reviews\ Dec 25, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Silent Hill 2 - PC - Review

OK … this is tough for me to admit. You know, I’m 28 years old, and have always though of myself as being stable and strong minded enough to know what’s real and what’s not real. Zombies for example, aren’t real. Ghosts are somewhat debatable but I have no concrete proof that I’ve ever seen one. Still, I’m here to tell you that nothing fully prepared me for the first time that I ever played Silent Hill for PSX. I mean, who could honestly refrain from being terrified when being chased by deformed nurses and children zombies wielding scalpels? No game to date has ever had me peeking around corners, turning on every light in the house, and having trouble falling asleep like Silent Hill … with Fatal Frame in close second. Well, Silent Hill 2 not only met the fear expectation, but really went above and beyond in some areas as well.


Our story opens up looking through the eyes of James Sunderland. James is a depressed individual who has received a letter from his wife to meet her in their “special place”, which of course resides in Silent Hill. Well, that’s not too bad, but what really sets it up for some really bizarre stuff is the fact that his wife passed away three years prior to the letter being written. James doubts that his beloved wife Mary is still alive, but the letter spikes his curiosity enough to get to the bottom of who sent it and what’s going on. James returns to the now empty, abandoned, and foreboding town of Silent Hill … and finds himself having to battle for survival in a living nightmare composed of things that would have anyone balling up in a fetal position and just praying for the end to come quickly. 


Gameplay for Silent Hill 2 is pretty much your standard “Survival Horror” setup. The game itself has you controlling James through the town of Silent Hill solving puzzles to find items or open doors, interacting with some really oddball individuals, and using a various assortment of weapons to dispatch monsters and other nasty things as you progress. The puzzles themselves range from “well duh” to “honey, I’m going to the store to buy a hint book”, but the overall difficulty of them can be set before you start which will allow for more hints or obvious clues to be given. Regardless, it’s your standard “go to floor A and get item B which allows you to access area C and makes item D drop after pulling the levers at E” kind of thing. Some consist of more normal things, like moving clock hands to expose an opening, while others … in true freaky Silent Hill fashion … will have you doing some macabre things like looking at men hanging from the ceiling and figuring out which one was innocent. OK, now you know the underlying mechanics are nothing new … but what makes this title different?


First off, the whole presentation of the game is what I always felt that Survival Horror should be. Previous titles had some scary stuff and tense moments, but everything seemed a little pre scripted or really bright. Silent Hill instead opts for a dark, lonely, grimy setting that makes you feel dirty and just “not right” after you play it. In addition, it also makes you feel utterly alone since the characters that you run across periodically may briefly give you some a sense of relief, but their nonsensical and sometimes weird ramblings quickly make you see them as untrustworthy, crazy, and sometimes psychotic. You soon learn that there is no one to help get you out alive but you. The atmosphere will freak you out as well, since noises, music, and banging sounds will get really intense which makes you sit on the edge of the chair just waiting … only to have nothing happen. Other times you will be going into something where it seems like nothing could go wrong, only to really get close to having to change underwear due to something really unexpected scaring the daylights out of you.


Another thing that really got me on this game is the completely insane and terrifying creatures that you encounter along the way. Rather than go for a run of the mill zombie or mutated animal, Silent Hill 2 instead draws on things that you might see in one of your worst nightmares … or possibly in hell. Imagine if your power went out one night, and you ran into something heading your direction in your hallway at home that resembled a human in a straightjacket and it was making animal noises. OK, now add to it the fact that it is encased from head to toe in a layer of decomposing, mucus covered flesh and it’s upper body was convulsing like it was having a seizure. It’s scary to think about, and only one of many things that you will encounter as you traverse through such happy areas as an abandoned low rent apartment building or a mental hospital throughout your journey. The creature described is the first one you will see, and trust me … it only gets worse from there.


Anyone who remembers playing the first Silent Hill will surely remember the fog that was present as you ran through the town from destination to destination. It was a cool trick, but a trick nonetheless that was used by the developers at the time to hide some really bad popup in the background. Well, the town is as big and more open than it was before, and the fog is back. This time though, it’s not there to hide anything but monsters, and it swirls and moves around you as you walk or run through it. It also adds to the overall sense of how empty and alone the town is, and just adds to the feeling that you might not make it through this one alive.


For the most part, Konami really hit some top notes as far as gameplay, atmosphere, and controls, and it’s a pretty solid title. There are a couple of things that I felt could have been improved on, one of which being that darned camera that seems to come up in every review of a third person action title that I’ve ever done. Running down the street isn’t too bad, since the view is usually one that you can work with. The view can sometimes get a little annoying while running down a hall, but a quick press of the S button will zip it back behind you. The problem is in rooms or enclosed areas, where the camera is set up where the game feels that it should be in a stationary view. You can use the S button to try and look in front of you, but it doesn’t always work right. Add in the fact that something may be coming at you in that area that you can’t see, and it can cause wasted ammo or lost health.


