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Silent Hill 2

Video games are unique as an artistic medium. Not only do they allow the consumer to interact with a much wider possibility space than other mediums, but they also allow the consumer to directly influence the art itself. The stories, experiences, messages, and meaning that are conveyed are not only subject to the interpretation of the consumer, but they can be directly influenced or changed by the consumer. In some cases, a game can even prey upon the expectations of the player, or the player's desire to complete the game, in order to convey a particular message, or to make a statement about the player's actions.

One classic example of a game that plays the player as much as the player plays it is Silent Hill 2. That game's endings, and the triggers for each ending, have always been one of my favorite design aspects of that game. Silent Hill 2 takes advantage of the player's preconceived notions about how a horror game should be played, and it uses your play to pivot James' resolution (and his very character) in one of several directions.

Watch a video version of this blog post on YouTube!

I'm going to be talking about Silent Hill 2's endings. It should go without saying that this post will include major spoilers for Silent Hill 2. I'll also be comparing Silent Hill 2 to other games such as Mass Effect, Fallout, The Witcher III, The Last of Us, and What Remains of Edith Finch. As well as the post-Team Silent games: Silent Hill: Homecoming, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and Silent Hill: Downpour. So there will also be varying degrees of spoilers for those other games as well.

Mass Effect
Fallout
The Witcher III
The Last of Us
What Remains of Edith Finch

Silent Hill: Homecoming
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Silent Hill: Downpour
Spoilers incoming for the above games. Consider yourself warned!

A master class in interactive story-telling

Silent Hill 2's endings are not obvious, explicit choices that the game prompts you with, like the "Paragon" and "Renegade" options seen in Mass Effect. Nor are they even the result of navigating less ham-fisted dialogue trees like you might see in the classic Fallout games or The Witcher III. In all those cases, the games are giving the player explicit choices, and the player expects that these choices will affect the resolution of the given quest, how the storyline will branch, the ending that will be received, or any combination thereof.

Add up enough "Paragon" points, and Commander Shepard have access to more diplomatic options for nobly and heroically saving the galaxy. Be nice to all the right people in The Witcher III and help them with their personal crusades, and they'll join you for the climactic battle against the Wild Hunt. Do lots of side quests and help out the citizens of Fallout's wasteland, and the ending vignette will depict positive outcomes for those settlements.

Many games offer moral choices that influence the ending. Some are more subtle and nuanced than others.

The player knows that their choices in these major prompts will shape the story to come, or its resolution, even if the player is ignorant to what exact effects the choices will have. It's very easy for such choices to feel very "game-y". I want a "good" ending, so I make seemingly "good" or moral choices in these prompts, and expect to be rewarded accordingly.

The best such games can do is hope to blur the line between what is the "right" choice and what is the "wrong" choice. This is something that The Witcher III does exceptionally well, but there are still "good" and "bad" choices. These key choices determine which ending the player receives.

Silent Hill 2's ending triggers are far more subtle, and far more insidious.

Explicit choices that the game prompts the players to make never influence the game's ending.

Yes, Silent Hill 2 does provide the player with specific prompts. Will you pick up any given item? Will you reach into this slimy hole filled with bugs? Will you pull a mystery obstruction out of a filthy, clogged toilet? Will you jump into this seemingly bottomless pit in a surreal, inverted prison hallway?

These are all false choices.

You can skip picking up ammo and healing items if you don't want them, but there's no reason not to. Setting aside one small set piece occasion, your inventory is never limited, and you have no logistical or capacity reason to not pick up everything you come across -- a far cry from Resident Evil.

You won't miss key items by accepting the
choices that Silent Hill 2 gives you.

Key items must be picked up in order for you to proceed. You must reach into the slimy hole to find a key to progress the game. You must jump into the bottomless pit to reach the next area of the game. These apparent choices exist only to instill a sense of doubt within the player -- a feeling that that the action is risky or that maybe you've missed something important that you might not be able to return to later (like, say, an inconspicuous plastic bottle that you can use to suck up a mysterious red liquid?).

