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Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Windows)

71
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.1
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Zovni (9350)
Written on  :  May 24, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

Clive Barker meets Rod Serling meets a guy with a pyramid for a head

The Good

For those of you that have been living in a submarine for the past years you should know that the Silent Hill series are the "serious" survival horror games, the ones big, brainy fellas like to point at as being the finest games around horror-wise. Hype notwithstanding, the original game had a lot going for it, and it's sequel is even more impressive.

First of all the production values for the game are on a league of it's own. The graphics are incredibly detailed, sporting some of the most impressive texture work around. Seriously, things are just downright gorgeous with clean, smooth models and stellar dynamic lighting to increase the quality. Yes, the fog and general darkness are still there and help "cheat" things quite a bit, but there's no denying it's an amazing game to watch nonetheless. The PC version allows you to increase the resolution to stratospheric levels and I believe the textures have also had some worked on them to increase the detail, so that's more glitz for you. Of course, that's only considering the in-game graphics, the cutscenes are simply incredible and belong at the top of the line in terms of quality, though the discerning eye might notice some problems specially in the character animation (check out how "Robo-Mary" moves in her cutscene as she looks through the window!! You go girl!!). Thankfully for us, the port to CDs hasn't suffered from the video degradation in the same way as other PS2 DVD games and you can see them in all their original glory, showcasing some of the best CGI animation for a videogame ever.

The sound department is open to debate, considering the voice acting seems to have been recorded with the same shitty "5 words at a time" concept as in the original which still results in fragmented dialogue that's about as artificial as a soy hamburger, but the audio quality of the game is undeniable. Owners of a surround-sound setup are in for a threat, as the game supports every positional audio possibility out there, from a pro-logic -like setup to EAX, 6.1 EX Dolby digital and even more. Really, playing Silent Hill 2 with no lights and a fully cranked 5.1 system is one of the most intense experiences you can have, with each one of it's incredibly moody sfx and the kickass Ringu-like soundtrack giving your nerves the ride of their lives.

But aside from technical achievements, from a design and storyline point of view, the game also made steady improvements and takes on a much more mature note than the original. The narrative is much tighter thanks to the loss of needless sideplots and while the resulting game ends up being much shorter than the original it's also much more interesting and focused. The story is completely independent from the original game. Sure, James looks exactly as Harry with different clothes, and he's also a grieving widower, but instead of going for a vacation to Clive Barker's-Ville with his daughter he receives a letter that tells him to go to Silent Hill for a visit. Thing is the letter is from his deceased wife Mary....yikes... Right from the start the premise gets the game going in the right tracks, as it's much more powerful and driving as an emotional goal for our character than the original's "being stranded on freak-town and losing daughter"-premise. Also on a more subtle note, the game takes the emphasis away from the "Escape from the haunted town" vibe the original had and turns towards a more Twilight Zone-esque "Tales from Silent Hill" one where the game dedicates itself to telling you James story, with Silent Hill being merely the backdrop. This approach might sound disappointing to some, but the cocktail works perfectly, as James provides the human touch with his traumas, secrets and his quest, but Silent Hill doesn't mess him up with overcomplicated plots about demon summoning, medical corruption and assorted crap, and simply works as a supernatural means of bringing James itty, bitty skeletons out of the closet and assaulting him with psycho trips to the Hospital from Hell(tm) and the usual "disturbed version of an everyday location" that the original SH was famous for and which takes you to Cliver Barker-esque versions of several locations in the town as you search for your beloved Mary and avoid the many gore-friendly monsters that seem to have replaced the town's population.

Speaking about monsters, the developers got the message from the original and removed it's collection of Resident Evil rejects, giant moths and generic zombie dogs, and instead replaced them with much more disturbing, abstract creatures that seem part-human, part-uh... freaky things. After all, what else would you call a mannequin-like creature whose body ends at the torso and then continues into another pair of legs as if mirrored?? Or how about a menacing butcher with a crimson pyramid for a head that stalks you around like the "Nemesis" from Resident Evil? The creatures in Silent Hill 2 are both disturbing and appealing in their weirdness, with some standouts like the final boss that seems ripped straight from Clive Barker's "Tortured Souls" action-figure collection and which make each encounter with them much more tense than in the original not to mention interesting also in a way, as you struggle to comprehend how a thing with no arms or mouth can hurt you until it ...aARRRGHH!!!

Sure, as in the original James can fight back, but also as in the original fights are better left for another day as James fights as fiercely as a snail and it doesn't take many hits for his day to be over. A clever touch taken from the original that enhances the level of desperation inherent to the desperate fights you take part in. Thankfully, those of us with reflex-problems can now switch between camera-relative and character-relative controls that finally allow you to handle your character in a more natural way when placed under the game's kickass but often awkward camera positions. You can also individually tone down the combat difficulty making the baddies less numerous and easier to beat, and also giving James more health and decreasing the chance of him tripping over as he runs for his life. Isn't that a cool detail? That James... Falling on his ass as Pyramid-Head looms over him... what a doofus!!

The Bad

Unfortunately not everything is rosy with SH2, as some of the problems of the original can't help but creep their way back in due to the strange narrative fetishes of our beloved Konami folks. What I'm talking about here is the assortment of bogus twists and turns the story takes just because the designers felt that common sense is an alien trait to the characters in the game.

Just as before, the game seems to take place in a seemingly "trance"-like reality where people just don't question what they do or what the hell goes on around them. I mean, either James is a real badass mutha that's seen and done everything out there or he reads too many Clive Barker novels, as his reaction to the monstruous horrors of Silent Hill is about as sedated as it can be without drugs involved. Once again, this is not a singular "choice" or some clever mature thing Konami pulled off from his sleeve, it's just plain shitty storytelling, if we see this in a movie we scream foul at the sight of plot-holes, inconsistencies and lousy scripting, but since it's on a Silent Hill... