Psychological Horror at it's finestWelcome to Silent Hill
A beautiful resort town, that occasionally pulls you into a nightmarish world constructed straight from your own deepest insecurities, secrets, and fears. Let me open this review by saying that Silent Hill 2 is quite possibly my favorite game of all time, so forgive me if this review sounds a bit adoring (though I feel that adoration was well earned). It remains one of the most terrifying and unsettling experiences I've ever had in front of a television. This game has all the elements of a great survival horror game, and is so soaked in symbolism, that you could spend hours interpreting the meaning behind nearly every little thing that happens. Or not. A game that is dripping with atmosphere and manages to leave you feeling completely desolate and alone. Not a game I would recommend playing if you are easily unsettled. I could go on and on about this game in general, but lets get the specifics shall we?
GraphicsPersonally, I think the game looks stunning for it's time. The character and monster animation can be a bit off at points, but the scenery leaves very little to be desired. The environments range from beautiful to disturbing (which is of course what they were going for), and lighting in well implemented, giving a lot of depth to some areas that would otherwise seem bland. When lighting was used that is, which could have been more often. I wish more detail had been put into the random houses when exploring the town as well. They begin to all look the same very quickly. Other than that though, many locations have received a lot of detail. The trademark fog can sometimes make exploring the town frustrating as it greatly cuts visibility, however that was intentional and adds to the dread. The monsters, likewise, tend to have very odd movement animations. While I don't actually believe this was intentional in all cases, it none the less serves to give a eerie, inhuman impression to the creatures that inhabit Silent Hill. They managed to make most of the graphical limitations and shortcomings serve the atmosphere in an impressive way. The environments are well designed, and the shifted realities look surreal, yet with nice detail. A lot of work went into crafting these nightmarish dreamscapes, and it shows.SoundSilent Hill is a series known for atmosphere and ambiance, and this game is no exception. Silent Hill 2 had one of the most haunting and eerie soundtracks I've ever heard in a video game. The music in every area really served to set the tone, and often had your skin crawling even without anything happening on the screen. And while the composer, Akira Yamaoka, lent quite a bit of impact to the general ambiance of silent hill, it was a bit more than that. Very early in the game, your character finds a radio with one obvious function. For some reason it begins to spurt static when "creatures" are near. While this seems like it might take away from the horror experience, it does quite the opposite. It's hard to explain how unnerving it is to suddenly hear a burst of static, and yet not be able to spot anything through the thick fog. To know something is there, but be unable to see it. And it's made worse when you begin to hear the shuffling, and array of inhuman sounds that the beings are producing. Other sound effects lend to the same quality as well. I've met people who have said that the sirens you hear at a point in this game have given them nightmares. The sounds are not only well done, but sync exceptionally well with the gameplay, and story.
However, there is one big area where the sound part of this review falls short. Voice acting. To be honest, the voice acting is pretty bad, at times down right atrocious. It's the only reason sound got a 9 instead of a 10. Luckily though, it's not so bad that it can't just be ignored. At least the dialogue is engrossing enough to keep your attention off the voice.Addictiveness
Personally, I replay this game at least once a year. The game itself has multiple endings, and you'll want to play through several times to see them all. Beyond that however, is the type of game that draws you back in. Some dark corner of your mind demands you revisit that terrible place. No other game quite captures the feeling that this game gives you, and it's one that keeps you coming back for more punishment. And no matter how familiar you are with what the twisted town has in store for you, it never fails to get under your skin.Story
You play James Sunderland. A average middle aged man who receives a letter from his wife, Mary. She laments he never took her back to Silent Hill like he promised, but she's there now. And she wants to see him. She's in their "special place" waiting for him. That's all well and good, but there is only one small problem. His wife, Mary, has been dead 3 years. The story is one of the strongest aspects to this game that, unlike it's predecessor, focuses on the town itself as the antagonist, rather than the cult. As the game progresses, you meet a few people that do nothing to alleviate your feelings of isolation. Though, while they all seem a bit off, so does James himself. It constantly leaves you questioning what's really going on, even as the town shifts and changes around you. Eventually, small things start connecting, and you begin to realize certain things about the town, about the people around you, and about James himself. A lot of the story isn't told however, merely hinted at. This leaves you to discern the meanings of much on your own. Also, much is told by the scenery itself if one cares to pay attention . All of this leads to an explosive finale that'll hit you on deeper level than you realized a ps2 game could. It's a story that knows what to tell, and knows what to leave to the imagination.
I should also mention that while it will add to the experience, it is not at all required hat you play the first silent hill to understand the story. It is not directly connected.Depth
Not much to say here. While you don't have any side quest really, you have a huge town to explore, and many horrors and first aid kits to discover. You won't find much beyond the main game other than a few unique places, however the main game takes you through several interesting areas. All well built, and with a lot of depth. It's easy to get lost and you'll find yourself relying on your map often.Difficulty
That really depends on your setting. This game offers two different difficulty options that you can set at easy-hard. Action, and riddle. I'll cover each briefly, but overall the game is challenging, but too much so if you pay attention. The biggest difficulty in this game is keeping your sanity :p
The action side of this game isn't too hard on normal, and not insane on hard. Combat is clunky and un-intuitive, but it's supposed to be. You are not an action hero. It's mostly difficult because of the poor combat system, and awkward movement. However, most fights are avoidable, and I was suggest you do some avoiding on anything but easy, and a lot on hard. Mainly because ammo and healing items are scarce, and melee weapons are hard to use without taking hits.
Now this game didn't have as many puzzles as I would have liked, but the ones it did have were interesting, and required a bit of brain power. I ended up having to work out the solutions in a notebook on most occasions, and I usually don't have to resort to writing stuff down. On hard difficulty the puzzles get crazy, and can be very frustrating, or very intriguing depending on your disposition. If puzzles aren't your thing, you can set this to easy and they basically become put the round object in the round hole.Final VerdictSilent Hill 2 is a game that assaults you with an oppressive atmosphere, crawling dread, and tension so thick you can use it as a blunt weapon against anyone foolish enough to startle you while you are playing it. It has a deep story, with lots of symbolism, and will have you thinking for days to come. Challenging, if awkward gameplay, amazing musical score, and 5 to 6 different endings (depending on the version you play). It's a master of subtly, and it won't scare you near as much as it'll make you scare yourself. It's what horror games should be, and in my opinion stands tall among every other game in the horror genre.
If you have yet to play this amazing game, I highly suggest you do so.
I mean it