Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 06/25/02 | Updated: 06/25/02

Overwhelming.

Silent Hill makes me proud to own a PSX. Facing facts, most survival horror games aren’t anything like what the name suggests—the genre is all but synonymous with cheap scares combined with somewhat limited ammunition. Resident Evil succeeded, as did Silent Hill, because it was able to deliver the second part of the genre: horror. While Resident Evil wowed me at first by delivering a creepy atmosphere set in a gloomy mansion, Silent Hill shattered this lofty accomplishment. I remember being afraid to progress in Silent Hill. Despite being fairly crude graphically, the environments were ripped straight from life: no mansions, no haunted cathedrals. Schools and city sidewalks took their place.

There was something amiss about Silent Hill, and something even more amiss when your environments transformed to a wicked alter ego of a former state. The puzzles were psychological, surreal even; the scenery was a hellish mirror of anywhere, USA. What RE did for cheap spooks, Silent Hill did for cerebral terror. Helped by an excellent plot that stays with you long after the game is over, Silent Hill goes down as my favorite PSX game.

Silent Hill 2 is more of the same.

While that should conjure up a negative connotation, it’s in fact the opposite. Silent Hill succeeded so well that the only thing that would even be able to closely emulate the mastery of the first game would be a sequel. The story hooks you from the get go—it’s hard not to become enthralled with it. James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife, Mary, saying that she’ll meet him in Silent Hill. The problem is that Mary’s long since dead, a victim of a slow disease. James shows up in Silent Hill, ready to find Mary. Instead, James finds Maria: a doppelganger of his late wife; she acts completely different from her despite identical physical characteristics.

The story never lets up for a minute. Every section of Silent Hill is tied into the storyline; James’ quest spans the sleepy town and leaves no seedy area uninvestigated. Several plot twists and hidden details reward the intrigued gamer and several different endings can be found, each of which is based on your style of gameplay as it relates to the story. Even greater is the voice acting. Though certain lines and characters are a little hammy, James’ voice is consistently good: convincing, yet downtrodden and troubled.

But Silent Hill 2’s charm doesn’t end there. No, every most aspect of the game builds upon the others. The music is superb. An ambient track accompanies most every point in the game; an excellent score bolsters key events. Truly, the sound must be experienced. The music grips the player into the scene, adding to the suspense and fright of the moment.

But best of all could be the graphics. Silent Hill was scary: certain stages looked like you were in the pits of hell. Silent Hill 2 betters this—because the textures on walls are nearly photorealistic, the game takes on the qualities of a surrealistic nightmare. Everything looks real. Shockingly real. The environments in the game could be anywhere: they’re so painstakingly crafted as a completely average hotel room or abandoned pit that it feels as if you’re right there, able to experience the sights of a building you’d never venture into yourself; you’re able to generalize the visuals to wherever you live, making it that much more terrifying. Moreover, SH2’s “noise-filter” seems gimmicky at first, but that’s hardly the case. The effect makes it seem like a static-filled TV, or a blurry dream, so in this case it works with the game.

The mastery of the audio and visual, perhaps even their extenuation beyond what’s in game and into your personal experiences, more than makes up for the bulk of the gameplay, which is at best average. Largely unchanged from Silent Hill, a game that mirrored Resident Evil’s control configuration, control is functional. James doesn’t run so much as you have to “steer” him, where left and right turn the character. Like RE, your weapon needs to be drawn before it is fired, and one’s mobility is greatly compromised when attempting to attack and maneuver at the same time—actually, there’s no good way to accomplish doing both at once, and there’s also no need when most enemies can be dropped with a few shots or avoided altogether.

Combat comes in two flavors, melee and distance. Half of your weapons are up-close-and-personal tools, be they chainsaw or lead pipe. The other half of the weapons return from Silent Hill, sadly no new additions: the pistol, shotgun, and rifle. Ammunition is usually plentiful, making the “survival” aspect of the genre in this game that much easier.

And although a clear downfall, the clumsy control mimics James: an average Joe, not a superhero. James can’t hit much with a gun that isn’t standing close to him, and he can’t run circles around the opposition with a grenade launcher. Fighting a monster in the dark with a broken length of wood humanizes the whole experience ever further, and because your abilities are minimal the threat is that much more real.

The other staple of survival horror games are the puzzles, locked doors locked for no reason, and keys to unlock these doors behind elaborate sculptures run by gems left on tables far away from what they’re supposed to operate. In Resident Evil, such devices felt unwanted and questionable—why would a police station require different keys based on card suits to unlock the various doors? Hell, why wouldn’t you just break them down? Silent Hill’s puzzles are more psychological, surreal sequences of events and necessities that add more than detract.

Silent Hill 2 transcends a video game. My time absorbing the game was more valued to me than when I was actually playing it. It takes a special kind of game to make me marvel at the graphics in something as simple as a gas station bathroom in a state of disrepair, for minutes on end. The music is engrossing in a way that the Rob Zombie track-including game makers (and patrons) could never comprehend. The story writhes and shudders along at an enthralling pace, fueled by James’ often-excellent delivery.

It might be a fault that Silent Hill 2 is less game than sensory experience: control hasn’t much improved, there are relatively few enemies, and as a sequel the game doesn’t exactly feel like the fresh concept it once was. I want to give more credence to these arguments, but I can’t. Silent Hill 2 makes me satisfied to own a PS2, and crushes the thought that next-generation games can be all flash and no substance.

OVERALL: 9.5 / 10
Less game than a portrait of a nightmarish reality.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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