The legacy of Silent Hill is one that has had a lasting impact on the survival horror community. Silent Hill 2 in particular, which turns 20 this year, is still regarded as one of the best the genre has to offer, so it’s no surprise that Boss Fight Books chose to include it in their latest season of critical, historical books. To undertake this task, they recruited comedian and writer Mike Drucker, who is more than ready for the challenge.
Despite being known for his humorous writing contributions to shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Adam Ruins Everything, he tackles the dark subject matter very seriously. He writes with an approachable, casual tone that draws in people less familiar with the game (be warned, he does talk full spoilers in this book), and his analysis is always well thought out and backed up by citations of other critical pieces about the game.
During the heyday of the series, I remember spending hours and hours on various Silent Hill message boards discussing the themes of the game, so very little of what’s covered in this book is particularly new material, but that doesn’t take anything away from the book. Even though the symbolism and themes of the games have been analyzed to death, Drucker does a great job summarizing and presenting them through his own personal lens. He discusses ways trauma in his own life mirrors that of some of the characters, grounding his analysis in personal experience.
The book starts out by giving some context to the early parts of the series and its place in the survival horror wave of the PS1/PS2 era. Contrasting the paths that the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series took (one got more personal, while one got more actiony) lays the important groundwork in the way to look at Silent Hill 2 as a game that doesn’t necessarily set out to be more “fun” than its predecessor and is all the more unique for this decision.
A large portion of the book is dedicated to going through the game character by character, looking at what each of them means to James and his journey through the haunted town of Silent Hill. As I mentioned, this is not entirely new territory, but he does manage to point out some interesting little tidbits that made me look at the same themes in a slightly deeper fashion. He makes great points about the ways in which Silent Hill 2 is often about denying traditional video game power fantasies as a way to challenge ideas of how James sees himself as the hero, something that deepens the story and makes it stand out in the medium.
Another chapter takes a deep look at the mechanics of Silent Hill 2’s multiple endings and how they differ from the way endings are traditionally handled. The techniques the game uses to profile you on your behavior rather than simply leaving it up to obvious light side / dark side choices are so far ahead of its time, making for an interesting first experience that gives you an ending truly catered to how you subconsciously behave as you play. His discussion of this helps shed light on the endings and their larger significance, adding depth to both their content and mechanics.
One thing I’m really glad the book covers are the ways in which Konami tried to position this game for a general audience. With sequels, we’re always expecting bigger and more exciting, as we got that with the Resident Evil series, but Silent Hill 2 ended up being a marketing challenge because it explicitly avoids trying to do that. Drucker outlines some of the print and television ads that ran around the time of the game’s release, which shows just how this story was one that would never be easy to market. It’s a unique angle to look at and only deepened my respect for the team taking a risk to tell a story like this.
Drucker also spends a chapter discussing Konami’s disastrous HD collection featuring Silent Hill 2 and 3, sympathetically discussing the challenges of modernizing a game while also rightfully criticizing Konami’s attempt. Instead of just complaining simply about them changing things, he goes to the effort of pointing out why each of these changes, from the removal of fog to the new vocal performances, softened the impact of a game that “works because of its quirks,” as he put it.
Totaling about 147 pages (plus citations and acknowledgments), the book reads like a breeze and concisely delivers information that took me years of prowling message board discussions to uncover. The book is an easy recommendation for any fan of Silent Hill 2, or anyone who is looking to read more about how games are capable of telling smaller, more personal tales by rejecting the traditional structures of the genre. Drucker’s well-researched analysis has me itching to dive into some of the articles and essays he cites, because his passion for Silent Hill 2 has reignited my interest in the game. If other authors take as much care with their subjects as Drucker does here, I’ll definitely be checking out more titles from Boss Fight Books in the future.
The Silent Hill 2 Boss Fights book is out now.