Silent Hill 2 doesn't want these sorts of "big" choices to matter because Silent Hill 2 doesn't want the player to know that you're making plot-critical decisions. Instead, Silent Hill 2 tracks seemingly innocuous actions and play-style behaviors that have certain thematic relevance (all without your knowledge), and then uses them to pivot James' resolution in one of several ways. It does this because it wants the outcome of the game to be determined by the aggregate sum of lots of seemingly mundane, incidental actions. Silent Hill 2 wants you to role play as James, and it assumes that your behavior while playing as James is actually informing James' character. Every moment of gameplay matters to Silent Hill 2, not just the "important" big decision moments.

Not only do you guide James through the personal hell that Silent Hill puts him through, you also slightly define a little bit of who he is. In an exemplar of interactive narrative, the ending you get is determined by how you play the game, and not by a series of "choose your own adventure" meta-branches. You have to roleplay the entire game in order to get a specific outcome. Unlike so many other games, in which the player character can say one thing in dialogue or cutscenes or make a specific choice when prompted, while the player behaves entirely different in actual gameplay, the outcome that you get in Silent Hill 2 is shaped by how you play.

A static ending versus an interactive ending

Silent Hill 2 uses the interactivity of the entire game to influence a non-interactive ending. Without knowing that you were choosing an ending, you effectively chose the ending of the game by how you treat James, and how you make James treat the other characters (including the memory of his wife, Mary).

Despite being about Joel and Ellie's relationship, Ellie is almost never relevant to The Last of Us' gameplay.

Compare this to games that have static endings, like The Last of Us. The Last of Us is a very good game with a high-quality, well-told story. In the cutscenes, that is. Because The Last of Us doesn't really tell much of it's story with the actual gameplay, nor does the player's play actually influence how the story unfolds or is resolved. In fact, despite The Last of Us being about the surrogate father-daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie, Ellie is rarely ever an active element of gameplay. She is invisible to the enemies during stealth, and can completely fend for herself in combat. Aside from a handful of navigational puzzles, you can completely ignore Ellie during gameplay, but your lack of concern will never transfer to the character of Joel, nor will Ellie ever resent Joel for your neglect. Joel will always go on his climactic murder-spree at the Firefly hospital in order to rescue Ellie and potentially damn the entire human race, in stark contrast to what Ellie (or you, the player) probably would have actually wanted.

See Campster's excellent "Errant Signal" episode for a more detailed look at The Last of Us.

That doesn't mean The Last of Us is a bad game, or that it has a bad story, or even that it has a bad ending. In fact, the lack of player agency in the conclusion represents the fact that Joel is a slave to his own guilt (and by extension, the player is a slave to Joel's guilt as well). He failed to save Sarah, and since he has projected his love for Sarah onto Ellie, he cannot let himself fail to save her. So the player has no choice in the matter. It's a well-told story, and the shift in perspective for the final scene (in which the player plays as Ellie) re-frames Joel as villainously-selfish and dishonest.

Compare this, also, to something like What Remains of Edith Finch. That game also has a set, heavily-scripted narrative. You play on a track in which all the outcomes are pre-determined, and your actions have no influence on the outcome of the game (that I'm aware of). You will experience every vignette in pretty much the exact same way as any other player. However, the playable nature of these vignettes creates a dramatic irony for the player that would be [mostly] lost if the game were adapted into a movie. You know your actions are going to inadvertently cause a tragedy, but despite having control over the action, you can't stop it from happening -- short of turning off the game and not playing.

What Remains of Edith Finch cleverly uses its gameplay vignettes to create interactive dramatic irony.

This begs the question of what responsibility you (the player) have regarding the outcome of each vignette. Are these tragedies the result of the player's negligence? Or are they a simple matter of predestination?

