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Silent Hill 2 remake

By the time you read this, the remake of Silent Hill 2, being developed by Bloober, is less than 2 months from its expected release. So nothing I write here can possibly change the game. But there has been something that has been nagging at the back of my brain ever since the first trailer for the remake released. Since most of the concern about Bloober's Silent Hill 2 is focused on their historically awful depictions of mental health and trauma, I haven't seen a whole lot of content addressed at this particular concern of mine. So I thought I'd share my thoughts.

First and foremost, I will be discussing the story and ending of the original Silent Hill 2, as well as speculation regarding whether Bloober will change this ending, or somehow botch its execution. As far as I'm concerned, the announcement trailer has already shown that it will be one or the other: a changed ending, or a botched ending. But in any case, if you haven't played Silent Hill 2 before and don't want to be spoiled, then don't read this post. You've been warned.

The announcement trailer for Silent Hill 2: Remake.

Before moving on, feel free to check out the announcement trailer in its entirety, above. You can also watch this complete analysis in video essay format on YouTube.

This entire analysis is also available in video essay format on YouTube.

The original opening

For anyone still here after the spoiler warning, let's talk a little bit about the opening scene of Silent Hill 2, how it relates to the game's ending(s), how this same scene is depicted in the remake trailer, and what the changes to that scene mean for the ending. Silent Hill 2 opens as such:

A mostly calm and collected James Sunderland stares at himself in a dirty bathroom mirror, taking a deep breath, and then walking out to a scenic overlook to explain the premise of the game. He got a letter from his wife, who died of a terminal illness 3 years ago. The letter says that she's alive and waiting for him in Silent Hill. He knows it can't possibly be true, but if there's any chance that she is somehow still alive, he has to know.

This opening shows us a James who is supposedly 3 years removed from the death of his wife. He isn't necessarily grieving any more, but doesn't seem to have completely moved on; otherwise, why be here? Regardless, he is completely surprised by this letter and in disbelief. This is a subtle, subdued opening that gives the player little reason not to take this all at face value. And it goes on to follow this up with a slow-burn opening act to the game, in which James strolls casually through a wooded path along the lake and doesn't encounter anything overtly scary or threatening for a good 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the pace that the player is going.

The original is subdued and gives little reason to not take the premise at face value.

This puts the player in the same headspace as James. We are just as confused, surprised, and curious as him, but with that nagging certainty that all must not be as it seems. This allows the player to role play as James in good faith and sets up the game's eventual twist, and also sets a relatively clean slate for the various ending triggers. The player doesn't see James as anything other than a confused husband, desperately hoping to see his possibly-not-dead wife again. The player is able to play James as such, and how you role play as James will inform how he eventually deals with the game's twist revelation. But the game will be slowly pulling the rug out from under James and the player over the course of the game, gradually establishing him as an un-reliable narrator.

Considering the additional context that this is a sequel to Silent Hill (which was about a father trying to rescue his daughter from a demonic cult), players may have had even less reason to not trust James. They have no clue that this game is going to deviate from the first game's premise and be an introspective and metaphorical tale that is almost completely divorced from the first game's plot. They just know it has the number 2 in the title, so it probably follows from the story of its predecessor. Maybe Mary really is alive? Maybe she's another vessel for the cult's demon god? Or maybe her soul was also split and there's a psychic Mary doppelganger living in Silent Hill who is summoning James to help her stop the cult's plans? Or maybe that doppelganger wants to trick him into helping the cult? And hey, guess what? A few hours into the game, we do indeed meet a Mary doppelganger!

Based on the opening minutes of the game, Silent Hill 2 can go in a lot of potential different directions, either introspective, supernatural, cult-driven, or any combination thereof.

The remake (trailer) opening

Now, compare this to the opening scene of the game, as shown in the trailer for Bloober's remake:

The remake shows a nervous and discombobulated James bursting into that same bathroom in a sweaty huff, holding and rubbing his shaking hands. Then he looks up at the mirror, face dripping with nervous sweat, the camera fades to black, and when it fades back in, James has apparently done a hard reset into a fugue state, and we see him more or less as he was in at the beginning of the original game.

