For years the video game industry had
one, and only one, true horror king. That king was Capcom’s Resident Evil series. While Resident Evil certainly had a frightening feel to it, especially with it’s scares that were designed to make you jump, there is just no denying that zombies gave the game a fantastical edge that removed the player from really being able to connect with the characters in a personal way. No matter how fun zombies are to kill.
It’s with that type of thinking that Konami, a kind of rival to Capcom, decided to take the plunge into the horror genre with a game that was the “anti-Resident Evil” of it’s time. And that idea came to fruition with the original Silent Hill for the Playstation game console. A more realistic and disturbing game with a deep storyline and psychological scares.
A review for the original game will have to wait for another day, but below you can read my full review for Silent Hill 2 for the PS2. If you are even remotely interested in the horror genre, or want an alternative to the action-packed, fast-paced gameplay of Resident Evil 4, then you owe it to yourself to give Silent Hill 2 a shot. Keep reading to find out why.
Silent Hill 2
Also On: Xbox (SH2: Restless Dreams) and PC
Genre: Survival Horror (Action/Adventure)
Save: 94 KB on PS2
Rating: M for Mature. (Blood & Gore, Violence)
In many ways, Silent Hill 2 is the thinking man’s Resident Evil. Although to really compare it to Resident Evil isn’t fair since the game’s are vastly different in overall feel, even though the game’s do have their similarities. As much as Silent Hill is everything Resident Evil is not, it still maintains the “survival horror” feeling, a precedent that Resident Evil set the standard for, and Silent Hill followed in that basic mold.
After turning the game on, you can wait for a while at the title screen to view a really cool opening movie (which I will post here for your viewing pleasure). To start the game off, select the game difficulty (or “Action Level” as the game calls it), which will determine the strength of enemies and their numbers. You can choose from Hard, Normal, Easy or Beginner. In Beginner there will be absolutely no enemies, so you can just enjoy the deep storyline and haunting atmosphere without having to bother with fights. And then select the Riddle Level. This will determine how tricky the in-game puzzles are. And likewise, you can select Hard, Easy, Normal or Beginner. Normal & beginner will include hints and the puzzles are much easier.
(CG Intro Movie)
In Silent Hill 2 you play as James Sunderland. One day he receives a mysterious letter . . . the letter is from his wife, Mary. In it, she tells him that she is going to their “special place”, in a town called Silent Hill. And that she will wait for him there. There’s only one problem . . . . his wife is dead.
Could she really be alive? What does she mean by their “special place”? James enters the town to find out the answer.
Although the storyline seems straight-forward and unassuming at first, if you really take the time to think it over you will start to realize how deep the storyline really is (and obviously it goes leaps and bounds beyond the very, very brief summary I gave above). For me, it took two play throughs before I got a real grasp of the storyline. It is deeply layered, and open to interpretation, which makes the games storyline very interesting. Unlike the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill has ties to very deep themes that run through the game just beneath the surface. The themes are serious and they range from love to loss to tragedy to death to religion and belief. If you dig deeper you will come to understand the hell that the character and others are going through, and the understanding of that can have deep ramifications that will make you feel for the characters as get deeper and deeper into the game and more is revealed.
By the same token though, it is just as easy to bypass all that and take what is shown at face value, if you aren’t the type to get too deep into the storyline.
The game starts off inside a bathroom on the outskirts of town. Once you exit you will be on the streets, following a road that leads into Silent Hill. You are pretty much free to roam as you see fit. The game is completely 3D, not pre-rendered like the earlier Resident Evil games. Though the viewpoint isn’t quite 3rd-person or “behind the back”, but rather the viewpoint is generally zoomed out some and at a kind of fixed view, although it’s not always fixed and when it isn’t you have some control over the camera.
(Beginning of Game, James recieves Letter)
There are two control options that you can set in the Options Menu, they include a 2D and 3D type. 3D mirrors that of Resident Evil. Up always moves you forward, down always moves you back, and you use left and right to turn. 2D type is normal control, where you press a direction you want James to move in and he moves in that direction.
