Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, and Siren – The PS2 Still Has The Best Horror Game Library
I’m a giant chicken, but for whatever reason, I’m still way too into old-school horror games. I’m talking late ’90s, early ’00s games with clunky controls and aesthetics that couldn’t lean as heavily into gory realism. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia goggles talking, but I was far more invested in the mechanics of that era that felt experimental for the time. Since then, we’ve iterated and iterated on the survival horror genre. But for a good scare, I always go back to my carefully preserved PS2 library that includes favorites like Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, Siren, and others.
Without a doubt, the horror game that stands above the rest is 2001’s Silent Hill 2. That town Mary sees in her restless dreams was the poster child for horror back in the day, and even after 20 years, it remains an iconic piece of work, regarded as some of the genre’s best. The PS2-era saw more than just the hell in James Sunderland’s mind, though, as Konami continued to deliver with Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 4: The Room, Silent Hill: Origins, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, all on the retro console. While some are certainly better than others, the Silent Hill of the PS2-era outshined what later became of the series, and the console still remains the platform with the most Silent Hill releases.
Silent Hill 2 continues to be my favorite horror game of all time, but the often-dismissed Silent Hill 4: The Room will always be the series anomaly I advocate hardest for. The Room is a departure from the hellish town in entries prior and instead took us to another fictional city, Ashfield. Every time I returned to Henry Townshend’s dreaded apartment, I felt a sense of anxiety few games have been able to replicate. A home, a place I expected safety in, gradually descends into a nightmarish horror, and it feels like there’s no good place to seek refuge in as the game’s core themes revolve around making your safety net feel dangerous. The type of scares Silent Hill 4’s twisted apartment complex evoked are those that stick with you long after – a creeping sense of fear that lingers into the real world once turning your console off. It’s the sort I absolutely love and hate at the same time, as I spent nights weirded out by my tiny apartment after playing The Room all alone.
Then there’s perhaps the only series that may compete with Silent Hill in the fight for my personal number one, and that’s Fatal Frame. Koei Tecmo’s survival horror trilogy on the PS2 arms you with the Camera Obscura, a device that pacifies and captures spirits, and that’s it. There are no fancy guns, no knives, nothing – just a camera and some very limited, very precious rolls of film.
Fatal Frame’s reliance on some of Japan’s more traditional ghost stories was my first introduction to the genre as a kid. While all three titles on the PS2 provide a similar, incredible experience full of a building sense of unease and terror – the second has always been my favorite. There are a few scenarios I often use to persuade new friends into giving Fatal Frame 2 a try, but the moment you meet the game’s Woman in Box remains to be my prime example. A cataclysmic event hit Fatal Frame 2’s All Gods Village, and in a desperate rush to escape the catastrophe, said woman took her newborn child and hid inside a kimono box. Obviously, she didn’t survive, and the lethargic movements of her ghost crawling out of the box and across the floor with long messy hair remind me of my favorite horror movie antagonist, Kayako from Ju-On: The Grudge. I don’t know how many times I’ve played this game, but I’m always still a shaky mess trying to aim the camera and banish Woman in Box.
While I don’t revisit Clock Tower 3 quite as often as I do Silent Hill 2 or Fatal Frame 2, it’s still an old favorite. It was the first of the series that Capcom had a hand in producing, so while my friends begged for more Resident Evil, I just wished I could run from Scissorman again. Clock Tower 3’s director was the only one where Japanese film director Kinji Fukasaku was involved, but the game inspired others like the disturbing PS2 horror classic, Haunting Ground.
Clock Tower 3 was more of a departure from where the series had been, as the third installment dropped its point-and-click elements in favor of clunky controls that made scrambling to hide difficult. But I loved Clock Tower 3 for different reasons than Silent Hill or Fatal Frame. As Alyssa, I was given even less to use to protect myself from enemies. The measly, limited holy water for stuns was too precious to waste, and enemies like Sledgehammer calling “Alysaaa” in a creepy drawl still gives me the shivers to think about.
Finally, there’s an honorable mention on PS2 that I can’t have this conversation without, and that’s Siren. The first-party, Sony Japan Studio game split the game’s perspective up into the story of ten survivors, connected them through a butterfly effect where different character actions trigger events in various stages. You had weapons, the ability to hide, and sometimes even company to escort, but the game still always terrified me.
It was a weird one that took me years after launch to work up the courage to beat; as a kid in the PS2-era, there was something about Siren’s atmosphere that absolutely panicked me. When I revisit it, I think it’s that grainy, old-school film texture and the constant darkness that petrified me. So much of Siren just looks like you’re staring off into the abyss, and I relied heavily on hearing the scary things lurking about when I couldn’t see them.
Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, and Siren may be my favorites, but they just scratch the surface of what the PS2 hosted. The platform’s library included so many other scares, like Rule of Rose, Kuon, Resident Evil, Obscure, and Lifeline. Some of those games found their way to modern consoles, but others, like Rule of Rose, go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. In an ideal world, I’d be able to play my entire collection on PC and preserve them forever, but until then, I’ll still be holding on to my PS2 – where I have a massive library of horror classics that have stood the test of time.
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Andrea Shearon is a news editor at TheGamer who loves RPGs and anything horror related. Find her on Twitter via @Maajora.
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