Review by YusakuG
Reviewed: 01/04/02 | Updated: 06/09/03
Thanks anyways, Konami, but I think I'll stick with my PS2 version...
''Silent Hill, our sanctuary of memories...I will be waiting for you there...''
This quote from a seemingly innocent note is what begins Silent Hill 2, Konami's sequel to their surprise 1999 survival horror hit. I was a huge fan of the original Silent Hill. It was the first time I had ever been truly scared while playing a video game. I'll never forget the cold sweat I felt as I anxiously made my way through this supposedly deserted town, which held horrifying secrets of the past. Silent Hill was a suspenseful, macabre psychological thriller, the likes of which I had never seen in a video game before.
When Konami announced the sequel on the PS2, I instantly knew that the game had a lot to live up to, but I had confidence that they knew what they were doing, based on the screen shots, and the reaction I heard from articles about early versions of the game. When it was finally released in September 2001, I rushed out and bought it, hoping for a similar experience as the first. Although I enjoyed the game thoroughly, and there were many moments that startled me, the game did not give me the same feeling as the original in the end. Now, three months after the sequel's original release, Konami has brought the game to Microsoft's X-Box with slightly cleaner graphics, faster load times, and a much-hyped mini quest that's been added. This is a good game for those who never played the PS2 game, but for those (like me) who have, this game might not seem worth the trouble.
One thing Konami certainly improved over the first Silent Hill is the game's story. Silent Hill's 2 story is much more compelling, tragic, and easier to understand than the bizarre and somewhat confusing plot of the original. Don't worry if you've never played the first game. This is an entirely new story with no connection to the previous adventure. (Except for a few slight references.)
Silent Hill 2 centers on James Sunderland, a man who has been living a life of endless depression ever since his beloved wife, Mary, died of a disease three years ago. Since then, James seems to have lost all hope, and just gets by day-to-day, tormenting himself by constantly grieving over the fact that he could not save the woman he loved. One day, a letter arrives in the mail. The name on the letter instantly sends chills down James' spine, as it is the same name as his wife, Mary Shepherd-Sunderland. It is a simple, somewhat cryptic, note that only states that she is waiting for him in their ''special place'' in a town called Silent Hill. James remembers that Mary and him vacationed in that town shortly before she passed away. Although he figures that the letter must be a cruel hoax of some kind, James can't help but wonder if Mary could possibly be alive, and waiting for him. Hoping for some form of answer, James gets in his car, and drives to Silent Hill. When he arrives, he finds that the main tunnel leading into the town has been blocked off, and a mysterious fog fills the air. James leaves his car behind, and enters the town on foot by a small forest road. This is where the nightmare begins.
Entering the town, James finds it deserted, except for a few select people he keeps on running into. The first person he meets is Angela, a strange young woman who is looking for her mother, and seems to be suicidal, holding a dark family secret of past pain. Later, James meets Eddie, a fat and simple-minded young man who seems innocent enough at first, but also seems to have a very violent temper, which has built up over the years due to constant ridicule from others, and is now in danger of exploding in murderous ways. However, the two most important people James meets in this seemingly deserted town are Laura, a bratty little child who claims to know James' wife, and Maria, a mysteriously sexy woman who bares a striking physical resemblance to James' beloved wife. Unfortunately, these are not the only encounters in James' journey. Numerous times, he encounters horrific demons who somewhat resemble disfigured human forms. How did these monsters that freely roam the streets of Silent Hill come to be? James' quest to discover the truth behind the mysterious letter will eventually result in him having to confront his past personal demons, and ultimately unraveling the mystery behind this cursed lakeside resort town.
One thing I've always liked about the Silent Hill games is that the protagonists are average, every day people. The original centered on Harry Mason, a middle-aged writer and single parent who was looking for his missing daughter. James, as well, is just your average man who has lost all hope, and is willing to believe that the source of this letter might solve all his pain, even though he knows perfectly well that it's impossible Mary could still be alive. He's so desperate for closure from his pain that he's willing to try anything. This allows you to sympathize more with the main character, because he's not trying to save the world, and he's not a superhero. He's not even very good at defending himself, and has to use any weapon he can find handy against the demons he encounters. It's a unique angle that's not used often in video games. And when you later find out the truth behind James and Mary's past, you begin to realize that James is indeed a flawed hero, which allows you to sympathize with him even more. Konami's writers should be commended for creating such a rare video game hero that players can feel emotionally attached to.
Gameplay remains virtually unchanged from the original game. You guide James through the streets of Silent Hill, trying to unravel the mystery as it slowly unfolds. The default controls are the same as the past game - You push left and right to change the direction you're facing, and up and down to move forward and backward. There are different buildings and locations around Silent Hill that James must also make his way through in order to advance. these places include an apartment building, a hospital, and the Silent Hill Historical Society, just to name a few. Many of these buildings contain puzzles that James must solve in order to proceed. These puzzles, once solved, usually reveal keys, or other important items that James can use to unlock new areas in the game.
When James is confronted by a monster, he must defend himself with whatever weapon he has at the moment. He starts out with nothing, but soon finds a wooden plank. Eventually, James can find better weapons, such as a variety of guns or a large knife. If you replay the game after you beat it, you can even find some new weapons that aren't available the first time through, like a chainsaw. When James is equipped with a gun, he has to be careful, as his ammo is limited. However, he can find extra bullet cartridges that are littered throughout the town. He can also find health drinks and first aid kits to replenish his health.