Silent Hill 2 is a good contrast with The Last of Us and What Remains of Edith Finch, because all three games are about a character's sense of guilt and how that character copes. Silent Hill 2 is the only game of the three that even remotely cares about what you (the player) do while you're playing the game.

A Hollywood writer could definitely boil Silent Hill 2's plot down into a single non-interactive movie script and tell the same basic story (since the details of that story do not change based on the ending). But, please don't! Silent Hill 2's endings add thematic weight and consequence to many of the minor interactions that the player has over the course of the game. It's something that you likely won't come to recognize or appreciate until a repeat playthrough, but no movie script could possibly replicate that. The player's actions are effectively foreshadowing the conclusion.

The player's actions and exploration foreshadow
the ending of the game.

No one ending is the "true" ending; none is more valid than the others. Therefore, no single set of player actions can singularly and comprehensively inform James' character and foreshadow a singular ending. How would a Hollywood writer chose which ending to write? Unlike Joel or Edith, who's stories are both resolved independent of the player, James requires a player to animate him, or else his story remains -- not only unresolved -- but also un-resolvable.

The "good" ending?

A movie writer could run into similar problems with adapting something like Mass Effect or Fallout because there are radically different endings. Those games, however, use fairly rigid, binary morality systems to determine their endings. We as gamers have already labeled those games as having "good endings" and "bad endings".

The "good endings" tend to be the more desirable ones, because they usually require the most effort and/or skill to achieve. Beyond that, which ending to chose is basically determined by whether the writer and director want the movie to feel uplifting or morose.

Are there "good" endings and "bad endings" in Silent Hill 2? Well, none of the three default endings really requires any more work from the player than any of the other. A lot of internet sources might tell you that the "Leave" (also called "Laura") ending is the "good ending". Other sources might insist that the "In Water" ending is the canon ending. I disagree with both these assertions. To me, Silent Hill 2 has no "good ending" -- let alone a canon ending. All of Silent Hill 2's endings are either outright bad, or are (at best) shades of gray.

Many insist that Silent Hill 4 proves that "In Water"
must be the canon ending to Silent Hill 2.

So let's look at the actual default endings of Silent Hill 2, how they are triggered, and how each of them interpret the player's actions.

In Water

"In Water" is my favorite ending in the game. Not because I think it is the "canon" ending or the most believable ending or anything like that. Rather, I like it because I think it is the most mechanically-interesting ending.

The "In Water" ending basically sees James becoming so overcome by his guilt and depression that he drives into the lake and kills himself in order to "be with Mary". From a narrative standpoint, this ending means that James doesn't value his own life, and a life without Mary is not a life worth living. Mechanically, this ending is achieved by the player not valuing James' life, and the game uses some clever mechanical trickery and subversion of expectations to nudge players along the path to this ending.

The "In Water" ending is triggered by doing the following:

  • Examine Angela's knife in your inventory,
  • Read the diary of the suicidal patient on the roof of the hospital,
  • Listen to the headphone recording in the hotel that details the hopelessness of Mary's condition,
  • Do not leave the hotel hallway before hearing the entire [depressing] conversation between James and Mary,
  • And most importantly, take lots of damage, and do not immediately heal yourself after taking damage.

All of these behaviors show the player (and by extension, James) to be careless with his life, reckless in his behavior, and dwelling on the thoughts of suicide.

"In Water" requires James to dwell on thoughts of suicide.

This ending sees James accept responsibility for Mary's death, be forgiven by her memory, get over his guilt, and reject the temptation of Maria -- all of which are ostensibly good things. However, this ending is widely regarded as "the bad ending" because James commits suicide. That perception is justifiable. It should always be considered a tragedy when someone succumbs to depression and resorts to ending his life. However, I still struggle to think of this ending as the singular "bad" ending because the other two endings aren't much happier in the long run.