This is anything but subtle or subdued. It is clear right from the start that James is undergoing some kind of stress or trauma, and the rubbing of the hands, which alludes to Lady MacBeth trying to scrub imaginary blood from her hands to satiate her guilt, is a dead-giveaway that the obvious trauma is guilt from a murder. The hard reset is also a dead giveaway that James is suddenly repressing that trauma and guilt.

This opening completely gives away, right from the first seconds, that James is an unreliable narrator going through some degree of psychosis, and that the player cannot take anything that happens at face value. James just suffered a traumatic experience, something for which he feels guilty, and something that was clearly violent, since he is metaphorically washing the blood from his hands in the bathroom sink. And then he immediately starts talking about his wife being dead. So gee, I wonder what he feels guilty for?

The opening of the remake trailer clearly alludes to Lady MacBeth washing metaphorical blood from her hands.

Hell, this isn't even the game spoiling its own ending; it's the announcement trailer spoiling the ending!

Now, sure, I'm looking at this with full knowledge of the original game's story, so I'm going to be more inclined to pick up on these details and immediately understand their meaning in context of the original game. It's possible that all this slipped past audiences who have little-to-no knowledge of the original game and its ending. But even so, it still immediately gives away the un-reliable narrator and that this is a story about some kind of guilt and trauma. Further, since Konami didn't bother with a remake of the first Silent Hill, nor have they (to my knowledge) re-released the original PS1 Silent Hill in a digital format that is playable on newer consoles, the new audiences don't have any preconceived notions about what this story, as a probable continuation of the previous story, should be about. All they have to go on is this walking-talking Lady MacBeth reference.

Now, it's possible that this will not, in fact, be the opening scene of the final game. Maybe Bloober has better sense than that. Maybe Konami or some 3rd-party trailer studio with little-to-no understanding of the game put this together. If Bloober created this scene, maybe they intended for it to only be viewable in New Game +, after which point the player already knows the twist? I'm just trying to give Bloober some benefit of the doubt here... But in any case, it's in the trailer. People have seen it. Even if it doesn't make it into the final game, the damage is already largely done, and James' repressed guilt has already been clearly given away to new players.

And this is all just from the opening scene of the trailer. This is to say nothing about questionable content in the rest of the trailer or screenshots. Or the change from third-person and cinematic camera angles to an over-the-shoulder perspective that will make it harder to frame important details outside of cutscenes, make it harder to conceal details of the environment from the player, and make it harder to maintain the claustrophobic atmosphere. Or how that change in perspective will almost certainly necessitate a greater focus on combat (Bloober having almost zero experience at creating combat mechanics), and the implications that a more action-driven game might have on one ending in particular, as well as the overall mood of the game.

Though, to be fair to Bloober, the rest of the trailer seems fine. I don't see any other glaring red flags. It's not scene after scene of James gunning down nurses, having QTE boss fights with Pyramid Head, doing stealth takedowns of mannequins, or choosing romance dialogue options with Maria. But then again, there's a lot we're not seeing in this trailer. There's no sign of Angela or Eddie, so we have no idea how Bloober might be handling those characters. And the only hints of combat we see looks like it's from cutscenes. Everything outside of the opening scene looks faithful enough to the original...

Not a faithful retelling?

If Bloober is trying to retain the original story and endings, they have already failed. They've given away the twist in the announcement trailer! Players aren't going to trust James now that they're going into the game knowing that he's an unreliable narrator. They aren't going to be able to role play him in good faith as an innocent, faithful, grieving husband, knowing that he is repressing some traumatic guilt. None of the game's other metaphors, symbols, foreshadowing, or ending triggers are going to be meaningful. At least, not if it is a direct adaptation of the original story.

