Title  : Silent Hill 2
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Windows
Publisher  : Konami
ESRB Rating  : Mature
Game Rating  : 9.2
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Remember that hotel you and your parents used to stay at when you were a kid? The sunshine, the laughter, the fun… 

Now imagine you're there. Alone. At night. The rooms are ransacked, the walls are caked in blood, and the sound of ripping flesh is coming from somewhere nearby. 

Welcome to Silent Hill 2, a PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC game from Konami. [PS2 version reviewed here] 

The original Silent Hill established itself as more than just a survival horror clone by creating an atmosphere based on pervasive chills and horror, instead of the spontaneous scare tactics of Resident Evil. Silent Hill 2 continues the tradition from the get-go. In this sequel, players control James, who receives an invitation to Silent Hill from his wife — who died three years ago. You need not have previously experienced this resort town, as there are no immediate links between the two games' stories. 

Though James Sunderland may resemble the series' previous protagonist, Harry Mason, James is half the man Harry was. It's obvious from his stance he's never fired a gun, and he gets winded after only a short sprint. Further, the death of his wife has apparently so unbalanced him, players will wonder if it isn't only Silent Hill that's crazy. It's not easy to separate fact from fiction — if indeed there are such things here. If you thought the original Silent Hill's plot made little sense, the sequel is even tougher to follow. 

Even if you don't understand what's going on, Silent Hill 2 helps you get from one place to another. James carries a veritable atlas of maps and memos of his expeditions, making for easy reference. By now your quest may seem formulaic: explore a many-roomed building (hospital, apartment building, etc.), collect keys, encounter boss, move to next building. 

The environment and its denizens continuously work against James. He will occasionally be presented with a choice, such as, "There is something in the dark, wet hole. Will you stick your hand in, with no idea what dreaded horror you'll fall victim to?" You can almost hear the game laughing as it teases you with this "choice" — of course you'll examine the hole. Not all threats are so subtle: as in some Resident Evil games, James will also encounter a mysterious foe at every turn – Silent Hill's own Jason Vorhees. 

Various difficulty options allow the game to be tailored for all audiences and skill levels. If battling grotesque minions isn't your bag, enemies can be weakened or eliminated from the game entirely. The many puzzles James must solve can also be made more or less complex. 

Additional options allow players to customize the controls. As with most survival horror games, the default setup is relative to the hero, where Up moves forward and Left is James' left. This scheme is consistent and effective in inserting players into the game. Silent Hill 2 also offers a 2D setup, but due to the changing camera angles, this setup can prove inaccurate when moving from scene to scene. 

Unlike Resident Evil and its static perspectives, Silent Hill's camera is constantly moving. It can pan and track the player's movement in a very cinematic fashion, creating the sensation that you are being watched. James may notice something players don't, so keep watch for whatever catches James' eye, as his head will turn to examine the item. If James kills a monster then walks through its spilled pool of blood, he'll leave red footprints — nice touch. On the downside, the graphics occasionally appear grainy (aside from the fantastic outdoor fog effects), and the lip-syncing, unlike the rest of the characters' movements, is artificial. The quality voice acting could be made more dramatic if an option to disable the captions was available. 

Silent Hill 2 carries the innovation of the original without elaborating on it. The series still has the quality of getting under your skin and invoking an instinct of "fight or fright" (often both, much to your dismay). It's easy to lose yourself in a video game, so welcome to Silent Hill — please leave your sanity at the door.


This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-Oct-01