Square is used to run, X attacks (after using R2 to ready your weapon) as well as checks your surroundings, Triangle is your map and Circle turns your flashlight on or off. L2 is used to fix the camera behind you while held or to turn around the camera around (if available), and you can move the camera around to “look” if you press a direction on the right analog stick while holding L2. L1 and R1 will strafe in the corresponding direction, while pressing L1 & R1 at the same time will do a quick 180 degree turn. Pressing Start will access your menu. It is here that you can re-read any memo’s or notes you have found, and browse through the various items and weapons you have in your inventory. You can also combine items. To do so, select that item, hit combine, select another, hit combine, and then hit use. In the upper left is your health, represented by a screen which gets more full of static and redder as you take more damage (the controller will also vibrate if you are hurt). If it’s green you are at full health. Finally, pressing R1+L1+R2+L2+Select+Start will do a “soft reset”, resetting the game for you and taking you back to the title screen.
Silent Hill 2 is a game of exploration. Like most action adventure games (which is really what the “survival horror” genre breaks down to), and similarly like the Resident Evil series, much of your time in Silent Hill 2 will be spent exploring the environment. As James, you will make your way through the town, searching the various areas you come across looking for clues and items in your search for Mary.
The town itself is very large. As you make your way through the streets, you will easily get lost, and that is where your map will come in handy, as it will for all locations in the game.
The map in Silent Hill is actually one of the more original and cooler features of the game. The map looks like your everyday map of a city, with names of streets and other major locations pointed out. But as you discover new things, James will actually write on the map to reflect what he has found. So for example, you may go down a particular street only to find that the street is blocked off (a common occurrence in this here town of Silent Hill). If you check your map, you will notice that the end of the street now has a red squiggly mark. Eventually more and more will be added onto your map, doors will be marked off if they are locked (red line) or if they are broken or impassable (black squiggly line) and items or locations of importance will be marked, either with a circle or in some particular cases actually drawn onto the map (for example, one early puzzle involves a clock. Once encountered a clock symbol will be drawn onto the map at the clock’s location).
This of course highly adds to the sense of realism, yet is also completely practical and very useful to the player. As the game itself will keep track of puzzles or items of importance and they will all be clearly marked. This is not a game where you will have to go back to an area you have already been to by accident only to find that it’s a dead end. Once you make the first trek it will clearly be marked as so on your map and you will know that you not only have already been there, but that it is indeed blocked off. The map gives the player lots of information, and having James write on the map is such a common sense and logical feature that you will wonder why no one else has done this before! (well that I know of anyway) Suffice it to say that you will use the map throughout the game and it is one of your most important tools in solving the mysteries of Silent Hill and keeping tabs on where you have been and where you are supposed to be going.
The map actually plays into gameplay as well . . . . The map can only be checked if there is sufficient enough light. And when you are inside a building, which are often-times dark, then you won’t be able to check your map unless you switch on your flashlight . . . . which will alert enemies to your presence.
Ah yes, the enemies. Silent Hill most definitely is not your friendly neighborhood town. You will encounter a few different varieties of hellish and hideous looking creatures as you make your way through the town of Silent Hill. Early on in the game James will come across a radio. The radio, when turned on (and there is no reason to turn it off) will emit a static noise if an enemy is near you. Although, in all honesty, most enemies aren’t particularly dangerous . . . . And this leads to one of my beefs with the game. Enemies are just not threatening enough! They may look hideous, emit blood curdling screeches and, most definitely, smell like a rotten corpse (well, one would assume), but in most instances, if you can get past the scary sounds, then most enemies can pretty easily be slipped by, especially if you turn your light off. This is something you will learn early on, and outside of really one type of enemy (the dreaded hospital nurses), the enemies in Silent Hill aren’t much of a threat. It will be child’s play to any Resident Evil veteran.
I actually rarely used firearms in this game, preferring instead to bludgeon my foes to death (cue sinister laugh & mischievous hand movements). Actually, the reason I didn’t use my guns much, despite having a lot of ammo, were two-fold. First I thought that the ammo would be better saved for really tough enemies and bosses (the result of endless years of Resident Evil boss killing, no doubt) . . . . Secondly, I actually rarely had any NEED to use my guns. Enemies in Silent Hill are pretty easily disposed off using blunt weapons. As long as you can get that initial hit in, then they generally won’t have time enough to attack before you can strike again. And it helps that, even if they could strike, you can move around with your weapon drawn, allowing you to simply move back to avoid their attack, then strike again.