What makes this ending so mechanically interesting is how it exploits established gameplay tropes of the survival horror genre in order to manipulate the player into suicidal behavior. Silent Hill 4 (by the way) does a similar thing in order to turn the player into a voyeur and peeping Tom. Classic survival horror games (Resident Evil, Alone In the Dark, and the first Silent Hill, etc.) were games of resource management. Players had been trained by the predecessors of Silent Hill 2 to covet and conserve their ammunition and healing items, and to not use them frivolously. Don't fire your gun unless you have a clear shot, and don't use a healing item if you're not damaged enough to need its full effects.

Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 4 exploit established game conventions
to encourage suicidal and voyeuristic behavior (respectively) from the player.

However, (as mentioned in the intro) Silent Hill 2 is a surprisingly easy game. Even on the "hard" action difficulty, the monsters are not particularly dangerous -- though a couple of the bosses are definitely a threat. Most combat can be avoided entirely by simply running past the monsters -- especially in the wide open streets of the town, where James can literally run circles around them.

There is plenty of healing potential strewn around town.

If you do find yourself having to fight, then the game is also very generous with the amount of ammunition that it provides. And if you find yourself taking damage in those fights, the game is similarly generous with healing items. There's plenty of health drinks and first aid kits lying around, and very little reason not to top off your health after taking damage.

But doing so goes against the instinct of many players who are conditioned by games like Resident Evil and the first Silent Hill that healing items are a precious commodity and should be conserved. Save up your green herbs so you can mix them with red or blue herbs! Don't use a first aid kit if a simple health drink will suffice. The psychology at play here is similar to how the original Resident Evil was overly-generous with its supply of Ink Ribbons, but still forced the player to have to think about whether it was worth carrying one around in your inventory.

Similarly, the more developed melee combat in the Silent Hill games encourages players to actually use the wooden planks and steel pipes -- as opposed to the borderline-useless waste of an inventory slot that is the combat knife in Resident Evil. The increased usability of the melee weapons, combined with the desire to conserve ammunition for tougher enemies and bosses, provides a perverse incentive for the player to put themselves into harm's way by engaging monsters in melee whenever practical. This can lead to the player taking some cheap shots that you wouldn't suffer if you used the game's abundant supply of bullets to take out every enemy from a safe distance.

Healing items are a rare and precious commodity in survival horror games.

As such, it's not uncommon for a player to run around Silent Hill 2 with at least some damage to James, and to wait until your health status is flashing yellow or red before using a healing item.

If the monsters were too hard, or health items too sparse, then players would constantly be taking damage and wouldn't have the resources available to heal even if they wanted to. In that case, the "In Water" ending would probably be pretty much guaranteed for most players' first play-through. The player's play style, therefore, would hardly factor in to the ending, since only very good players would have the skill necessary to not appear suicidally-reckless.

More developed melee combat in Silent Hill encourages the player to put themselves
in harm's way by fighting enemies in melee in order to conserve bullets.

Maria

If the player does not prove James to be hopelessly suicidal, then the other two default endings basically come down to which of James' two muses the player empathizes more with. If the player is overly-protective of Maria, then the game will give you the aptly-named "Maria" ending -- which is not called "Leave", despite the fact that James appears to leave the town with Maria. Any celebration that you might have regarding leaving with your sexy, vibrant new girlfriend is quickly squashed by the implication that Maria (being Mary's doppelganger) is afflicted with the same fatal illness as Mary.

In order to achieve this ending, you must meet the following conditions:

  • While escorting Maria, stay close to her, but don't bump into her too much (because that would be rude),
  • While escorting Maria, do not allow Maria to take damage (and definitely don't inflict damage upon her yourself -- like, for instance shooting her in the face!),
  • Do not lead Maria in the wrong direction,
  • When Maria becomes ill in the hospital, return to her room and check up on her,
  • After Maria is found dead in her Labyrinth cell, attempt to return to the room,
  • Do not examine Angela's knife, the photo of Mary, or Mary's letter from your inventory,
  • Do not attempt to return to Nathan Avenue after leaving the bowling alley.
Wait, if Maria is a manifestation,
is she even able to leave Silent Hill?

