Released an unbelievable 7 years ago for the PS2, Silent Hill 2 is a classic of the survival horror genre. I have yet to play a game with a more terrifying atmosphere, ingenious story or a creature with a rusty pyramid for a head. I don't mind admitting that Silent Hill 2 scared me in ways I could never have imagined whilst at the same time never being less than compelling to play.
Despite being a sequel, this game offers a self-contained story which requires no previous knowledge of the series and this helps to make it a stronger game. The game follows James Sunderland who arrives at Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife telling him she is waiting for him there. However there is one catch: his wife is dead.
After an excellent and unconventional opening section, the player arrives in the town, perpetually shrouded in a swirling ethereal fog and soon the nightmarish journey into bone chilling psychological terror begins. Now, whilst being an old game the graphics have aged but still do a good job. The misty streets, dark corridors and nightmarish alternate world look good and really help to create an uneasy and unsettling atmosphere.
The gameplay is fairly standard survival horror staples, but is handled with a level of attention to detail which sets it apart from rivals. The town is deserted from virtually all human life (save for one or two other characters that appear throughout the game) and is instead a place filled with twisted monstrosities. These creatures are very well designed, from sets of twisted mannequins legs to the truly horrifying Pyramid Head who wears a blood stained apron and carries a 6ft long blade. Whilst the combat with these creatures is somewhat clunky it feels brutal which adds to the ambience of the game and helps to underline that James is simply a normal man in a hellish situation.
The real masterstroke of game design is the use of the radio. Acquired at the start of the game, the radio crackles with white noise whenever a creature is nearby. This leads to some scenes of almost unbearable tension as you edge along corridors waiting to meet the inevitable horror. In fact, it often pays to try and sneak or run past the monsters, which is best done in the dark which means switching your torch off, adding to the fear.
Sound is incredible in this game, with the background music really creating a sense of dread with industrial clanging and indistinct noises making a unique mood. However, the music can change from nightmarish crescendo to soft piano pieces in an instant during the game's cut-scenes which creates a contrasting feeling.
The game's locations are also very strong fitting in with the intellectual multi-layered story superbly. Whether creeping through a dilapidated apartment building, a grimy hospital or a filthy underground labyrinth they are all well designed and really lead to some horrific images and shocking moments. The fact that Silent Hill can shift into an even darker world with an accompanying air raid siren, only serves to add more depth to the story and gives rise to some memorable sequences.
Puzzles also form a key part of the game and there is a good mixture of them. Some of the problems involve the traditional combination of items to solve, although there are some interesting takes on this, yet in the end it comes down to finding the right items and the right place to use them. Others are more cryptic and can be really pretty difficult to solve, especially the number puzzles which can require fairly obscure solutions. To balance this out there is a handy riddle difficulty setting to select at the beginning of the game, which can make things easier or harder depending on your disposition. Silent Hill 2 does have some slight issues, with the majority of rooms in the game inaccessible due to broken locks which can get slightly annoying when exploring.
Other minor issues include the bleak nature of the game and oppressive atmosphere which puts people off the experience, although this is somewhat addressed by having a plot which facilitates multiple endings (5 or 6 depending on the version of the game). Some people have found the graphic and disturbing nature of the game a factor which works against it, but if you are a fan of the genre and have a strong stomach then this isn't an issue. Looking back, the gameplay seems a little dated and far from slick, but I find that this helps to differentiate the game from the calculated gun heavy Resident Evil series.
In conclusion, if you want to be scared witless, have troubled dreams for a few days and are considering purchasing a pocket radio then this game is for you. Just don't say you weren't warned about the nightmares.
Silent Hill 2 (Reviewed on PlayStation 2)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
I am walking down a dark corridor. My footsteps echo in the blackness as my small pocket torch struggles to illuminate the way ahead. Then, slowly the crackling static of a pocket radio starts and gradually builds. Out of the gloom ahead of me looms a hideous, blood-stained figure without a face. Welcome to Silent Hill 2.