Silent Hill 2 is a favorite amongst horror-lovers for many reasons. Its suffocating atmosphere, superb surreality, and generally engrossing combination of plot and character depth all beautifully flesh out the simple central idea of a man grappling with grief and guilt.
Not to mention it’s absolutely terrifying. Silent Hill 2 loves making you feel uncomfortable. This ranges from four-legged mannequin creatures and lumbering men with giant pyramids in the place of heads, to the exploration of some truly disturbing themes around self-perception, hidden desires, and sexual and child abuse.
But when it comes to some of the more memorable moments in 2001’s iconic horror title, there are two in particular that have stuck with me and never fail to make me squeal. It’s the kind of squeal that is made up of equal parts terror and the kind of delight that only horror fans could understand.
Both moments make use of two of the most effective techniques in horror: sound, and simplicity.
There are some mild spoilers for Silent Hill 2 below, but nothing that will give away the plot or any major events. I’d still recommend playing through the game yourself first, though, so you can experience these moments without any forewarning.
The first sound we’re diving into is one which plays perfectly with the sense of imminent dread which hangs heavily overhead throughout the game. That feeling of something heard but unseen waiting within the shadows – or in this case, at the end of a painfully long stairwell – plays havoc with your mind. And heart rate.
At one point in the game, you find yourself needing to guide poor James down a particularly lengthy, narrow staircase leading to who-knows-where. The area is predictably poorly-lit, and its walls have a strange bottle-green tinge (I still can’t really tell if it’s supposed to be a green hedge thing outside, but the uncertainty definitely adds to my own unease).
But the best part is the distant roar of what sounds like some kind of foghorn, growing louder and louder as you descend further into the bowels of wherever the hell you’re going. When you first hear it in the room above the stairs, chances are you won’t have the foggiest idea of what it is. Then even as you progress, you don’t really gain any closure on that either; the huge, droning sound simply ceases when you enter the next area. But that’s just all part of the charm.
As I said, the brilliance of this sequence comes in part from its simplicity. All it is, is a looping sound paired with a long hallway, and yet it carries so much terrifying weight. Often in horror, the simpler can, by far, be for the better.
You can hear the sound yourself in the video below, from around timemark 1:43:
Then, my horror-loving friends, there is the gallows. That damned gallows.
One area in the game sees James exit to this outside area (again, is it actually outside?) which is all but pitch black. At the center of the area stands an abandoned gallows, its nooses hanging empty. Very inviting!
But as it turns out, you aren’t completely alone. There’s something else out there with you. Well, sort of? That’s kinda the point.
Soon you hear a cacophony of horse-like hooves hitting the grass-covered ground. It’s quiet at first, but it quickly grows real loud as whatever those hooves belong to gets right up close to you. Except, nothing pops out at you. In fact, nothing ever does, no matter where you stand or for how long you do so. The “hooves” move away from you as swiftly as they arrive.
All that’s actually out here with you is this beautifully simple sound, but the sound alone creates an atmosphere of NOPE-level fear more effectively than visuals ever could. Whatever the hooves are attached to sounds so heavy too, and this conjures up all kinds of monstrous images in your head about what it could be. But of course, you’re never shown or told exactly what it is.
The constant expectation (and subsequent subversion thereof) of some hooved demon-horse or equivalent thing yeeting out of the shadows towards you is such a mean move by Team Silent and Konami. But you won’t hear me complaining (much). For me, it will forever remain one of the most hard-hitting moments in horror gaming history, and that’s something to be grateful for.
Check out the sound in the video below:
In the right contexts, there’s something about sound which really gets under our skin. It surely has everything to do with the primal instincts we have around sound as a signal of imminent danger, especially when you’re already placed in a hostile or unknown area. And you don’t even really need that much, as these two examples demonstrate.
Ironic (or perhaps perfectly apt?) that a game with “silent” in its name manages to master the use of sound in crafting some of gaming’s most terrifying moments.
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Neuroscience student and massive nerd, currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Research interests include how neuroscience and user experience in video games interact with each other. News and feature writer for TheGamer.com. Other interests include anime and everything Japanese, fitness, and cats.
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