This ending also kind of feels like a "bad" or "evil" ending. Here, James forsakes Mary and gives in to selfish desire. James gets over his guilt by justifying Mary's murder under the umbrella of taking his life back. Mary was dying anyway, and it was better for both of them (but mostly him) to end it. Now he has a hot new girlfriend who was literally custom made for him.

Of course, he's still going to be punished for his selfishness, as Maria is also likely to be terminally ill. And it's entirely possible that Maria is going to turn out to be emotionally abusive. So yeah, he isn't dead, but this is still not a good or healthy situation. And that's assuming that he actually does leave the town with Maria, and that he isn't stuck in some kind of Silent Hill purgatory like some fans suggest, and which the Silent Hill movie kind of used for its ending.

Maria is apparently ill and needs to be protected.

Heck, given that she's a manifestation created by the power of the town, it's not even clear to the player whether she would even continue to exist after James leaves the range of influence of that power!

Mechanically, this ending plays on the player's instinct to protect your escort charge, as well as your sympathy towards a character who appears to be ill. If you've played classic video games, then you should be very familiar with the "damsel in distress" trope! Wait, if the game goes out of its way to make the player actively dislike her, and she is in fact a manipulative villain in two out of three endings, does this still count as a "damsel in distress" trope? Or is this a subversion of said trope?

In any case, there's a "Game Over" if Maria dies during gameplay (including, potentially by the player's own hand), even though she is killed several times in cutscenes or off-camera. You never escort her after her first "death", so having seen her die already (and knowing that she can "respawn") won't play into how vigilantly you protect her in your first playthrough.

The "Maria" ending plays off of the "damsel in distress" trope common in video games.

Despite feeling pressured to ensure Maria's security, Maria is not presented as a trustworthy or particularly likable character to the player. Like with all the other characters in Silent Hill 2, James' interactions with Maria are subtly off-putting and unnerving. She gives off a sense that she isn't being completely honest with James. Maria is clearly toying with James' emotions. She behaves seductively and teases and titillates James right from the start, but she is also emotionally-abusive, even going so far as to gaslight him later in the game. This serves to try to push the player away, but doesn't happen until after the player is forced to protect her during the brief escort segment.

The role-play element of this ending path is undercut slightly by the intrigue regarding who or what Maria might be. Even though the player may not like Maria and may not want to protect her -- let alone have James hook up with her -- I can easily see a player keeping a close eye on her and checking up on her in the hospital to make sure she's not up to any shenanigans.

Maria is an emotionally-manipulative tease.

Maria, thus, induces a series of conflicting emotional and mechanical responses from the player. Whether it's curiosity or empathy that keeps the player coming back to Maria, this protective action leads James to develop an [unhealthy] attachment to her.

Leave

Conventional wisdom would say that the "Leave" (also called "Laura") ending is the "good" ending. James comes to terms with his guilt over Mary's death, he defeats the corrupting influence of the Maria doppelganger, and he [presumably] honors Mary's dying wish of adopting Laura and goes on with his life. James basically atones for his actions and moves on. Laura even gets out of the foster system and has a new home! And they all lived happily ever after!

... Or do they?

Some will say that Silent Hill 4 makes that ending non-canon, since James' father says that his son disappeared, so he can't have left with Laura. Of course, if that's true, then only the "In Water" ending is canon, since James also couldn't have left town with Maria in her ending. Others will counter by suggesting that James never really does leave, and that he's still trapped in the limbo of Silent Hill along with Laura or Maria, even though James has conquered his guilt, and the town should no longer have power over him.

By staying faithful to Mary, James can fulfill her dying wish.

