Originally realised in 2001 Silent Hill 2 is, for many, considered the best game in the franchise. It came out during my lull in gaming so it & the next 2 games in the franchise completely passed me by. With the release of the HD collection in 2012 it was finally my chance to see if it really was as impressive as many people suggest it is.
Silent Hill 2 is not a direct sequel to the original game. While still set in the town it sees James Sunderland arrive at the town in search of his wife. She has sent him a letter saying she is waiting for him in the town in their special place; Mary Sunderland has been dead for years.
As James the player has to navigate the dangerous streets of Silent Hill as well as in-door locations such as the hospital, historical society & prison. Along the way James will meet a variety of characters & enemies none more important then Maria who bears an uncanny resemblance to this dead wife.
Silent Hill 2 is played from a 3rd person perspective with heavy emphasis on exploration & puzzle solving. It is survival horror at its best with combat being something you should actively avoid.
Silent Hill takes the horror baton from the original game & takes off at break-neck speed. From the opening as you move James through the outskirts of the town you get the feeling of being followed & you can hear the sound of something smashing its way through the bushes nearby.
Silent Hill’s eeriness is what makes it so special. It’s not exactly an open town to explore with most buildings closed & a lot of roads destroyed impeding any progress but the areas you can wander around feel oppressive & filled with danger. You constantly wonder not about what you can see but what you can’t.
Silent Hill’s 2 real strength lies in its excellent story that sets the idea of a town shaped around the protagonists state of mind as well as those of the people you meet. Everyone you meet in Silent Hill is a damaged individual who have all been called to the town for some reason or another. The theme of Silent Hill 2 is guilt…
Perhaps one of the more controversial plot elements relates to a taboo subject in gaming…sex. Early on it becomes quite clear that one character may have suffered some form of sexual abuses by a family member & that certain enemies have a kind of ‘look’ about them. Sound silly? Sure but in the overall context of the game it works & results in some extremely unsettling scenes. Happily many of the graphic scenes have been left intact for the HD Collection.
Another strength of Silent Hill 2 is its enemy type. Silent Hill 2 runs with a selection of new & exciting enemies as well as old favourites (such as the hospital nurses). However none of them are particularly scary, that job is left up to the old favourite, Pyramid Head. Sporting a different look compared to the first game but still with the trademark head & sword, he is the main tormenter that James has to deal with & serves as a boss several times throughout.
He has a much more literal meaning in the game this time around & it makes it a much more enjoyable enemy to deal with. As a boss he is not to be taken lightly & when battling him quick feet & timing is key.
Alas Silent Hill’s controls leave a lot be desired. Stiff controls & slow movement are a staple part of the Silent Hill franchise & once you are used to them they rarely cause a problem but they make combat so frustratingly difficult.
Silent Hill 2’s controls make melee combat (a heavy section of the game as you will want to save ammo for bosses) not very enjoyable. If Konami wanted you to avoid combat because of the trouble it takes then it worked. I guess it matches up well to what kind of a man James is but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Switching to 2D controls (controls like the original game) infuriated me mainly because I found myself smacking into walls…a lot.
It’s a small blot on an otherwise stellar experience.
Another staple part of the Silent Hill franchise is multiple endings. Silent Hill 2 has 6 in total, 4 are variations of 1 but changed depending on your actions throughout (for example: if you want the In Water ending you have to convince the game James wants to die which means reading certain depressive articles & not healing James often). The other 2 are joke endings that I won’t spoil save for the fact that 1 of them is a UFO ending with a surprise character return.
The game isn’t exactly challenging & at my fastest time I managed to complete it in less then 2 hours (best internet times put it at around an hour & 5 mins). Save spots are plentiful & with smart ammo conservation you can easily take out bosses. The biggest challenge you will face will be the puzzles. Some of them are fiendishly difficult & if you are playing without a guide (If you haven’t played it before then play it this way as it makes it much more fun) you will really have to pay attention to a lot of the clues left around.
Currently my favourite Silent Hill game to date (although that might change as I make my way through Silent Hill 3) & I am pretty forgiving of the series overall. When people say “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” they are talking about games like this. I haven’t seen a survival horror game like this in years. Enemies that actually threaten, puzzles that frustrate & a constant buzz of fear of what might be around the corner.
A masterpiece of horror let down marginally by limited exploration & some harsh combat controls.
Silent Hill 2 HD