"You can't escape the fear… but you'll keep running anyway. And running and "
You can't escape the fear… but you'll keep running anyway. And running and
James Sunderland received a letter. In it, his wife seems to be beckoning him to the resort town of Silent Hill, to their special place, so that they may be together again. But James's wife is dead--has been for three years now. And so begins another tale set in nebulous, demon-shadowed Silent Hill, where the pain of the past can manifest today's horror; where for James, there is no love nor Mary's soft sweet voice. But there are plenty of living things and metal screaming; there is blood and pain and temptation and flight, and men with pyramids as heads bearing knives as long as they are tall.
This is the terror of Silent Hill 2. Like the first game, the emphasis is on subtly working the bizarre and hurtful into the real world until the two worlds become the same. Also, quite like the first game, you'll feel something for the game well after you've beaten it and have moved on to other challenges. This is because these two games are fraught with frightful implications, but they never connect all the dots they present us with. The developers at KCET realize that it's far more potent to allow our imaginations the task of making the connections. But there are differences between the two games: Silent Hill 2 is a much more sad, beautiful tale than the dark and grisly one told in the original chapter, and it haunts in its own unique way.
And there's another difference. This game is much, much more tedious. It's a shame really, because it outdoes its predecessor in so many ways, but this tedium sabotages much of the enjoyment you might have had from the improved elements. The graphics are crisp and lifelike, making good use of the PS2's greater capabilities. The voice acting is not stupendous, but the small cast of characters is very believable, and the screams of the monsters, and the often relentless ambient noises can be unnerving--often downright terrifying. Even the puzzles are approachable: they're not overly cryptic, and though they rarely make sense, the solutions to them are logical in the Silent Hill nightmarish scheme of things. And while I preferred the compelling nature of the 'kidnapped child story' from the first game, I must admit that Silent Hill 2's story is tighter, and far more fluid and easy.
Yet despite all this, we have ourselves an inferior sequel. In the hanging fog that presses down on the streets and the park at the onset of the adventure, we take control of a man who is filled with uncertainty. He meanders down the street jogging clumsily, just as we might if we were in his place. But does the game really have to be this realistic? The long and the short of it is, James does far too much running in this game. This is made even more unbearable by the fact that he runs so damn slow. The game shouldn't make us cover this much ground. The feeling of being lost is communicated perhaps too well, as Silent Hill 2 crosses the line from realism and atmosphere into un-fun, perfunctory task completion. Early on, we must guide James (rattling the doorknobs of scores of locked doors en route) through two apartment buildings! Wasn't just the one enough? Later on, there is a nearly useless sequence on a rowboat in the middle of a fog drenched lake. Again, incredibly atmospheric, but also incredibly boring. You'll want to ask KCET for yourself: ''Why are you making me do this?''
Silent Hill 2 is like a brilliant short story stretched into a tedious novel. You'll still like it, but you might have loved it--certainly there are ingredients present that make it loveable. It sets perfect scenes and tells a moving, melancholic tale full with monsters of unknown origin, a main character who is unsure of himself, mysterious secondary characters like Maria (who bears a striking resemblance to James's Mary), and a mist-shrouded town speaking of decay and disaster--and gives us clarity. Almost nothing is a certainty in the elements that make up Silent Hill 2, but the end vision is. This is something that perhaps not even the original could accomplish so completely--it had too many holes. This is why this sequel is probably more haunting too: because its unsettling vision is so clear. Your decision should be as well. Silent Hill 2 deserves a look from anyone, and a no-brainer purchase by fans of the genre. Just expect things to drag a bit, and expect replay value to be somewhat lower than you'd like.
But do visit the infamous not-so-sleepy resort town of Silent Hill once more. The inexorable presence of Pyramid Head awaits, and he's got something to show you.
Staff review by Marc Golding (September 16, 2003)
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