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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #20—Silent Hill 2

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OnlySP Favorite Games 20 - Silent Hill 2

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s entry to the list is an elder statesman of the survival horror genre; the granddaddy of great modern spook-ems.

Silent Hill 2 gameplay screenshot

#20. SILENT HILL 2, by Ben Newman

What really keeps people up at night? What niggles at society’s heels when it isn’t looking? Where does horror really come from? These are big questions to ask, but thankfully, 2001’s Silent Hill 2 has already answered them. Following on from 1998’s surprising Silent Hill for the PlayStation, Konami’s Team Silent had amassed quite the reputation.

What was planned out as a mere Resident Evil clone, Silent Hill subverted its contemporary’s reliance on jump scares for deep, emotive horror. Despite Silent Hill’s cult-hit status, the industry-shaking impact of its sequel could not have been estimated, especially given that the ripples of its ruminations can be felt today.

Silent Hill 2 opens with the game’s plain-looking protagonist, James Sunderland, staring into the mirror, touching his face. James has just driven into town to meet his wife Mary. All appears well, except for the fact that Mary died two years beforehand, and James has recently received a letter from her asking to meet him in “their special place.” James takes the news in his stride, before descending on the blanketed fog of Silent Hill to find a wife who he knows is dead.

Evidently, not a lot has happened in James’s life after Mary moved on. Here, though, is the first warning that not is all right with James, nor the town which he will find himself lost in.

Silent Hill 2 gameplay screenshot 2

The town of Silent Hill is breath-taking, but not in the traditional sense. Walking through the game’s carefully disarranged corridors and endless, unflinching ocean of fog is suffocating; to call Silent Hill 2’s environments unnerving would be somewhat of an understatement, you can feel its influence seeping through your pores. The town feels as though it is stretching out of the screen, mostly due to the game’s superb sense of place and environmental design.

This combination, amalgamating the unknown with the familiar, is what carries the game’s unshakable horror. Wandering through the empty backstreets and dilapidated apartments of Silent Hill gives off the sense that the place was once habitable before descending into unquantifiable, strange disrepair. In Silent Hill 2, the town feels like a character in and of itself, goading everlastingly.

Rounding off the attention to detail of the environments is the title’s sound design. Just standing in the game is deeply unsettling, met with a never-ending drone, dispersed only with anxious silence or unrelenting industrial music. The game’s overall ambience is rounded off by its music, which is gorgeously—or perhaps horrendously, in some cases—detailed.

Gameplay-wise, Silent Hill 2 is rough. However, at the risk of sounding controversial, that doesn’t matter in the game’s case and, in fact, reinforces James’s strong sense of characterisation. James is not a fighter, he’s an average guy. He tires quickly, his running looks strange, the swinging of a melee weapon and the use of guns feels awkward, but these actions would naturally function and appear as ungainly in a soft, unseasoned man. While playing the game may not feel good in a strictly narrow, gameplay-first sense, the jankiness of the gameplay embeds the player in James’s shoes, along with making each altercation with the game’s enemies feel riskier.

Silent Hill 2 does run off the same Resident Evil-inspired routine as its predecessor: conserve resources, solve puzzles, and unlock doors. While the central gameplay loop is obvious and, by today’s standards, played out, the game manages to keep the loop entertaining by its penchant for sound design, tension, and environments.

Combat, though, does not have the same sense of satisfying conclusion as its Resident Evil counterpart. Following a fight with one of Silent Hill 2’s myriad of enemies, players can end up feeling a little drained and, well, sickened. Silent Hill 2 is not fun to play, but games are not meant solely as avenues of mindless entertainment.

Silent Hill 2’s story nestles into the creases of your brain. Running wholeheartedly with cinematic influences ranging from David Lynch to Jacob’s Ladder, as well as a healthy dose of genre fiction references, the plot comes across as especially nuanced. What the game does best, though, is matching symbolism with the story in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed.

Without wanting to spoil the story too much, the symbolism of the game’s monsters, characters, and the erratic behaviour of James himself leave the player, sometimes unconsciously, questioning where horror really lies. For me personally, when I put down the controller after viewing the credits for the first time, the horror that lingered wasn’t from the monsters or environments of Silent Hill, but from James himself.  

The Everyman, a broken-hearted victim, slowly sows distrust in the player. No other game manages to have the patience to have this effect players, planting seeds that sour. If the Everyman is this unnerving, what does that say about us?

James’s characterisation has drawn comparisons to Crime & Punishment’s Raskolnikov which speaks volumes for the depths of Team Silent’s writing and development behind Silent Hill 2. 18 years later, there is not a video game character I think about as much as James Sunderland. I’ve felt sympathy for him, I’ve felt repulsed by him, I’ve felt him as some sort of Byronic hero, but also a vapid, cold symbol of masculinity.

I’m still not sure how I feel about James, and I probably never will know. Combined with one of the best stories and characterisations in the medium, Silent Hill 2 is so carefully and lovingly crafted that players cannot help but appreciate what Team Silent has done. Silent Hill 2 is a reminder that horror doesn’t lie with the boogeymen and jump scares of the world but lurks somewhere deeper, often where it is least suspected.

MORE HORROR AND THRILLS

Silent Hill 2 represents a hugely popular genre here at OnlySP, and several other survival horror or thriller games have featured as part of our 50 Favourite games so far.

There are skin-crawling titles like Dead Space, Hellblade and Alan Wake that, at times, dive into psychological horror inspired by the greats. Additionally, horror can also be found in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which takes an adventure game approach to the scares. Further afield of classic survival-horror are the horror-tinged action games BioShock and Gears of War. Similarly, the Soulsborne games are terrifying in their own ways, particularly Bloodborne.