Of course, it's also possible that Superintendent Sunderland's statement about his son "disappearing" in Silent Hill doesn't have to conflict with any of the endings. Perhaps James did return to "reality", but simply left his old life behind (either with Laura or Maria). I mean, he did kill Mary and Eddie, so maybe he thinks he needs to lie low, just like Harry did after the first Silent Hill?

"Leave" is kind of the default ending that you get if you don't earn one of the other two. There's still a few assertive things that you can do to push yourself towards this ending or cancel out any incidental points that you may have accrued towards the other endings, and the full list of "Leave" requirements are:

  • Examine Mary's photo and letter from your inventory (you'll almost certainly do this at least once, at the start of the game),
  • Heal immediately after taking damage,
  • Excede the maximum health limit (by using Ampoules),
  • Do not leave the hallway before hearing the entire conversation between James and Mary,
  • Do not try to return to the apartment building,
  • Stay far away from Maria, or allow her to take damage, or inflict damage upon her yourself.

Mechanically, this ending is opposed to both the "In Water" and "Maria" endings. This ending requires that the player valued James' life during the game and kept him at max health (either by healing shortly after taking damage, or by never taking the damage to begin with). You can also use the effects of the Ampoule, which (as I understand it) temporarily increases James' max HP -- very useful if you take damage early in a boss fight! This shows that James does, indeed, value his life, and will fight to protect it -- Mary or no.

You will need to be very dismissive of Maria and resist her attempts to seduce James. And most importantly, you need to dwell on thoughts of Mary and remain determined to progress the game. Don't look back and try to return to areas you've already been. Always look forward, towards that reunion with Mary. Rather than ruminating over Angela's knife, you should instead admire Mary's photo and letter (and maybe even recognize that the letter slowly disappears late in the game).

By honoring Mary's memory, resisting the temptation of Maria, and valuing the preservation of his own life, maybe -- just maybe -- James can actually move on with his life...

Does James even have the temperament to raise a child by himself?

Assuming that James and Laura actually do leave the town and return to some sort of "normal" life, is that actually a happy ending? Yes, this was Mary's last wish. But there's one fundamental problem: James isn't Mary. Mary wanted to adopt Laura; not James. Laura is Mary's friend; not James'. James does not know Laura, and Laura does not know James. James and Laura don't really seem to get along, and neither seems to really like each other. This relationship seems doomed before it even begins.

Is James going to adopt Laura and spend the rest of his life with a living, breathing reminder of his loss (and his crime)? Is Laura ever going to be able to forgive him for killing Mary? Should she? James tries to rationalize Mary's murder by saying that he did it to end her suffering, but he also confesses that he did it because he wanted his life back. With that in mind, could he be even half of the attentive and supportive surrogate father that Harry is?

Whether you interpret this ending as "good" will probably depend on whether you consider all three primary endings to accurately represent James' psyche simultaneously, of if you see only one of them being retroactively true in any given playthrough. Is James as selfish as the "Maria" ending makes him out to be? Is a life without Mary really as meaningless and empty as the "In Water" ending makes it out to be? If either (or both) of those are still true in the "Leave" ending, then James and Laura are in for a miserable and toxic life together.

Laura says she met Mary in the hospital. Is Laura also ill?

There's also the question of whether Laura is healthy. After all, she and Mary met in the same hospital. Why was Laura in the hospital? Is she, too, chronically or terminally ill? Am I overthinking this? Maybe she was there because her parents were sick and dying? In which case, did Laura just recently lose her parents?

Heck, some argue that Laura isn't even real -- that she is also a manifestation just like Maria -- the daughter that Mary wanted, but could never have. I personally don't buy into that idea, but if you do, then that opens up a whole other rabbit hole of whether James actually does leave with her, or if he's trapped in limbo like Rose in the movie.

Are James and Laura trapped in purgatory?