The other possibility is that Bloober isn't directly and faithfully adapting the original story. They may be dramatically changing the story and ending(s) of Silent Hill 2. If so, this opening may be a mis-direction or clue to the new story. And, oh boy, this opens up a whole other can of worms. I'm not going to recount here all the ways that Bloober has poorly handled its past stories about trauma, PTSD, and mental health. There's plenty of other internet critics who have explained the problems beyond my petty powers to add or subtract. So I'll refer you to those content creators, from The Jimquisition to multiple essays from MertKayKay, and others. Needless to say, all of Bloober's games have been about player characters dealing with trauma and/or mental illness, and they all (with the possible exception of their one genuinely good game >Observer_) depict those people as completely broken, un-salvageable monsters who are a danger to themselves and to society, and whose only recourse should be to kill themselves to end their misery and spare others from their awfulness.

The Jimquisition had an excellent episode about Bloober being unqualified to develop Silent Hill.

Plenty of people were skeptical enough of Bloober's ability to adapt Silent Hill 2's story as it was. But if they are taking creative liberty to change that story . . . well, that's not good. I want to give Bloober the benefit of the doubt. I want to give them a fair chance. Maybe they've finally taken the criticisms to heart and will do better this time around. You know, fifth time's the charm? Right?

MertKayKay has criticized Bloober's depiction of mental illness and trauma in multiple videos.

But let's face it, Konami also hasn't exactly imbued us Silent Hill fans with confidence regarding their ability to competently manage this intellectual property.

But hey, at least Konami won't be accused of publisher interference by forcing the developers to shoe-horn in a Pyramid Head monster into a game in which Pyramid Head has no place. Because, you know, this is the one and only game in which a Pyramid Head is actually supposed to be here.

I hope Bloober doesn't do what all the other western developers of Silent Hill sequels have done. I fear they may add some ending where Mary actually killed James, and James has been dead all along, thus confusing or outright negating much of the game's symbolism and metaphor. Or an ending where James didn't kill Mary, and so has no reason to feel guilty to the degree that he manifests a purgatory out of a subconscious desire for self-punishment. Or even worse, they could change the twist to be that Mary wasn't even James' wife to begin with; that James is just a psychopathic murderer, and Mary was just some random tourist in the Lakeview Hotel who he murdered. And it's Bloober, so like, take a guess why James would be an irredeemable psychopathic serial killer. [...Sigh...] Like, I just can't help but have visions of this remake lowering Silent Hill 2 to the same level as Origins, Homecoming, and Downpour.

I fear Bloober may try to add their own "twist" endings.

But hey, Bloober's games are always technically impressive. They are much better engineers than they are story-tellers. So at the very least, the Silent Hill 2 remake will probably look very good and have some cool setpieces.

Saving grace?

The one thing that does give me (and many other fans) some hope and confidence in the final product is that original team members, Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka, are working on creature and sound designs respectively. So hopefully, they can catch mistakes made by Bloober and point Bloober in the right direction. However, I haven't seen anything saying that the original game's director, Masashi Tsuboyama, or its original writer, Hiroyuki Owaku, will be collaborating with Bloober. So Bloober has an artist and a musician from the original team, but not it's director or lead writer. And I don't know how much -- if any -- say Ito or Yamaoka have regarding the new game's direction, writing, level design, or gameplay.

Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka are collaborating with Bloober on the remake.

I've said it before, regarding Ito's comments on the canonicity of the first Silent Hill's ending and fate of Cybill, but Masahiro Ito wasn't a writer or director. I don't now what -- if any -- say he had on the original games outside of creature and environmental designs. If Ito is only contributing new or modified creature designs to the game (or worse yet, simply rubber-stamping Bloober's designs), and has no say in the game's story or plot, then he can't act as a viable check on Bloober going off the rails. But even if Ito and Yamaoka do have some say in the game's broader design, I'm still not necessarily convinced that they, alone can keep Bloober in check.

