Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2) review
"I'll be the first to admit that I'm far from unshakable when it comes to horror games. Many of them simply scare me senseless, to the point where I can't even bring myself to pick up the controller when it's dark. The Silent Hill series, with its static-laden ambiance and creepily orchestrated apparitions, is probably chief among them. It's stretched a number of games, ranging from the first where you had to track down your daughter, to the third which basically flip-flopped the roles. Th..."
I'll be the first to admit that I'm far from unshakable when it comes to horror games. Many of them simply scare me senseless, to the point where I can't even bring myself to pick up the controller when it's dark. The Silent Hill series, with its static-laden ambiance and creepily orchestrated apparitions, is probably chief among them. It's stretched a number of games, ranging from the first where you had to track down your daughter, to the third which basically flip-flopped the roles. They've all been a genuine scare, and in a stylistic manner at that. Surprisingly, very little cheap shock-value has been present.
But what's their secret?
The short of it is that they practice restraint. If you watch a movie like Friday the 13th, it's no wonder what will happen when that young teenage couple is making love all alone in the lower decks of a ship. They're going to be killed. If you watch Silent Hill, you're always left wondering about what's around the next bend. A broken-legged zombie, replete with ratty dressing grown, hobbling out of a hospital room, or maybe one of the overseers of the macabre town, a pyramid-headed monstrosity, caked with dried, flaking blood and dragging behind it a blade of cursed proportions? It's not truly known.
That considered, the whole experience is built upon by a collection of assorted dissonance -- weird stuff. There's the crackling radio which acts up when danger closes in, the increasingly troubled moans of the undead, and even unsettling attempts at ambiance through scraping metal, dropping objects and various synthetic sounds. In contrast with the electric guitar riffs being chucked out during more momentous scenes, it makes for a decidedly esoteric soundtrack; but in the context of the game, spells pure brilliance. It's hard not to enjoy the sounds provided, whether you're the musically inclined type or not, simply because they fit the desired moods like a glove.
There are also the visuals, which do well to engender a setting not unlike your worst nightmare. Just imagine being all alone in an abandoned town, enveloped entirely in fog and constantly tormented by the cries of the undead, your only comfort being that someone you love waits for you at the other end. Now subtract that person you love and replace him or her with an anonymous note claiming that such a person awaits you, and only then will you have an idea just how desperate and dire James' predicament is. He's truly at his wit's end over all of this. Whether he lives or dies makes little difference; he only wants to find his wife or at the very least find out why that's no longer possible. Silent Hill 2 is testament to this.
It finds James both walking and running through the ill-fated ghost town, reminiscing about the days he had with his wife, searching for clues as to her disappearance and fighting with those who would seek to halt these pursuits. Among these cretins are disfigured zombies, giant cockroaches, animated mannequins, pyramid heads and the tragically suggestive ''door demons''. To defeat them, James will have to employ all manners of weapons -- wooden boards, katanas, pistols, shotguns -- and also their appropriate ammunition which is in limited supply. But that's not all he'll use. Silent Hill also offers many scattered items and documents which are either direct or indirect solutions to the puzzles scattered about. Dilemmas that, alone, are challenge enough for the distraught James.
Fighting probably takes higher precedence, but it's not without its justification. For within the town of Silent Hill lies a truly tragic tale that extends far beyond the bounds of just a man losing his lover. Gaze upon the deranged Eddie, a soul only intermittently tormented by guilt, and for the remainder frighteningly aware of his own actions; unspeakable deeds that part of him attempts to excuse and the rest revels in. Or the ogreish Thomas, whose carelessly indulgent legacy found him carving a hole in a door, through which he could enjoy his very own daughter. Even the enigmatic Maria, whom closely resembles James' own wife, and the mischievous little girl, who time and time again invokes a potentially fatal Deja Vu, could drive him to the brink of suicide if he's not careful. With citizens like this, and also the frightening reincarnations of their equally twisted ancestors, sometimes fighting seems to be the only option.
There's a lot of it to be done, too. Between save points, James can expect to find a number of hostile creatures. Along with necessary ammunition, the occasional medical item, and puzzle solutions, as many as 20 enemies can lurk between one save point and the next. Should James meet with very much of their acidic projectile vomit, rusty melee weapons or rabid bites, he, too, will join their ranks and have to start over. He'll get a fair idea of how close this untimely conformation is to approaching though, as controls have been known to throb rapidly in time with his own heightened heart beat. It works out nicely because it saves having to cross-reference with the status screen all the time, and when it is necessary, it'll probably be to quaff or apply medical items to fix the problem and not to merely determine if there is one. But unfortunately, everything isn't always so picture-perfect.
SH2 at times suffers through spells of tedium due to the large area layouts, and it never quite captures the feeling of wanderlust that many third-person games have invoked in the past. This is due mostly to the persistent annoyances that have always plagued the series. Halls of rusted shut doors, while building a decided atmosphere up until a working one is found, are applied far too frequently to keep player intrigue constant. Instead, they tend to become boring. The issue of monster variation also arises. While a recurring enemy theme might be suitable to the plot itself, without even subtle variations the player is left to repeating combat patterns for what may seem an eternity in certain segments. It's not nearly on the level of monotony of a game like Resident Evil, but it does prove tiresome at intervals.
A gamer new to the Survival Horror genre would be likely to write these complaints off as niggling, but those with a bit more experience under their belts will find themselves wishing away many of these genre-inclusive, incumbent elements and hoping for something fresh and better. But even though they won't find too many revolutionary concepts in Silent Hill 2, they'll likely still be pleased with the product. It puts a unique spin on the town of Silent Hill with new characters, new tales, new enemies and new locales to visit; and, most importantly, patches up a lot of the bothers from the original like an unbelievable town infrastructure and disappointing length. There's fun and fright to be had for almost any gamer here, and like the first, it'll leave you wondering once it's all over. Whether you get one of the bad multiple endings or just miss out on some plot elements that leave you baffled, Silent Hill 2's twisted world will definitely call you back for a creepy revisit.
Community review by sapharos (June 09, 2004)
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