Different endings, but the same James

What also separates Silent Hill 2 from its myriad copy-cats (including Silent Hill: Origins, Silent Hill: Homecoming, Shattered Memories, and Downpour) is that these divergent endings do not alter the underlying story or drama. The nature of James' guilt remains consistent, regardless of which ending the player triggers. The only change is how James resolves that guilt.

The nature of James sin (or his guilt) does not change depending on which ending you receive.

Compare this to Homecoming, Shattered Memories, and Downpour, which dramatically change the nature of the protagonist (and thus the entire narrative) depending on which ending the player achieves. The game's story leading up to that ending has to remain ambiguous and non-committal, which can turn that story into non-sensical jibberish.

Homecoming lazily copies SH2 with prompts

Homecoming is probably the most blatant rip-off of Silent Hill 2. The main character, Alex, travels to Silent Hill to confront the guilt he feels over having accidentally killed his younger brother -- an act that he has repressed. If the player demonstrates callous indifference to the other characters, then the game will give you one of the "worse" endings, in which Alex is presented as a killer or literal monster (by becoming a "Pyramid Head" rip-off Bogeyman).

Homecoming presents the player with explicit choices.

This approach mirrors Silent Hill 2 on the surface, but it misses much of the nuance and cleverness. How Alex treats other characters is determined by explicit choices, presented by button prompts or dialogue options. It isn't the player's subtle behavioral nuances throughout the game that determines how Alex's story is resolved; it's your response to contrived prompts.

To make matters worse, these bad endings muddy the narrative. If it turns out that Alex was, in fact, the patient in Room 206 all along, then was Joshua ever real? In Homecoming's own "In Water" ending, it turns out that Alex had been sacrificed, and Joshua gets to "carry on the family legacy". In both these cases, the events of the game never actually happened, and Alex may not harbor any guilt for a crime that he didn't commit.

Homecoming's endings muddy the plot and message of the game that preceded them.

Shattered Memories makes Harry not a good dad

Shattered Memories is a "what if?" story
in which Harry died in the car accident.

Then there's Shattered Memories' bastardization of Harry Mason's character. This game sets itself up as a remake or reboot of the original game, starting with the same setup, but turns into a "what if?" sequel to the first game's worst ending. Harry died in the car crash in the original Silent Hill, that game's events never happened (nor apparently any of the sequels), and now a teenaged Cheryl is undergoing therapy to cure her delusion that Harry is still trapped in a haunted Silent Hill looking for her.

I'll give Climax credit: that is actually a fairly clever idea, and the twist is executed well enough. Sadly, the rest of the game isn't nearly as clever.

This game advertises itself as "profiling the player" as you play, and tailoring the horror and endings based on how you play. It does this on the most lazy and superficial levels. Shattered Memories doesn't fall into the trap of putting explicit button prompts on the screen to determine the game's outcome, but all of the choices that it gives the player are explicit branches in the game's progression -- such as choosing which of two stores to enter when looking for Cheryl. These branches have virtually no effect on the plot, however, as they are self-contained set pieces that (like a quantum superposition) collapse back into the same Otherworld chase sequences and cutscenes. The only things that change are some superficial elements of character design.

Shattered Memories has explicit branching plot segments.

Like Homecoming, the greater offense is how the various endings completely change the story and completely change who Harry Mason is. In some cases, he can turn out to be a decent man, comparable to the original Harry Mason. If you look at too many pinup calendars, he becomes a raving sexaholic. If you look at too many beer cans, he becomes a raving alcoholic. In cases like this, he's not even worth being fondly remembered by Cheryl, though the game may or may not account for this. These endings retroactively change who Harry is, and they punish the player for trying to explore the environments and see every nook and cranny, because beer cans and pinup posters are going to be hidden in those nooks and crannies.