Recent additions to the canon include The Evil Within 2 and the revived Resident Evil series with both Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Resident Evil 2 Remake. And of course, though Days Gone eschews the psychological depths of Silent Hill, the game’s whopping sales success is likely to prove as a boon for the survival-horror genre over all.

Not to mention there are several more horror titles coming up on our 50 Favourite games list …

Thanks again for joining us with this week’s entry. Next week changes things up again with a look at a different genre that is also well represented amongst the most cherished single-player games. For now, why not share your own favourite survival-horror games in the comments below? Don’t forget you can follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #34—Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

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OnlySP Favorite Games 34 - The Wolf Among Us

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. The game this week is another Telltale series (The Walking Dead is at #19) that continued to push the envelope for adventure games.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 1

#24. TELLTALE’S THE WOLF AMONG US, by Sep Gohardani

In 2012, a video game adaptation of the popular comic book and television Show The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games from niche studio obscurity into the limelight. The company’s model of securing the rights to popular IPs and moulding them to its adventure game format resulted in other acclaimed titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman that sought to twist the common formula and offer something different in those massive franchises.

In amidst the rising tide of their reputation, the company took a chance on something that was not quite as big or as popular, opting to give the Telltale treatment to Bill Willingham’s long-running comic book series Fables. What ensued was a wonderful twist on the tale that quite possibly makes The Wolf Among Us Telltale’s greatest achievement amidst a plethora of other very creative work.

The game is set in a world where fairytales are real, but not in the way one might expect. Instead of a magical far off land, the game is set in Manhattan (though maybe that is Manhattan for some), in a specially created enclave called Fabletown. This small settlement is where a plethora of characters from famous fairy tales and myths have been living after having fled the Homelands, which is now ruled by a mysterious, dark Adversary whose draconian regime became too difficult to bear.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 2

Those who escaped have managed to assimilate in to America without much trouble due to cloaking magic, while any non-human ‘fables’ must use an enchantment known as a ‘glamour’ to maintain a human appearance and not arouse suspicion, or be taken off site to The Farm, a refuge that those who cannot change their appearance go to.

Bigby Wolf (formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf) is the Sheriff of Fabletown in the year 1986. He is charged with maintaining order, but Fabletown is not too eventful of a place. Soon, however, trouble is brewing and a simple trip out to help someone get home starts to unravel to reveal something dark and insidious in this last refuge of the great Fables.

This is a game that nails its tone. As soon the opening titles appear, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s brilliant score, and the moody, purple lettering of the title make clear that the game was going to be drenched in noirish atmosphere. The art style welcomes this theme: it is vivid and evocative, but never overstated, providing a rich setting for the characters and embodying both the darkness of their situation and their new gritty reality.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 3

The player takes control of Bigby and is tasked with figuring out why things are getting increasingly out of hand when no one can afford them to, meaning lots of detective work. Bigby himself is fascinating. He is the gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking main character one might expect from a game like this, but he has nuance under that exterior. He is moulded by the decisions the player makes. The extent of the choices available mean that the way Bigby interacts with those around him dictates what the most important aspects of his personality will be, whether that is compassion, dedication, or a thirst for blood. Adam Harrington is brilliant in the role, and was well deserving of his BAFTA nomination, his main triumph being the subtlety in his line delivery and the way he makes each version of Bigby feel a bit different.

As everything unravels, Bigby slowly finds himself having more and more dots to put together as each environment contains clues and answers that are pivotal to figuring out how to stop those at the heart of the problem. This example demonstrates how immaculately written the game is that each of these moments feels gripping, from the very beginning of the first episodethrough to the end. The way the mystery is built up, with all the twists and turns along the way, makes for a thrill-ride worthy of any famous detective.

But not just the mechanics of the plot make the game Telltale’s greatest output. The characterisation of each and every one of the prominent characters is fantastic. Each citizen of Fabletown feels unique, with their own issues and opinions and sometimes even skeletons in the closet that Bigby has to deal with, and those character moments indelibly affect the way the game plays out and what sort of person Bigby wants to be. Notably characters like Snow White, who here is pragmatic and adamant that the rules in place keep the Fables safe, do end up having an impact on Bigby and his decision making, while others, like Colin the Pig, can help to show a different side to him, presenting him with many dilemmas along the way.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 4

In this way, The Wolf Among Us becomes more than just a simple detective story. The game becomes a rich, intricate world full of complex interpersonal relationships that is barely managing to hold together and is straining even more while the mystery is solved and the threat is increased. These relationships become central to the game’s moral dilemmas, and in true Telltale style these are difficult decisions to make because the characters feel important, their perspectives understandable, their circumstances challenging. Bigby’s journey through these problems shapes him and those around him, ultimately deciding the future fate of Fabletown and potentially bringing him eerily close to the villain of the piece.

In a certain way, one can easily guess the kind of experience Telltale will provide for them in gameplay terms. The gameplay is fairly standard, and quick-time events make up a large part of the gameplay in moments of action or urgency, while exploration and discovery are encouraged in the detective work. The gameplay can at times be frustrating, but it is ultimately a mechanism to further the story and allow the player to shape Bigby in their image, according to how they would try to solve the problem.

Despite some frustration with the aforementioned quick time events, The Wolf Among Us is the adventure genre at its best. The perfect mix of characterisation, intense action, and world building works well in tandem with Telltale’s tried and tested gameplay and art style, the latter of which here is perfect. Emerson-Johnson’s score is always evocative and adds more texture to that innate feeling of immersion that the game provides. That the game will now no longer be getting a sequel due to the studio’s closure is a giant shame, but at least this example of video game storytelling at its best was made to show how it is done.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 5

Do you have a favourite adventure game that did great work in story, but perhaps never had a fair shake? Maybe you could recommend the game for other players—why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s game also did great work with game narratives, though it is very much not an adventure game. In the meantime, you can follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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