The former pre-conception turned out to be naive though . . . . There are very few boss fights in Silent Hill. I won’t say there aren’t any cause there are, and during those ones you will indeed be using your guns, but they are few and far between, and you will have more than enough ammo to destroy them with little thought to how much ammo you are using. Unlike in Resident Evil, ammo is easily found in this game and there really is no sense in conserving, since you will get so much of it and it’s so easy to take enemies out using your blunt weapons. This does change a bit if you play the game on hard though, as you’d imagine. But any way you slice it, there isn’t enough need for guns in this game, and in playing through the game multiple times it was only at bosses that I ever felt I had to actually use them.
The combat itself in Silent Hill is nothing special, in case you couldn’t tell that from above. It’s hardly bad, but it’s nothing exciting at all, which is one reason why it’s cool that Konami choose to include a beginner’s mode, where you can play through the game without any bother from enemies . . . which will be a bother. It’s generally not repetitive to the point where it will frustrate you. But it is repetitive in the sense that the combat doesn’t really change, no matter what new weapons you get (which I must point out aren’t very plentiful nor satisfying in their use) or how far you are in the game. And as pointed out above, you can pretty much use a blunt weapon, which range from steel pipes to wooden planks with nails, throughout the whole game.
What is special in Silent Hill are the puzzles. The puzzles in Silent Hill are all very intelligently done, and the vast majority of them will require quite a lot of thinking from the player if you are to solve them. Yes, some of them will even require you to use a pencil and paper! Imagine that! All the puzzles are unique and well done, and you can just imagine the thought that the developers must have put into them to come up with the puzzles they did. The only downside is that there are a few puzzles that can be solved through simple trial and error; which can sometimes even result in the player completely bypassing the clues actually given to solve the puzzle. There is a puzzle late in the game, for example, where you are required to pull on the noose of “the sinless one”. Given to you is a poem or story about each criminal, and the player is supposed to decipher the one that was wrongly executed for something that wasn’t a sin.
This is all good and well, and it’s really interesting and quite fun to figure it out the legitimate way. But the sad truth is that there are only six ropes, so there is a one in sixth chance that you will guess it right on the first try. Any way you shake it though, this puzzle can be completely bypassed by simple trial and error, as you pull each rope one by one until you find the correct one. So while some puzzles can be completely head-scratching, others are easy to figure out or simply easy to solve via un-official means. Regardless, the puzzles in Silent Hill are definitely one of the high points of the game.
So what are my complaints with Silent Hill? Well without going over what has already been stated, my biggest complaint with the game would simply be how much “wandering” you have to do. And this has nothing to do with not knowing where to go (well, not exactly), but the biggest problem comes while searching the streets of Silent Hill. And it’s a combination of factors that add up. The streets in the game are too wide, and Silent Hill has a pervasive fog (which is intentional) that keeps you from being able to clearly see far in front of you. The result of this however is that it is impossible to know what is on the other side of the street unless you run to that side. When you realize that much of the town of Silent Hill is long stretches of street that you have to make your way through, and you understand that you cannot physically see what is on the other side of the street until you go there, the reality sets in that in order to cover all the ground, and thus not miss packs of health or ammo, you must either, one, spend time “cris-crossing” the street, which means running back and forth every few steps to make sure you didn’t pass anything up, or having to do two passes of the street, one on each side.
And even if you do this, you are staying on one side, so it’s very possible you might miss something in the middle of the street, although typically items are at the edges of buildings or the ends of streets, not in the middle. What this ultimately leads to is annoyance and much, much, much more walking or running, or as I like to call it, “mindless wandering”, than would otherwise be necessary. Obviously, it can quickly grow tiresome, repetitive and tedious. And it’s ironic to think that this complaint may have actually been eliminated if the fog, which is there to enhance the mood and atmosphere, was removed.