Another possible downside to this version is just plain timing. The original Silent Hill 2 came out on PS2 over a year or more ago, and it came out for Xbox a number of months before now. Many people have already played through it in its entirety, and getting this version for PC won’t give you anything new that will make it worth buying a whole separate copy just to play as James again. There is a new story that you can play with which tells the tale of Maria and what happened to her (One of the characters that you meet along the way) and can give you a little more insight into some things … which is why it is recommended not to play it until you have finished playing as James. For a Silent Hill nut like myself, it’s cool, but it isn’t nearly as long as the main game and really only serves as a side story rather than a whole new installment.


Graphically, this game could show some other folks a thing or two about how lighting effects should be done. The environment either outdoors or through the beam of a flashlight looks stunning, and just adds to the realism of the whole game … making it that much scarier. The FMV cut scenes don’t lessen any of the edge of seat fright that happens, and some of them will have you staring at the screen, shocked in disbelief or terror, asking yourself if you just saw what you thought you did. Everything has a run down, dirty look to it, and everything visually … except for some collision detection and stiff movements from some of the monsters at times … does it’s part in creeping you out completely.


Konami really did a great job on the sound as well, and I have always loved the music that was done for both the original and the sequel. This time around, some tracks have a lonely and sad synthesized beat to them, while others get a little more intense to set the mood. Through the majority of the game however, there is no music … only the hollow sound of footsteps or the occasional creak or sometimes unexplained noise that will make you hop a foot out of your chair. Most noise consists of an industrial, throbbing clanking sound or a low - pitched drone that in itself can be maddening. If you don’t know what I mean, you will. It works really well and just serves to freak you out that much more. Monsters will sometimes drag objects which make that “nails across the blackboard” sound, and your trusty radio found in the first game is back as well, which emits garbled voices and white noise whenever a monster is near.


Overall, I’ll say it like this … if you have not played Silent Hill yet and love to scare the you know what out of yourself, buy this game … turn the lights off … and don’t say you weren’t warned. If you’ve already played this on consoles, you may want it for the extra scenario if you are a fan, but don’t get it thinking that it’s going to provide you with more than a few hours and some additional insight into the game. I’ve played this on PS2 before, and I will have to say that it still scares the you know what out of me to play it. There’s been an ongoing debate as to what “survival horror” game takes the #1 scariest game of all time … and my vote goes with the Silent Hill series, hands down.


As a quick note to you parents out there, I know that sometimes it’s easy to let a game slip through the check out on an M rating at times when you’ve got younger gamers in the house. As a warning to you, this game deals with some underlying subjects like schizophrenia, suicide, manic depression, and child death. In addition, there are some pretty grisly scenes of murder, blood, mutilated corpses, and some images and videos that are not only shocking, but graphic, disturbing, and could be seen as obscene behavior. Kids and younger teens should not be allowed to be around, play or view this game … period … and I would really ask that you make sure to look it over prior to giving them the OK on it.


Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 8.0
If you want to be scared, this is the game to do it. The entire presentation of this title plays on your fears and digs deep into bringing you sights and sounds of things that you don’t want to think about. The controls are simple and easy to operate, and the whole game style is almost identical to other similar titles on the market. The characters will also turn their heads to look at items or objects that could be important, so it’s hard to miss things. The camera can get annoying when in rooms and even when it can be adjusted, but it’s really no different than other survival horror titles out there. If you’ve played any of them, you’ll be used to it.


Graphics: 8.8
The graphic presentation is not only sharp and high rez, but also a little grainy like you were watching a movie. The visuals and areas are gritty and dingy, in a good way, and everything from the characters to the backgrounds was done in a very detailed manner. The entire environment adds to the fear level, including the fog in the town as you go from place to place, and the monsters are not only unique … but some of the most disturbing and disgusting creatures that I have ever laid eyes on.


Sound: 8.9
While there’s really not a whole lot of music anywhere, and what is there is really well done, the background noises consist of banging and throbbing industrial sounds or low pitched tones that will drive you insane and keep you perched on the edge of your seat. The screaming and muttering of the demonic monsters or screeching of dragged objects that they carry is almost enough to make you cower under the computer desk at times. The voiceovers were pretty well done, but the dialogue sometimes doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.


Difficulty: Medium
While some of the puzzles can get difficult, and ammo can be hard to come by at times, the action levels and puzzle difficulty can be set to harder or easier levels to make it a little better to progress and play.


Concept: 8.1
While the overall game mechanics remain very similar to other titles of the same genre out there, the whole presentation … graphics, sound, and environment … is one of the best I’ve seen as far as setting the tone to get scared out of your wits.


Multiplayer: N/A

Overall: 8.1
As good as this game is, it may not be worth the purchase price for some of you out there who have already played through it on consoles. There are some minor differences in some items and things that are found, and there is an added scenario, but nothing that will make it a new experience. If you haven’t played Silent Hill 2 before, and if you want something that will provide a number of hours of solid gameplay and some serious scares, this is the game to get. Even after playing it on PS2, I still enjoyed playing it and it still makes me turn on lights and look under the bed before I go to sleep. 



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