S I L E N T H I L L 2
Developed By: Konami
Published by: Konami
Official Release Date: 23rd November 2001
Formats: Playstation 2, Xbox, PC
Three words to sum up the game: Scary; Intelligent; Good
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Remember Silent Hill? Remember the way it used to make you afraid of open doors, things that go bump in the night, and sleep with the light on? Remember how you used to be scared to cross that dark, shadowy abyss they call a corridor just to go to the toilet in the middle of the night? Remember how it used to make you afraid to be alone? Did you enjoy that experience? No? Then don't bother with this game; you'll have a bloody stroke twenty minutes in.
Really, if there were one word to describe this game out of the whole English language, it would be scary. This truly is the scariest creation I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. Whatever kind of creative juice they're putting in the water over at Konami, I want some. And it's not just the fear aspect that makes this game so good; the plot is one of the most disturbing and intelligent in any video game and for once, you don't really need to play the original to understand it either (although it is highly recommended).
You play James Sunderland, a man who visits the small lake town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife to meet him there. There's just one catch: she died three years ago. The letter begs James to meet her in their "special place". James and his wife (whose name is Mary, be the way) had visited Silent Hill before, and it is where she died three years ago from a fatal disease. Compelled to discover the origins of this letter, James goes to Silent Hill in search of his late wife, and finds much more than he expected. A large fog has engulfed the town, giving very little visibility. Strange monsters are roaming the streets, and everyone has disappeared. Along the way he meets up with other characters, most notably Maria, who besides her clothes and hair, look exactly the same as Mary. Coincidence?
If you have already played this game before, I don't blame you for being a tad confused with the plot and setting. If you haven't played the original, I suggest you play that first to get some sort of grasp on how Silent Hill came to be the way it is. Then read the plot guides at http://gamefaqs.com for both games, which help the plot make sense. Personally, I was kind of confused at first, but after reading the guides, I managed to fully appreciate the genius that the story is.
Plot aside; Silent Hill is not an easy game (unless you're playing on easy of course, but only wusses do that). To encourage the fear aspect, players are only rewarded with small amounts of weaponry and ammunition with which to survive. Weapons include a lead pipe, a 2x4 with a nail in the end (yay!), a knife, a great knife (more on that later), a pistol, shotgun and a hunting rifle. Each of these weapons have their own equal advantages and disadvantages, and all of them are best suited for different occasions. For example, the pistol is fast yet very weak, while the hunting rifle is immensely powerful, but you can't move while firing and is very slow to reload. Some say that the choices are lacking, though I say that they're enough and fit the situation perfectly (it wouldn't be scary with a rocket launcher and mounds of rockets lying around, would it?).
With these weapons, you must vanquish monsters along the way. And to be honest, some of these things are just plain creepy. The first monster you encounter is what seems to be a naked person with his skin wrapped around his head and arms, making it look like a headless man with a brown straight jacket on. Not very pretty, I know. Then there's the rather peculiar creature made up of mannequin legs. I know it doesn't sound scary, but the first encounter with these things is one that you will never forget.
And there's the creature the hero James wittily dubs as the "Pyramid Head". Not so scary on paper, but when you see a 7ft butcher with a blood soaked triangle head, with an enormous great big knife (the Great Knife) scraping along the floor behind it while it chases after you in near complete darkness IS scary. And the bad thing is that you can't kill it. It continues to pursue you through virtually every location in the game, very much like the Nemesis creature in Resident Evil 3 (only scary). It can also kill you in one hit if you're unlucky enough. The only good thing to come out of this deity is that you get to wield its knife near the end of the game (though it's quite useless, as it's too slow to even walk with).
And what's a survival horror game without puzzles? And seriously, there are some big mind benders hidden in there. You thought Resident Evil had hard puzzles? Pffft. Amateurs. Now, hold on all you doubters. In case you were wondering if the puzzles would be too hard for you, fret not. For there is an option at the beginning to set the difficulty of the puzzles, as well as a difficulty for the main game. They range from Easy, to Medium, and finally Hard. I chose Medium, and I found it quite straining sometimes. Still, there's salvation for the little guy yet!
Wondered what made it so scary? The sound. Apart from the opening, there is next to no music anywhere else in the game. In the same way the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan increased the excitement and realism, the lack of music heightens the fear much more so. One of the more effective features of this idea is the pocket radio you get, which emits Static every time a monster gets near. Now, if you're more of a cheap thrills kind of guy, flick it off, as it will ruin the experience. If not, it'll scare the crap out of you. Just knowing that there is a monster nearby in the darkness or the fog, and you don't know where it is, holding a pistol with three bullets left and a lead pipe, it can really get to you. And when you hear the Pyramid Head's disturbing roar in the background, you know it's time to start running.
And of course, the graphics also help out with the fear. Your field of view is never any good. Whether you're shrouded in complete darkness, with only a pocket flashlight to guide your way, or deep in the thick fog that has covered the town, you really can't see anything other than four or five feet in front of you. Once again, this will either annoy you or scare you even more. The screen even has a kind of grainy look to it, making it seem more like a film you're watching on television (though this can be switched off later). The characters are incredibly detailed, and the lip sync during cut scenes is almost perfect (almost). The FMV is astounding, and is perhaps some of the best I have ever seen. The characters look so realistic it's staggering. And while the voice acting is occasionally terrible, for example the voice of James could definitely be better (though some of it is top notch, like the voice for Maria), it doesn't really hinder the game much at all.
Now it is time for the decisive moment: Can you handle Resident Evil style controls? If not, don't buy this game, as they are pretty similar. Pressing up on the D-Pad or Analogue stick makes James move forward in the direction he is facing. Left and right make him rotate left and right, etc. To shoot, you must first aim your gun, and with the shotgun and hunting rifle, you cannot move while shooting. Really, it might take some time getting used to it if you're not accustomed to it already, but it's fairly easy to pick up.
Problems? It's a bit too short. Okay, it isn't as short as the first one, but it could still use some more fleshing out. It would also have been nice to be able to visit other parts of the town, or venture back into areas from the first game, instead of being confined to the lake area. Voice acting, as I said, could also have been better in some areas, although the characters of Laura and especially Maria are very well done (not as much can be said for James).
All that aside though, if you enjoy mentally challenging puzzles, a good plot, great graphics, being scared till next tuesday and own a PS2 or XBox (or PC), buy this game. Silent Hill 2 is one of the greatest games to come out of Konami in recent years, and is one of the best survival horros on the market.
Don't forget to leave the light on.