I don't know, maybe that's the point. If you're too busy exploring the environments to look for Cheryl, then you probably deserve for her to recognize you for the neglectful father you are. So maybe Shattered Memories is more clever than I've given it credit for? And to Shattered Memories' credit, none of these endings change the fact that Harry is dead, so the core premise of the game's plot does not change retroactively based on the ending. That is at least an improvement over the other post-Team-Silent games.

Certain endings portray Harry as an unforgivably bad father and husband.

Overall, this execution comes closest to Silent Hill 2, but it's much more ham-fisted.

Downpour's purgatory makes no sense

Downpour is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to poorly-written endings. This game goes out of its way to keep everything as vague as possible, yet its endings still manage to feel mutually exclusive and conflict with the larger story being told.

The endings of Downpour are mechanically similar to Homecoming, in which the player chooses one of two explicit prompts at several points in the plot. Again, these choices have absolutely no impact on the story as it progresses, and the game even seems to actively ignore any attempts you make to try to be helpful and benevolent.

Downpour's choices are moot when they happen, but affect the ending.

Like the other two games, the various endings completely change the context of the story. In some cases, they make it so that the game never took place. In another case, the roles of Murphy and Anne are reversed, which opens up questions of whether the events of the game ever happened, who killed who, and who was chasing who.

In two cases, however, the ending completely invalidates the entire point of the game to begin with -- and possibly the point of the entire series. Downpour sets Silent Hill up as a town in which the guilty are perpetually punished until they come to terms with their sins and atone for their actions. However, in one ending, Murphy turns out to have murdered his son, in which case, he didn't need to seek revenge against Napier, and he doesn't have any guilt or remorse, and all the lip service the game pays to Murphy needing to come to terms with what he's done stop making sense.

In the endings that don't nullify the entire game, Murphy should have no guilt for Silent Hill to torture him over.

In another ending, it turns out that Murphy didn't kill Napier, and also didn't harm Officer Coleridge, in which case, Silent Purgatory is punishing him for a crime that he did not commit! Does he feel guilty for his involvement? Maybe. Does that warrant the abuse that the town puts him through? Absolutely not!

In either case, the game should have ended when Anne confronts Murphy in the mines and finds the police badge in his pocket. Murphy is never presented as having amnesia, so he knows he's either a "cop-killer", or was framed as being a "cop-killer" (depending, retroactively, on which ending you get) -- or Murphy is a cop, but Anne is a cop-killer? Argh! Damnit, Downpour! There is no context in which his line "I don't know who you think I am, or what you think I've done" makes any sense. Even if he didn't commit the crime, he knows he was framed for it! Was there some point in the game's development in which it was possible to achieve an ending in which Murphy had no involvement or knowledge of Coleridge's death? That is the only context in which this line makes sense. If such an ending was removed, then why was this line left in the game?

Downpour should have ended right here, with Murphy telling Anne that Officer Sewell had framed him.

Such a mess.

James is never innocent

The point of all this is that there is no ending for Silent Hill 2 in which James turns out to be innocent of Mary's death, or in which it turns out that nothing in the game ever actually happened, or that James was secretly Pyramid Head all along, or that Maria killed Mary to be with James and Pyramid Head is trying to keep them apart, or any similarly lazy, stupid, cop-out ending. Because of that, James' character is consistent right up until the final boss fight, and the entire game is tightly designed with symbolism and foreshadowing. Downpour, Shattered Memories, and Homecoming have to leave their plot and lore non-committal, confusing, and sometimes flat-out contradictory because they have to support so many contradictory endings right from the start of the game, without knowing which ending you're going to get. They cannot be tightly designed because any symbols or foreshadowing that the game might try doing are moot or negated by one or more endings. This leaves the games full of seemingly meaningless plot threads and glaring plot holes.

There is no ending in which James is innocent of Mary's death.

Silent Hill 2 stands tall and proud as a work of interactive literature. All of its parts came together into a near-flawless masterpiece that took full advantage of its interactive nature. Its thoughtful, nuanced, and subversive endings are a testament to the game's greatness.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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