"In the beginning there was Interplay. Interplay begat Capcom, and Capcom begat Konami... between them, these 3 software giants were directly responsible for the creation, development and refinement of one of the world's most popular genres, survival horror. If it wasn't for the ground breaking release of Alone In The Dark for the PC, survival horror as a genre would never have been born. If Capcom hadn't pushed ahead with Resident Evil 1 and 2, the genre would have never reached the masses. And ..."
In the beginning there was Interplay. Interplay begat Capcom, and Capcom begat Konami... between them, these 3 software giants were directly responsible for the creation, development and refinement of one of the world's most popular genres, survival horror. If it wasn't for the ground breaking release of Alone In The Dark for the PC, survival horror as a genre would never have been born. If Capcom hadn't pushed ahead with Resident Evil 1 and 2, the genre would have never reached the masses. And if Konami hadn't have developed Silent Hill, we wouldn't be afraid to turn out the lights. Now thanks to the pioneering work done by these 3 game development companies, survival horror as a genre, is here to stay...
Originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2001, Silent Hill 2 was ported to the Xbox as a part of the system's launch line up. Sporting some semi-improved graphics, a new mini quest and a heavy dose of atmosphere, Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams soon won over a new legion of fans on Microsoft's 'box o'love'. It's wasn't the prettiest survival horror game around, and nor was it the most refined. What it did do however was provide the player with one of the most atmospheric experiences around... and atmosphere is what this genre is all about!
SH2:RD is more of a stand-alone side story to the central arc seen in Silent Hills 1 and 3. Its story is virtually self-contained and as such provides a definite beginning, middle and end to the tale. For that reason alone, it's an ideal starting point for those new to the series as gamers will not feel like they have missed something important along the way. The story starts with a typical Hitchcock-ian premise before delving into the very pits of horror made famous by the likes of H.P.Lovecraft. The hero of the story is James, a deeply troubled man with a dark past. Having lost his wife 3 years ago to a mysterious illness, James had finally put his life back together when something surreal happens: a letter arrives addressed from his dead wife...
''In my restless dreams, I see that town... Silent Hill. You promised me you'd take me there again someday, but you never did. Well, I'm alone there now... In our special place... Waiting for you''.
Of course, a dead person can't write a letter, but who would want to taunt him like this and why? With this question in mind, James begins his journey into the nightmare that awaits him in the town of Silent Hill. Along the way, James will encounter other people, all of them much like himself, disturbed or twisted in someway. Why have these other people been drawn to Silent Hill at the same time as him? Is Silent Hill really just a regular North American town? Or is it a gateway to hell? Rest assured, by the end of the game, the player will have some idea of what was going on. However, Konami don't treat you like an idiot - they don't give you all the pieces to the puzzle, and you are left to fill in the many blanks by yourself. Much of what occurs is open for speculation and is sure to provoke some in-depth discussion among friends long after the game has been put back on the shelf..
Survival horror games can live or die based on the atmosphere they generate. The player needs to really believe that their life is in danger and that it could come from anywhere, at anytime. SH2:RD does a great job of creating this atmosphere through it's intelligent use of both graphics and sound. The first thing the player will notice is that the outdoor environments are completely enshrouded by fog thus rendering visibility to practically zero. As visibility is limited, caution is warranted as running blindly through the streets will more than likely lead you into the path of one of the many monsters inhabiting Silent Hill. This fog effect creates such an intense feeling of claustrophobia that, at times, cowering in an alley becomes the preferred option! When you're almost out of ammunition and your health is low, the prospect of unseen danger lurking just out of sight triples with each footstep.
As James journeys through Silent Hill, reality as he knows it begins to shift. As his world turns inside out, everyday hospitals and apartment buildings become twisted into the most macabre visions of hell the player has ever witnessed. Entropy scars the walls as mould and rust begin to spread, bodies hang eviscerated from racks attached to the ceiling while the floorboards turn to wire mesh. If you were scared before, prepare to be scarred! This sudden shift from psychological horror to a more confrontational, in-your-face style of horror plays hell (pardon the pun) with the player's emotions.
For the most part, the graphics do a good job of presenting a believable gaming environment. Being a slightly enhanced Playstation 2 port, SH2:RD never really takes full advantage of the power inside the Xbox, but somehow it still manages to look good. Character animations are smooth and realistic while the backgrounds are quite nicely detailed. Of note are the impressively animated CG cut scenes that serve to push the story along as well as to seriously disturb the player's already fragile psyche. Some of the horrors witnessed here will be with you for a long time to come. CG work of this caliber easily compares to the kings of the field, Square and Capcom! Kudos to you, Konami, for pushing your boundaries...
As we all know, when trying to build an atmosphere within a game, there is one thing that is more important than graphics, and that is sound. All the graphics in the world can't build suspense quite like a well orchestrated soundtrack can. From the moment SH2:RD starts, it's obvious that Konami have taken that theory and pushed it to it's limits. From the blood curdling screams to the quiet pitter-patter of approaching monsters, the sound fx will leave you breathless with fear. It's a case of ''If you can't see it, you will hear it'' as monsters shuffle and scream just out of eye sight. Everything from the music to the background sound fx works against the player, forcing an almost constant state of fright. Certainly, nothing this side of Silent Hill 3 can possibly compare to the experience generated when the lights are turned down and the volume is turned up. If edge of your seat fear is what you are looking for, and the Xbox is your system of choice, then this is the game for you...
The gameplay is pretty much standard for the genre as it consists of a series of ''fetch and use'' style tasks. None of the puzzles are too difficult and can be overcome with a little lateral thinking. When not dealing with puzzles, the player is usually either running from or fighting with one of the many monsters that plague each area. Sometimes combat is not the best solution to a situation, so learning when to fight and when to run away is something the player must do early on if they are to survive. Ammunition is as scarce as health packs, so conservation of these items is a must! SH2:RD can be completed in approximately 8-10 hours, which is arguably a little on the short side. That being said, it's a very satisfying 8-10 hours, so you will still get your money's worth.
Traditionally, most survival horror games have utilized a 3rd person perspective with which to display the action, and SH2:RD is no different. Naturally this perspective gives the player the widest possible view of their surroundings, the irony being however that for most of the time, the surroundings are completely hidden by the mist. Ahhh Konami, are you playing games with us? Thankfully, there is enough room between the camera and James to give the player adequate warning when a monster approaches from the rear. The player has enough to worry about as it is, so it's nice to have a camera that supports you...
Once SH2:RD has been finished, a sub-quest starring one of the supporting characters opens up. This sub-quest was an exclusive to the Xbox release for a long time but is now available as a part of the updated Playstation 2 release. Here the player assumes the role of the mentally disturbed Maria as she tries to understand and escape from Silent Hill. As it's obviously nothing more than a bonus mode, this sub-quest won't take much longer than an hour to complete. Still, if you go to the trouble and play through what's on offer, the you will learn more about what is happening to Silent Hill... and that can't be all bad can it?
Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams is just what the Xbox needed, a high quality, franchised survival horror game. This game WILL shock you, it WILL scare you, and it WILL make you sleep with the lights on... it will PROBABLY also make you buy a Playstation 2 so that you can continue the journey into madness with Silent Hill 3. If any of those prospects scare you, then this is probably not your game. For the rest of us however, I'll be seeing you in hell...
* Spellbinding sound
* Terrific atmosphere of fear and dread
* Interesting story that takes thought to digest
* Bonus sub-quest
* Horrific backgrounds
* Reasonable quest length
* Nice addition to the Silent Hill mythos
* Essentially just a Playstation 2 port
* Graphics not up to Xbox standards
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)
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