The other complaint comes from the fact that, while the town itself and most of the environments you find yourself in, from abandon apartment buildings, to a hotel to a hospital, contain lots and lots of doors, over half of them are locked. Combine this with straight hallways that all look the same, and lots of rooms that all look similar, especially in a few environments like the apartments, and what you get is some vary bland locations. The developers do try to compensate though adding lots of stuff in the environments, ranging from furniture to shelves with books and what-have-you, depending on the environment, but the problem is that none of this stuff is usable, and on many occasions none of it is even checkable. Which means it’s all just useless window-dressing which really doesn’t enhance the game in any meaningful way. Quite the opposite, at times I found myself wishing I could “check” more stuff and read a bit about it, or at least what the character thinks, or SOMETHING to spice it up, though I suppose this once again comes from the Resident Evil games, where nearly everything is checkable. You can check some things in the environments in Silent Hill, but it is significantly less than in Capcom’s series.
My last major complaint comes from the fact that there isn’t all that much to collect in Silent Hill. It’s strange to be talking about “collecting”, but what I mean is that, no matter where you search, there are only so many items you will be able to pick-up, and generally it is either ammo, a health pack, or a health drink . . . . Oooo, exciting. You will find scattered notes around, and they are interesting, but for some reason they are not as interesting as in Resident Evil (again with the comparisons, I know, but hey, this is how I felt while playing, so it’s understandable many of you will feel the same, especially since both series are survival horror games) and I found myself wishing for more stuff to read. But unlike in RE, Silent Hill lacks the many residents, and thus by virtue of the story, there is only so much notes that could be left by other people, since nearly every environment in the game is abandoned. The reason this is a complaint is because it lessons the sense of discovery. Since the player will already know from experience that behind that locked door . . . or behind that building, is nothing but one of the items listed above, and nothing else. It’s particularly disheartening when you spend extra time to search, and you reach the end of the street, a long street at that (lots of running) only to find a health drink. Whooptie-doo.
Thankfully, there are a few characters in Silent Hill, and it is always a treat when you come across them, and each one has a pretty significant role to play in the storyline. A lot of them also have hidden meaning that ties deeper into the themes of the game, if the player chooses to think them over. Although the characters aren’t as developed as I had hoped, and the game really doesn’t get into the back stories of the characters or establish them enough for you to feel any kind of real connection to them, which is a shame. There is a character that will also follow you for a large majority of the game, but thankfully the way she was handled is really well-done, and she doesn’t factor into the gameplay at all. Unlike a lot of other games with “partner” characters, you do not have to “wait-up” for her to catch-up to you, and if you go into a room she will automatically be standing in the room, out of your way, sometimes doing her own idle animation like playing with her hair or looking around, which is a very cool touch and VERY nicely done. It’s almost like she isn’t there yet you won’t quite forget about her as she plays a significant role and is one of the better developed characters in the game.
Graphically Silent Hill is passable, but totally showing it’s age. The pre-rendered cut-scenes in the game are pretty good, despite the sometimes eery and unrealistic look and animations of the people in the game (especially the little girl). You get a lot of rough edges and a few drab environments as well in the game itself. It can be particularly jarring when going directly from a pre-rendered cut-scene to in-game. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that the further you get in the game the more un-interesting the environments become.
One of the last environments is literally endless hallways and sewers that look EXACTLY the same. So much so that if it wasn’t for your map it’s easy to get lost and turned around. Fortunately the story really picks up and gets interesting in the end, and the ending itself is pretty bitter-sweet. Although if a lot of it goes over your head then you may find yourself scratching your noggin wondering what the heck it all means. If you find yourself in that position, I urge you to play the game again. It’ll all click soon enough. And you’ll be glad when it does. Camera-wise, the game does offer a few cool camera angles that give it a cinematic touch and the camera itself rarely gets in your way, although I did sometimes long for a first-person viewing option.
As far as design goes, the environments would’ve benefitted from less repetitiveness and more creativity to keep rooms from looking the same. Enemies are well designed and definitely creepy, and Pyramid Head is one really cool horror-enemy, even if he isn’t nearly as threatening in person as they make him out to be. Overall all the enemy designs are done well and the animation is sufficient.
