"I remember feeling a sense of impending doom late in the game, as I controlled James as he descended through what seemed a nonstop series of holes in the ground. To me, this small section of the game seemed more of a metaphor for my character’s mental state as he came closer to discovering the truth. And who could blame him for being a little bit over the edge by this point?"
Like any self-respecting dude with all his chromosomes where they should be, I dig horror movies. While I must admit I do love watching ones that adhere to what I call the “Three Ss” (slashing, stabbing and showing tits), the ones I get the most enjoyment from are those that make me think a little bit. You know, something like The Thing, where I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out who was infected and who wasn’t, while watching the growing paranoia and mistrust exhibited by the characters threaten to be more of a danger to their hopes of survival than the alien monster.
As video games started to get a bit more on the sophisticated side thanks to either improved technology or voodoo magic, the genre of survival horror became prominent because of two similar, yet very different, series. One, Resident Evil, went for the jugular, as zombies and other lethal critters jumped out of nowhere on a regular basis to constantly keep players on their toes. Personally, I preferred the early entries of the other series, a Konami creation named Silent Hill. While these games had their share of scary moments, they made their mark by messing with the minds of players, making them wonder if what they were experiencing was real....or just a bizarre hallucination.
While I’ve always looked at the first entry in that series to be a bit better overall thanks to some surprisingly good gameplay, it is the events of Silent Hill 2 (the first on the PS2) that stick out in my mind most prominently. The town of Silent Hill’s undergone a wee bit of a transformation since the events of the first game, where it served as a sort of battlefield for Harry Mason to reclaim his lost daughter. Now, it almost seems to be a realm where lost souls come to be judged. And that’s where James Sunderland comes in.
A ways back, ol’ James lost his beloved wife, Mary, to one of those lethal diseases, or so he thought. You see, the poor guy opens the game pondering the meaning of some postcard he’d recently received telling him to come to Silent Hill....from the corpse bride herself. And so, guess who gets in his car and drives to America’s most beloved foggy, monster-infested resort town? James has a mystery to solve and he’s not wasting any time!
Of course, solving the Caper of the Undead Wife won’t be a simple task for poor ol’ James. After only a few moments of exploring the seemingly-deserted town, he spies a grotesque figure that eventually attacks him after he corners it in a dead end. From this point on, James’ search descends into a nightmarish world which may or may not be real, as an apartment complex, hospital and the streets of Silent Hill prove to be chock-full of hostile denizens waiting for their chance to put a quick end to the search.
And Mr. Sunderland won’t be getting much help from the flesh-and-blood humans he encounters, either. Cute chick Angela’s kind of a bummer, as she tends to be morbidly depressed most of the time (damn emo kids...). Fat guy Eddie’s not exactly the ideal T.C. (and/or Rick) to James’ Magnum P.I., thanks to a persecution complex to end all persecution complexes. Then, there’s Maria, whose main attribute is the strong resemblance she bears to the supposedly-deceased wife, both in appearance and in name. Finally, we have Laura, a bratty kid who needs a good, brutal dose of child abuse inflicted upon her.
All of these monsters and people, though, will be less of an obstacle than the being commonly referred to as “Pyramid Head”. A hulking figure wielding an imposing weapon, this seemingly-indestructible force does its utmost to ensure James never feels too safe and secure while exploring the desolate, crumbling, monster-infested community.
Yet, what stood out most for me when playing this game wasn’t the monsters, other humans or “Pyramid Head” -- it was the amazing atmosphere that constantly made its presence felt in a wide variety of ways. I remember feeling a sense of impending doom late in the game, as I controlled James as he descended through what seemed a nonstop series of holes in the ground. To me, this small section of the game seemed more of a metaphor for my character’s mental state as he came closer to discovering the truth. And who could blame him for being a little bit over the edge by this point? He’d survived a few tense chase scenes with the seemingly-ever-present “Pyramid Head”, narrowly escaped a locked room full of bloodthirsty roaches and found out the hard way that zombie nurses holding sharp tools aren’t the sort of folks one wants to meet in dark hospital corridors. I was just CONTROLLING James and got a bit freaked out by all the weird stuff going on around me.
Alert readers might notice I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the game’s plot, characters and imagery....but none discussing the gameplay. Well, that’s because if Silent Hill 2 has one major Achilles’ heel, there it is. Simply put, this is yet another clunky survival horror game, with awkward camera angles and a plodding hero. One particular scene in the hospital where James has to outrun “Pyramid Head” through several narrow corridors proved to be a nightmare for me, as I found it tough to not constantly run into walls while attempting to stay ahead of my would-be executioner.
Making matters worse, it didn’t take me long to discover that most of the regular monsters are pretty slow-moving and unimposing -- especially out in the open. I remember running through the city streets of the first Silent Hill game, unable to see anything in the pea-soup fog, but damn well knowing something was out there -- knowledge that kept me tense and always on the move. Here, I had no problems slowly meandering through back alleys, as I knew I could easily dodge just about anything that came after me.
As a result of this, I found this game pretty easy to breeze through, which made me focus on the storytelling and imagery. While Silent Hill 2 definitely delivered in both of those aspects, I do wish I’d had a bit more of a challenge in making it through the game. It seemed only a few areas gave me any real trouble, with most of those problems coming as a result of either poor camera angles or clunky controls.
While I must admit this game has the best plot of any of the Silent Hill games I’ve played, I can’t recommend it above the original -- a game that was able to deliver the goods on many levels. Still, I did enjoy my trip through this incarnation of that diabolical town and definitely want to make a return trip -- if only to watch the cataclysmic results of people being forced to confront their own inner demons.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 27, 2006)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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