Review: Silent Hill 2

When survival horror fans are asked what game ranks among their favourites, a rather common name seems to appear.  Without question, Silent Hill 2 is a fan-favourite, even after all this time.  Yes, it’s been almost 10 years since Konami and Team Silent released this stellar little title to the Silent Hill series and ever since then it’s made us just a little bit afraid of what lurks around that next corner.

So what is it about a game made in 2001 that still has us on the edge of their seats?  What is it about this little outing that has gamers so enthralled, even after playing countless other games with arguably better graphics, better control scheme, better voice-acting?  Silent Hill 2 must have done a lot of things right to gain this much acclaim.  For those of you who have never played, read on to find out what it was.  For those who have conquered the title and achieved every possible ending, read on to take a trip down Nostalgia Lane.

Silent Hill 2 has had several releases.  The original Playstation 2 and Xbox release, the Greatest Hits edition, which has the extra content “Restless Dreams,” and the PC edition as well.  It generally recieved favourable reviews when it was released–and for it to have lasted all this time as a favourite–it must have been damned good when it was released, no?

The game is shown from a third-person perspective.  Not hovering right over James’ shoulder as in modern titles, often times there are fixed camera angles for different areas on the map.  The main screen doesn’t have a heads-up display, so if you’d better make sure you know how many bullets are left in that gun.  Exact information can only be really checked by pausing the game and viewing the menu–old fashioned style.  One of the more aggravating features unfortunately is that there is no mini-map.  Call me a sucker for modern conveniences, but dammit I checked the map (which had to be collected and even drawn) a lot in this game.  Even when I was in the middle of Nowhere.

The control scheme, unfortunately is difficult to grasp–especially if you’re going back to play it for the first time.  You can use traditional survival-horror controls (up means forward, and nothing else) or typical controls (2D-type).  Light, quick attacks or hard, slow attacks.  Melee weapons are your friends, but firearms can be your best friends if used properly.  In theory, it makes perfect sense–in practice, it’s a little clunky.

But we didn’t make it this far because of the control scheme.

The very premise of the game is frightening enough.  Our protagonist James recieves a letter in the mail from his wife, Mary.  The letter beckons him to come to Silent Hill and their ‘special place.’  Nothing too strange about that, right?  There’s just one problem–Mary’s been dead for 3 years.  So how did she send James this letter?  Dead people can’t write letters, what’s going on?  Saddle up, James, you’re headed to Silent Hill.

The town appears to be abandoned.  Is Mary really here?

The Silent Hill franchise, at one time was often compared to the Resident Evil franchise, which is known for its gore and jump-out scares.  Silent Hill immediately set itself apartby getting its scares from its atmosphere.  The entire series has followed this same mantra, and the atmosphere of this game is intense.  When in a room, the darkness gives the player a very claustrophobic feeling, the tiny cramped rooms feeling like they’re closing in on you at any second, enemies that might be lurking in the corner, disguised behind floral-pattern dresses.

One of the key elements of the atmosphere is the music.  Akira Yamaoka shows us why he’s one of the masters of video game music with his magnificent score.  The music builds up anticipation…there could be some horrific monster behind this next corner…but around that corner and nothing is there. More often than not, there’s really nothing there, but the game isn’t going to let you relax on that note.  No, because why don’t you take a look behind you?  Come down this hall a few moments later, and what’s there now?  Have that crowbar handy?

But that’s not to say that there aren’t any enemies.  Silent Hill 2 introduced one of the most iconic video game antagonists in the genre.  Pyramid Head was first introduced by way of a vague note, describing a ‘red devil.’  In appearance, he first appears as an ominous figure standing in the background.  He stands there on the other side of a set of bars, looking back at James through the bars.  He doesn’t attack, he doesn’t move, he just looks at you, underneath a gigantic cloak.

When out in the open, the foggy town gives off a feeling like–you’re the only one there.  But you aren’t, see?  On top of all of the enemies he finds on his journey, James meets up with some people who seem to have their own problems to deal with.  Eddie, Angela, Laura, and Maria.  Maria looks a lot like Mary, except her attitude is a little more…promiscuous?  Angela is desperately looking for her mother, and Eddie has a pretty guilty aura about him.  Laura?  She’s a little girl who stayed in the hospital with Mary–apparently just a few weeks ago?  She also can’t see the monsters that are crawling throughout the town.  What is up with that?

The game is challenging, featuring some of those old-school puzzles that everyone loves to hate.  With multiple endings, the game has a good amount of replay value.  It’s a game that will leave you thinking at the end, and a game that you’ll want to pick up and play again and again.

Overall Score: 9/10

You’ll Like

  • Deep, engrossing storyline
  • Multi-dimensional characters
  • Akira Yamaoka does an excellent job with the soundtrack
  • Fair amount of replay value

You’ll Hate

  • Graphics haven’t aged well
  • Control scheme and combat system definitely not the best
  • Story might be a bit morbid for some.

Conclusion

Silent Hill 2 is a game that is difficult to describe without revealing major plot points.  It’s one of those games where you have to play the game to understand its beauty.  Silent Hill 2 dares to tell a story covering some strong subjects.  Murder, suicide, guilt, loss, repression, child molestation–and then combines it with things that we all seek at some point in our lives…redemption and acceptance.  Yet for how dark it really is, the story still draws us in, even after almost 10 years.

–jeeves86

               
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