Thankfully, Silent Hill absolutely nails mood and atmosphere. I’d say it’s the game’s strongest suit. If you thought the Resident Evil games had great atmosphere, you haven’t seen anything yet. What really makes the game creepy is the music and the screeches and terrifying weird noises of the enemies, as well as the noises that simply accompany the various environments (which is deliberately placed to scare you). The music is just flat-out strange, and it’ll definitely get your heart racing at some points. But it totally sells the creepy feeling in the game. IMO it is the music that MAKES Silent Hill. The fog in the game does add to the atmosphere to a degree (the game is also intentionally grainy), but IMO it effects the gameplay too much in a negative manner to be considered a positive, and it’s likely that you won’t be saying “Oooo, cool fog!” while playing the game. It’ll be more like, “Ok, I can’t see the other side of the street . . .”. In this day and age fog isn’t a big deal though so I suppose it’s a mute point (in the original Silent Hill the fog was a big deal. “Volumetric fog” I believe was the buzz word).
I must also touch on the voice acting in the game. The voice acting is stilted and unnatural, and some of it is quite B-movie, but in the end the voice-acting actually fits rather well, and by the end of the game you’ll be too enraptured for it to bug you any. Though when you first pick up the game you will probably find yourself rolling your eyes or possibly chuckling at how bad it sounds. But I did the same with Final Fantasy X and look how that turned out (that is, I couldn’t imagine it any other way). The voice acting actually does seem to get better by the end of the game, particularly the ending itself is rather good. There are four endings total in the game as well.
Silent Hill 2 does not contain any multiplayer modes, and few unlockables, although there is a cool side-quest that you can unlock if you are playing either the Greatest Hits PS2 version, or the “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams” Xbox version. This side-story has you playing as Maria and it is very well done. It is set within the main storyline at a time before she meets James, and it has you going through an all new environment within the town itself. The storyline in this side-quest and the character you meet are also very compelling and it sheds more light on the themes and the storyline of the game itself. Overall it’s an excellent unlockable and well worth playing.
In the end, Silent Hill 2 is a great horror experience and a game with enough layers that it’s very likely you’ll want to tackle it more than once, particularly on a higher difficulty or higher riddle setting. The game also rates you in the end in a whole bunch of ways, giving you a score depending on how you play, which is very cool and every much reason to play again. I had always been interested in the Silent Hill games since I read reviews of the original, and while I never played the original I was definitely not disappointed with it’s sequel, and I’m glad I played it and now I’m eagerly awaiting my chance to play the other games in the series. While the game isn’t as scary as I thought it would be, in my opinion it would’ve benefitted from more “jump-style” scares, of which the game contains very few, it is still one of the creepiest games out there. But beyond that, the game is intelligent and very sophisticated from a story perspective, with enough meat to keep your mind working long after the game has been completed and put back on the shelf. I am not a fan of horror, and yet I am now a fan of Silent Hill. And that, IMO, is the mark of a great game.
FUN FACTOR: 8.0
Despite all it’s faults and eventual tediousness, Silent Hill 2 is one of those rare games where the atmosphere, characters, storyline, themes (and layers within that story), and little touches like the map elements which enhance the exploration, add up to create a game that is pretty fun to play in the grand scheme of things even if the gameplay itself is not all that exciting.
Outdated but serviceable. The graphics aren’t anything special but they get the job done and outside of a few drab environments and repetitive textures and areas, you don’t have too much to complain about.
Music & Sound: 8.5
Definitely Silent Hill 2’s strong suit, it is the music and sound that establish the creepy feeling and drive it home in the end. This game is nothing if it weren’t for the great music & sound. Mood is the name of the game here.
A great map system, a serviceable menu, all your memo’s are kept, the intro to the game is outstanding and the effects and camera angles work towards the games favor in most cases. Good presentation all around.
Silent Hill 2 built on the successes and pluses of the original game and the end product made it’s mark on the gaming world as a smart and excellently creepy game that went beyond the norm. The map system is excellent and highly original and the sound and music played into the mood and feel to enhance the creepiness like few games before it.
Replay Value: 8.0
With 4 endings, several difficulty settings and riddle settings, and an unlockable quest (for the XB and Greatest Hits versions) that’s greatly paced and worth unlocking, Silent Hill 2 will keep you busy if you enjoy the game in the first place, and it’s likely you’ll want to play it more than once to, in the very least, understand the story better. I did wish there were more unlockables though, artwork or back-stories on the characters, an enemy gallery or developer interviews would’ve been interesting.
(Just for fun, view the trailer for the Silent Hill movie, which is very true to the games in both storyline and style)