|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 19 Jan 2007|
Silent Hill 2 is the sequel to what was considered a Playstation sleeper hit, and is perhaps what truly elevated the Silent Hill series to an acclaimed immersive, dark, psychological masterpiece.
On the surface, the game takes much of the same from the original game (the control scheme, many of the weapons, some familiar scenery, even the main character bears a passing resemblance to the first game) and simply expands upon many themes and scares using the superior power of the Playstation 2. However, looking back on Silent Hill 2 now, with the benefit of 2 sequels having been released, as well as gems such as Resident Evil 4 redefining what horror games can control like and should look like, the game’s visual appeal and control scheme have become a bit outdated.
The graphics are now a bit bland in many areas, with simple creatures such as the common armless creatures having low poly counts and the mannequin creatures having bad reflection effects that do, to a certain extent, take away from the spooky environment. As your progress, however, the later monsters look much more menacing and convincing. One effect that the game does use well is the darkness and fog effects. In the original game, the fog was there to save the game from having to load long views of the town and have massive draw-in (an unfortunate setback of 32-bit systems), but on PS2, it is added to create atmosphere. While the fog never looks perfect up close wandering through it (it comes up very blocky in some areas), it creates a feel of dispair and unrest, as it is very easy to get lost and run head on into monsters. In addition to low poly counts on some monsters, another small complaint I have is that our hero, James, has some very poor running animation. Walking, he is fine, but when dashing around, he runs like a 60 year old man crossing the street, and extremely stiff at that. This is a small complaint, but the way the characters move is an important part to how realistic a game feels (something, I should note, was addressed in the future games in the series). The enemies, however, truly shine here and move in terrifyingly strange movements.
Another issue is the game’s ancient control scheme, which is based off the first game, which itself was based off the Resident Evil series. The Resident Evil series never had a great scheme to start with, and Silent Hill’s wasn’t quite as good as that. Silent Hill 2 does take steps in the right direction. Running is still sluggish and combat is a bit tough, but the controls are more responsive and are second nature once you have played an hour or so into the game. Combat, as I mentioned, could be better. These games have traditionally relied on close melee combat for a good deal of the game, which is frustrating, considering the lack of mobility James has. The gun combat is fairly good overall, and there is a decent selection of weapons to pick from. In addition, while some of the puzzles are a little off the wall, most are solveable and prove to be a good challenge. They are a definite improvement over some of the ridiculous Resident Evil puzzles.
So what does a game that has dated graphics, an old control scheme, and passable acting really have to offer? Story. Though the acting is a bit laughable in some sequences, the story is one of the finest you will find in modern games. It begins as a man who lost his wife years ago receiving a note from her asking him to come to Silent Hill. What transpires from there is far too good to spoil in a simple review, but suffice to say that the entire game, from the monsters to the environment (especially take note from the Historical Society on), is full of symbolism that falls back on the main character and his mistakes and fears in his life. Even each of the characters he meets are not simply window dressing outside the plot, but instead each represent something in James, or are suffering similar personal damnations due to their past.
Once you begin to realize why the monsters are nurses, for example, or resemble restrained medical patients, the true planning and depth to the plot come to the forefront. It is truly a heartbreaking tale, and the plot alone will overshadow many of the shortcoming associated with the game. Not just the story, but the music is absolutely fantastic. Mixing elements of noise, indie rock, hard rock, and ambience, Akira Yamaoka creates one of the best modern soundtracks in games today. It is absolutely worth buying on its own, and the music itself tells its own tale.
In finalizing my opinion of this game, I have to realize that the control is still awkward, the combat is frustrating, the graphics have been bettered in subsequent sequels, and the acting is a bit substandard. On the other hand, the controls are forgiveable and graphics are only worth so much, as a compelling story with a frightening atmosphere and outstanding soundtrack is worth checking out. Especially considering the dirt cheap price you can find this, it is definitely worth your time and money.