorient you, giving you a map, but half of the places are inaccessible or unreachable until a certain point in the game. One of the many goals of the game was to confuse you, to make you misunderstand the direction you were supposed to go, or the room to enter, the piece of the puzzle to use. It wasn't until I played Resident Evil 4 that I appreciated what Silent Hill had done, giving you more things than you needed, more tools than you could use or carry, purposely forcing you to choose to carry health or ammo, not knowing which you'd use or need more. There was no way to know what was around the next corner.
The enemies in a game are often a good way to gauge whether you will be scared or find it comical or not affecting at all. The real taste of something nasty for me was the nurses in Silent Hill 2. Faceless, dismembered, at times, not fans of light, they roamed the streets and hospitals of Silent Hill, ready with a knife or other implements to slice James in half. In most games, stealth is usually used to move through a level undetected by an enemy, but in Silent Hill, this takes on a whole other level of concern because it is not always clear what will set a nurse off to pursue you. And when one comes, more invariably follow. If that weren't bad enough, Pyramid head makes his debut and is well-nigh un-killable. Like in Amnesia The Dark Descent, the goal when fighting Pyramid head is to run away, something that, at the time, wasn't all that common in gaming. The idea that an enemy was not bothered by your bullets or bat, that you were literally powerless to slow or stop him in any way is what many horror movies base their premise off of.
It is in this final realisation that I come to the crux of my argument. I read a lot of horror novels (or I did when I was younger), I see a lot of horror movies as well. What I look for in a good horror piece is whether it affects me long after seeing it. The same is true for a video game did it affect me long after I stopped playing? With Silent Hill 2, however pathetic it may seem to many of you, I had nightmares for a week. Never anything specific, just waking up in a cold sweat, terrified of something coming out of nowhere to get me, as it did in the game. What makes Silent Hill 2 so affecting was the way the entire presentation and gameplay lead you back to the same feeling, the same warning. Each episode, each battle, each encounter, draws you further in, confuses or scares you, but brings the lore, the mythos that is Silent Hill to bear, in front of your eyes whether you're ready or not. Truly, Silent Hill is the king of all horror games, none have surpassed it, none have equalled it, none ever will.