Ito is a great artist, and a valuable contributor to the original games. But he's an artist; not a writer. When he comments on art design or symbolism of the creatures, or when he criticized the HD collection's visuals and atmosphere, I take him very seriously as an authority because those are within his expertise as an artist and creature designer. But he isn't the end-all-be-all when it comes to story, and I don't take his word on the game's broader story as being necessarily or absolutely authoritative. Many other fans seem to take his word as Gospel, simply because he is very active on social media, and he will answer people's questions. But those answers need to be taken with the understanding that he is only one person from the original team, and the others can (and have) disagreed with him on certain matters of interpretation or intent. That is the nature of collaborative work.

Obviously, I respect Ito's insights into the original game's creation, and his insights will weigh heavily into any conclusions or interpretations I make about the games. But I'm not going to automatically accept them as gospel written in stone. He can rubber-stamp a creative decision made by Bloober, but could still be wrong in having done so. Hell, he could personally create an original monster, or redesign an existing monster, and I might still disapprove of or disagree with his new designs. Just because an original creator (or the original creator) modifies their own artistic work after the fact, it doesn't make them right to have done so -- especially in a multi-disciplinary, collaborative work like a movie or video game in which the different creators working on the project might not even necessarily agree. And it's also possible that their opinions about the work may have changed in the intervening time since the work was published.

Remaking a work of art gives a lot more creative license compared to directly modifying the original.

I want to emphasize that Bloober's Silent Hill 2 remake is technically a new artistic work. It is not quite the same as George Lucas modifying the original Star Wars, effectively replacing the original with a version that changes Han Solo's fundamental character by making Greedo shoot first. Nor is it the same as Disney stripping out some violence and gore from movies on its streaming platform. A remake does not have to be a 1-to-1 adaptation of the original material. A great example would be John Carpenter's The Thing, which is sort of a remake of an earlier movie called The Thing From Another World, which was itself a loose adaptation of an earlier novella called Who Goes There?. While John Carpenter's The Thing is much closer to an adaptation of Who Goes There? than to The Thing From Another World, it deviates considerably from both, and the result is a unique and really damn good sci-fi horror movie that was under-appreciated in its day, and which is one of my favorite movies. The 2012 prequel remake... eh, not so much. So yeah, Bloober does have the freedom to take creative license to make whatever changes they want to Silent Hill 2. But I also have the freedom to dislike those changes (if I don't like the changes), and to express that dislike publicly.

But that being said, the original Silent Hill 2 is not widely available. Konami has never re-released the original game digitally. The best we have is the HD Collection, which is an infamously awful port of buggy beta versions of the original game. So in that sense, this remake is likely going to replace the original game because it's the only version that people will have easy access to.

At the end of the day, we won't know for sure how the game will turn out until it releases this fall -- if it releases this fall. Maybe it will pleasantly surprise us, and I'll eat my words. But based on the trailer, I'm certainly not holding out hope for a faithful retelling of one of the gold standards of psychological horror in the video game medium. The trailer has already convinced me that Bloober is either not adapting the original story, or their attempts to do so will be far less competently than the original creators.

Comments (1) -

08/10/2023 07:40:02 #

I specifically stayed away from watching the trailer so I could go into the game fully mindblown by the new visuals without having the surprise of them spoiled for me already, but this has me dreading the remake now. I had no idea they changed the opening, and that really doesn't bode well for the rest of the product. Like you said, the biggest shame of this if it does end up ruining the mastery of the original is that it will replace the original for most because the original simply isn't widely available. This is really disappointing. I'll be looking forward to your review of the game once it's out, and I'll be resting my choice to buy it or not upon your word, because I respect your opinions and I deem you to know what you're talking about when it comes to games, particularly Silent Hill, which is rare praise from me, because the only people whose opinions I fully respect on Silent Hill are yours and Twin Perfect's on YouTube. If the remake sucks and ruins the mastery of the original, I won't be wanting it or wanting to support it, so I'll place my faith in your assessment when the time comes.

We're in a sad state of the Silent Hill series when I'm more excited for your review of the remake than I am for the remake itself. That's not a dig at you, because as I've just expressed, your work is top notch. It's a dig at how low the quality of the games has sunk after Team Silent evaporated like so much fog.

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