Welcome to the first entry to Growing With Games, a column about the meaningfulness of games as art. This introduction piece will fittingly focus on video game intros, specifically the one I think is the best intro ever made.
Silent Hill 2’s opening moments manage to pull off basically everything an intro to a work of art can do. It sets the player’s expectations perfectly, makes the tone and atmosphere of the game apparent, and immediately shows so much about the game without explicitly saying anything. It also rewards further reflection as the game continues, recontextualizing plenty of aspects of the beginning. The intro to this game, to put it simply, is everything Silent Hill 2 is trying to be.
The game opens immediately after you begin a new game, giving the player no opportunity to ground themselves in the experience. This pulls double duty of clueing the audience into the main character James’s mental state, while also setting up the tone of the game, which will continue to be reinforced throughout this intro. James stares into a bathroom mirror in what has to be the most iconic shot of the entire game, distilling the essence of the whole game into a single moment as he drags his hand across his face. This puts his mental state at the forefront of the player’s mind while also showing off the outstanding animation of the game. The cutscenes of this game look straight-up realistic at times, adding to the uncanny nature of the game. During this opening moment, James’s eyes aren’t visible in the mirror and since we’re looking at this mirror over the shoulder with weak lighting, his eyes aren’t shown at all, symbolizing the journey that this game will take us on will be one of metaphorically looking into James’s soul.
James steps back from the mirror and heavily sighs and this is the first vocal delivery in-game. This shot has significantly better lighting, meaning now we can see James’s face and the background of the bathroom, before the shot changes to a dutch angle from behind a urinal, watching James. He gives the first line of the game: “Mary…Could you really be in this town?” This brings up the first dramatic question, and immediately shows a lot about James as a person. James’s delivery of this line makes his emotions clear while managing to
show a lot about his character without being explicitly told. His dehydrated voice, his reluctant, even hesitant delivery, and even the way he emphasizes certain words make it clear that Mary is incredibly important to him.
The shot behind the urinal in particular harkens back to the very first shot of James looking in the mirror, but this time, we’re looking at him looking into himself, making it clear that he’s also going to be discovering things about himself, and that they will be very grotesque, subtly suggested by where this cutscene takes place. The bathroom shown during this cutscene is clearly abandoned and gross, which doesn’t really mean much per se on its own. It helps with tone building even further, but this intro clearly isn’t lacking in that department. Still, the bathroom’s attention to detail is absurd. The developers could have easily skipped this process and just skip to James walking out of the bathroom, but instead, they meticulously modeled the entire place. The graffiti on the walls actually being legible once the player is given control of James, the footsteps being unique and perfectly fitting the texture of the floor, and the entirely different section of the bathroom in the back that serves no purpose other than to exist makes it easier to be immersed into this game, which I think shows how much love the developers had for this project.
While I’ve tried to go into as much detail as I could, I still, unfortunately, had to leave out a ton of things that make this intro great due to spoiler reasons, or because they’re not as prominent. Things like the song being used during this cutscene being the best tone setter possible and, in my opinion, one of the best to open any game, the tank controls being introduced making it hard to even leave the bathroom, mirroring how hesitant James is to really take this journey, and the fact that despite all the care that went into this bathroom, it is never seen again after leaving. These and plenty more shows how much effort was put into these opening moments alone, which is incredibly important to get the player immediately invested.
There is clearly genuine passion that went into crafting just this little piece of the game. There’s so much heart in Silent Hill 2, which becomes apparent as soon as it begins, and I think that’s incredibly important. Showing off what kind of experience your game will have right away is one thing, but showing that while also making it clear how much care was put into it makes the experience even better for players. It’s easy to tell when a game lacks passion, but when it’s there, it can turn the game into something more meaningful.