As the game opens, you can chose from four difficulty levels including Beginner, Easy, Normal, and Hard. This affects how many bullets or hits it takes from your weapon to kill the demons you encounter. The game also gives you the option of adjusting the difficulty of the puzzles that James runs into. Both options are great, as it allows you to tailor the game to your liking. You can also choose from the regular default controls I mentioned above, or ''2D controls'' where you no longer push left and right to change the direction you're facing. You just push the direction you want to go, and James starts walking. However, I personally prefer the default ''3D controls'', since that's the way I'm used to playing Silent Hill.
Graphics are greatly improved over the original game. There's much more attention to detail, and much better animation for the characters. In the original, the characters seemed stiff, rigid, and they didn't even move their mouths or change facial expressions when they talked. This time, they move much more realistically, and the lip movements and facial expressions are almost eerily human at times. The 3D models for both the human characters and the monsters are large and well designed. The game is usually dark, and it's often hard to see what's ahead, since many of the areas James visits are either shrouded in mysterious fog, or are illuminated only by the flashlight James carries. However, this was intentional on the part of the programmers. They want you constantly guessing what lies ahead just around the corner, and it helps build the tension. One area where the graphics improved are in the monsters you fight. They're much scarier this time, I think. In the original, they were kind of cheesy with zombie dogs or bird-like demons. This time, the enemies are like deformed humans, which make them scary and somewhat tragic at the same time. Enemies include deformed men confined in straightjackets, faceless demonic nurses who roam the hospital halls, and living mannequins that look like grotesque imitations of a human form.
However, the real graphic highlight is the town of Silent Hill itself. The game designers did such a great job in creating this virtual town that it's a shame that you get to see so little of it in the game. As you wander the streets of Silent Hill, you pass by various buildings and businesses. They look like places you'd find in a real lakeside resort town, everything from the local tavern to even a fast food restaurant. Unfortunately, many of these areas are locked, and you can't explore them. I really wish Konami would have given you the option of exploring more places in this town, even if they weren't important to the story.
The sound is another department where Konami went all out. While the music is usually atmospheric and sometimes even hard to notice, the sound effects are some of the best I've heard in a game. There's no way to describe how much it adds to the experience as you guide James through the empty halls of an apartment building, his footsteps giving off a foreboding echo on the hard floors. And when the static of James' pocket radio starts to go off (a sign that an enemy is nearby), it only heightens the tension, especially since your field of vision is often limited, and you have to rely on sound to discover where the monster is. The shrieks and groans of the demons you face are guaranteed to make you nervous. The shots that ring out from your guns are full and powerful. This is by far some of the best use of sound effects I've heard in a game. This is definitely a game that you need to blast on a really good sound system in order to get the full horror effect. As for the voice acting, I think it's generally good. Sure, there are some moments where the actors go into ''Captain Kirk'' mode, spacing between every other word, but for the most part, the acting did not bother me too much, and it's much better than the voice acting in the original game.
The game falters in a few areas, but not enough for me to be unforgiving. As I mentioned earlier, I wish you could explore more of the town. In fact, I think you visit less places in this game than you did in the first, which is kind of weird. Another minor gripe is that items are kind of small and hard to see. Replenishing items such as health drinks or first aid kits are so small that it's often easy to pass right by them without even knowing they're there. They were much bigger and easier to spot in the original. But, perhaps my main complaint is that, for some reason, this game just did not have the same effect on me as the first did. Maybe it's because I knew more about what to expect. (When I bought Silent Hill, I knew absolutely nothing about it, so I wasn't sure what I was walking into.) With all the hype the sequel got, I knew the basics of the storyline before it even came out. There were many moments that made me jump in this game, but no scene that truly frightened me, like the abandoned elementary school area in the first Silent Hill.
So, with such glowing comments, why am I giving the game such a low score? Well, it's because I don't feel the X-Box game offers anything substantial that makes it a vast improvement over the PS2 version released a little over three months ago. The graphics are a bit cleaner looking, because they no longer use the filter that the PS2 version implemented. The filter made the images a bit grainy looking, to make it look like an old movie. However, I don't think the graphics are remarkably improved or anything. Loading times are faster on the X-Box version. There's also a new ending that's been added to the original five endings you could unlock in the PS2 version.
However, the addition that's been hyped the most is the ''Born From a Wish'' scenario. This is the mini quest that's been added in which you control Maria. This was supposed to be the big addition that made the X-Box version worth buying, supposedly adding a few additional hours to the gameplay. However, what this addition basically amounts to is a small quest where Maria explores a mansion and part of an apartment building, and can easily be beaten in less than an hour. Sure, it reveals a bit more about the Maria character, and it adds a new character to the storyline, but overall, it just does not seem that special, and certainly not anything that would make me want to buy the same game twice just to have it. My main gripe with the X-Box version, though, would have to be that the game is much harder to control than the PS2 version. I don't blame this on Konami, I blame it on the X-Box's bulky controllers. I just prefer the PS-style controllers when I play this game. It's a personal preference. Maybe the game will be easier to handle once the smaller Japanese X-Box controllers come out.
Overall, I can only recommend this game to those who never played the PS2 game. Those who have, and have gone through the game many times to see all the endings, will just not find enough new here to get excited about. If you've never played Silent Hill 2 before, bump my final score of a 4 up to an 8. I'm glad X-Box owners get a chance to experience this great game, I just wish Konami had done more to make it stand out.
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