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Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Xbox) artwork

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Xbox) review

"Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece from back when Konami meant quality. But that's the PS2 version. Does this port hold up?"

In the annals of horror video games, one series sticks out. Silent Hill. Originally created by a team of misfits at Konami; Silent Hill was originally meant as a low-ish budget title meant to take on Resident Evil which, at the time was a juggernaut for Capcom and one of the examples of why PlayStation was king in the late 90ís. Emboldened by this success Konami said to these misfits Ė now named team silent- essentially ďokay, hereís some more money and some PS2 devkits, do that againĒ. The result of which was Silent Hill 2. It became an absolute masterpiece, a gem and a real feather in the cap of the very early days of the PS2. Itís also one of the games I go to when I talk about games as art.

But Iím not here to talk about that quite so much. In fact Iím mostly going to assume youíre familiar with the PlayStation 2 original on some level. Though I wonít be going into real spoilers.

Being so popular it makes sense now that the game would be ported to other consoles, but this is in a day when console hardware was incredibly different, with different challenges and different strengths. Iím talking about the Silent Hill 2 port for the original Xbox, whether itís worth picking up. Back in the day, if there was a multi-platform game, you probably wanted to get it on the Xbox. The better hardware usually meant better graphics, better sound, custom soundtracks etc. but is that true here?

Long story short, Not really.

Letís begin with controls. The Xbox controller isnít all that great, while a revelation for FPS games it frequently gives me hand cramp to deal with in other games. Much of this is actually due to the controller S design. Actions such as cancelling out of menus or puzzles and using the flashlight are set to the white button, running to the black button. On the old duke controller this wasnít a huge issue, as they were near the ABXY buttons, on the S they are on the lower right, well out of the way and quite difficult to use in a pinch. The triggers are used for camera control and aiming, itís actually fine, B and X are remapped to the strafe buttons.

The biggest issue however is movement. SH 2 infamously uses tank controls, basically engineered to be used with a D-Pad, unfortunately of course, the Xbox D-Pad is probably the worst official D-pad in existence, often you accidentally press a diagonal just trying to turn. More than once I took some damage or got stuck in places simply because the controller registered some spurious diagonal movement, using the analogue thumbstick is little better. There is a 3D-movement option, but it is quite limited, you can end up spinning in place because a camera angle movement keeps orienting you the other way. Not a good impression.

Next onto graphics. The Xbox did have the most powerful graphics processor of its generation, that is an immutable fact. Generally, a ported game will support higher resolutions than its PS2 counterpart, run a bit smoother and have much higher resolution textures. Sure enough the game can be run at 480p and often small details (such as the small branches/leaves on the trees at the beginning of the game) donít ďshimmerĒ in the way that PS2 graphics do. Additionally, the flashlight effect is significantly more refined, on the PS2 it illuminated in splotches, you could see the edges of the polygons that were being lit, now it's per pixel and it looks really nice. At the same time however, we now have a couple problems that (to me at least) offset that. Firstly, the fog is pared back. This isnít a surprise, the fog is actually a quite complex effect that is leaps and bounds beyond the simple geometry hiding workaround of the PS1 days. The reason why the fog is so dense in the PS2 version is because itís taking advantage of a unique part of the PS2 hardware. Still, the fog is an incredibly large part of the game and the fact that thereís less does impact the atmosphere but slightly.

My second issue lies in the FMVís, I canít quite put my finger on it but something is different, my guess is they were converted into another format. They didnít do a good job. There was a smoothness to the PS2ís cutscenes that is no longer there. It seems such a small thing but as an avid player of the original version, itís jarring to watch.

Next onto sound. This is probably the most aggravating part of the port to me. Sound is an integral part of the Silent Hill games, whether from the industrial noise of the most intense scenes, to the soft melancholy of the more emotional scenes, to the deafening silence used to build up tension. Sound is as important as fog or a deep, emotional storyline, it helps make Silent Hill. They screwed it up. From what I can tell the developers took the sound clips of the PS2 version and re-encoded them at a lower quality. This means that many of the sound effects have somewhat noticeable amounts of noise or sound muffled. As well, the music is presented a bit differently. Usually music on the PS2 is actually sequenced, not pre recorded. This means that soundtracks done this way can be made more dynamic. The SNES worked similarly, though on a much smaller and more memory constrained scale. On the Xbox however itís clear that the music is just streamed MP3 files, the looping is very noticeable and it does take you out of the game. The only positive really is that the game has been coded to take advantage of the Xboxís inbuilt dolby digital sound system, thatís assuming you have the HD pack with the optical audio cable.

For the most part performance is actually about on par with the PS2 version. This may be an issue with MY console, but frequently I saw stuttering while playing, it was short and relatively infrequent but when exploring the town youíd get a little freeze every now and then, Iím not holding it against the game because for all I know, my hard drive or laser is going, it seems to be related to data streaming.

One notable addition to the game is ďBorn from a WishĒ, an additional scenario intended to be played after the main game is completed. Itís played from the perspective of the character Maria and deals with her story immediately before meeting James Sunderland from the main plot, itís about half an hour to an hour long, features an interesting enough story. But doesnít add very much, nor does it expand our understanding of the main plot. Itís kind of just a nice little extra with an interesting story. Slightly disappointing, especially since the box features it rather prominently in the ďXbox extrasĒ section on the back.
So, we come to the end of this -hopefully pleasant- run through of the Xbox port of the utter classic Silent Hill 2. Do I recommend it? Not really. Do I still think itís an okay way of experiencing the game if you donít have access to the PS2 version? Yes. Silent Hill 2 is still an absolute classic, while the Xbox version is very much a mediocre port, none of its issues truly take away from it, itís just a bit crap is all.

If you donít own Silent Hill 2 however and are thinking of buying a copy, go buy the PS2 version, better yet, buy the re-release ďrestless dreamsĒ or ďdirectors cutĒ versions (depending on region), it contains all of the extra content of the Xbox version but has none of the headaches that said version brings.

The PS2 version would always get perfect marks for me, I can't bring myself to do the same for this version, My take away is that this is still the great game it is, technical issues aside. But all the same it is not a great port. My score must reflect that.

maboroshi's avatar
Community review by maboroshi (April 03, 2018)

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maboroshi posted April 03, 2018:

realized i'd given a 4 when I meant a 3. updated.

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