With the holiday this week, combined with the fact that I have four days off, I’m really trying to make a dent in all of the games I still have to play. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I’ve made a pact not to buy any new games until I finish the ones I have. And yesterday I completed the HD re-release of Silent Hill 2. And what did I think of the quintessential horror game?
It feels a bit silly explaining a game that came out so long ago given how popular it is, but for those of you who may be new to gaming, SH2 was originally released for the PS2 back in 2001. It was soon after ported to the XBox & PC. Not being a direct sequel to the original Silent Hill, SH2 instead plonks a new & completely unrelated protagonist into the crazy town. James Sunderland visits the town in hopes of finding his wife Mary, who in spite of being dead for three years, has sent James a letter saying she is waiting for him in their “special place.” Throwing all logic out the window, James begins his search in hopes that she is in fact alive, but soon discovers that the town isn’t the holiday resort it used to be. Instead, monsters of all sorts stalk the streets & halls. James also comes across several humans who have come to the town for their own reasons, including a woman named Maria, who looks like James’ dead wife…
The main elements of gameplay are exploration & survival. Silent Hill is a fairly large town & there are many streets to wander around, searching for items to assist in James’ journey. As for the survival aspect, while James can certainly fight any of the monsters he comes across, sometimes avoiding conflict is the best approach. Ammo is limited, but there are a few melee items you can fall back on to get you out of a jam. SH2 also has a strong puzzle element to it. Sometimes this just involves finding the right key or remembering a combination, but other times it involves solving the games unique riddles.
Just a quick note, I’ve never played the original Silent Hill 2, so any comparison between the original & the re-release are purely from my impression based on watching other people play.
Story: I really like the pacing of the story in SH2. Things unfold in a very natural kind of way. It may sound strange to say this about a Silent Hill game, but I found the story very subtle. By that I mean, after you’ve finished & you’re looking back, you start to see all of the hints the game was giving to the big twist. There are a lot of things that you probably don’t notice as first, but will make a lot of sense later. This is especially true for the conversations James has with some of the other characters. I really like that in a game. The game also has some really interesting characters. I liked that they all seem a bit off, even James. It adds to the sense of paranoia. Can you even trust the hero? I also have to give the game credit for tackling some really serious & taboo issues in a mature way. The game never trivializes or excuses any of the behaviors it presents, but instead shows them in their full horror. Not only that, but it does, what I think, is a good job of showing how these acts affect both the victim & perpetrator’s psychology. Score: 5
Gameplay: I have mixed feelings about the gameplay side of SH2. In general, I felt that the controls were unresponsive. And while I know that was sort of what the developers were aiming for, as James is just a regular guy facing unspeakable horror, I feel that this was more than they intended. Picking up items is a pain. You have to be at just the right angle in just the right spot to interact with anything. And when a Straightjacket is baring down on you, it’s very frustrating. The elevator buttons were the worst for me. I should also state that I switched the control scheme from 3D to 2D. While 3D is in some ways easier, as pressing up on the analogue moves you forward no matter what the camera angle, I just couldn’t get used to it. 2D is more traditional. But I’m glad the game gives you a choice. The camera was also a pain. You have very little control. The best you can do is move it behind James, assuming you can move it at all. Sometimes the camera angle is fixed. And I know it adds to the horror element when you enter a new room & your radio’s going off but the camera is fixed on James instead of the lurking terror, but it just comes across as unnecessarily clunky. But it’s not all bad. I do like the map. I like that it fills in where you’ve been, what doors you’ve tried, what’s blocked off & where key items are. Of course, I can’t talk about a Silent Hill game & not give attention to the puzzles. Oh my… what is there to say? I give the developers credit, they are some of the most inventive “puzzles” I’ve ever seen. And the riddles can be real brain teasers. I like that you can set the puzzle difficulty level separate from the combat difficulty. So overall, the good balances out the bad to make the gameplay about average. Score: 3
Visuals & Audio: For being an HD re-release, I didn’t see much difference between the graphics in the version I played & the original. That’s not to say they’re bad, because they’re not. The cutscenes look really good, but the rest of the characters models look a bit dated. The environments look great, though. Everything looks dreary, dark, foggy & grainy. It really adds to the atmosphere. The enemies are also really well-designed. I love the symbolism. But what really adds to the atmosphere of the game is the sound design. The sound just makes me so tense. The music is amazing. Some of the actual songs can be beautiful in a haunting sort of way. But even more than that are the sound effects. Those scared me more than any other part of this game. The part that really sticks in my mind is in the hospital when you go down to the basement & there’s this squealing noise that I can only describe as a pig being butchered. And let me tell you, James couldn’t run fast enough to get away from there for my taste. I also want to say a bit about the new voices. In SH2, you can choose between the original & new voiceactors. All of the characters have new voiceactors. And while I think they all did a really good job, I kept getting distracted because I recognized the voices & kept trying to figure out where from. Especially Angela’s voice, which is the actress who did the English dub for Keiko in the anime Yu Yu Hakusho. She did a good job & all, but the image of Keiko kept superimposing over Angela & it was really distracting. The same was true for Maria’s voice, which is the same as Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. But those issues aside, I think the new voices sound really good. Score: 5
Replayability: High. Although the story itself doesn’t change any, there are several different endings you can get based on your actions during the game. Some of these you can’t even get until you’ve played the game at least once because you don’t unlock the items necessary until after the first game. Plus, I do feel that this is a game that stands up to multiple playthroughs. Score: 4
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: If you’ve never played it before, I highly recommend at least checking out Silent Hill 2 HD. It shows how to do edge-of-your-seat horror in a smart, subtle way. However, if you already own the original, I honestly don’t think there’s a reason to purchase the re-release. Aside from the new voices, I can’t see anything that’s changed to warrant a new purchase. But the game overall is excellent & definitely warrants its fame.
Title: Silent Hill 2 HD Console: 360 & PS3 Rating: M Developers: Konami TYO Publisher: Konami Release Date: March 20, 2012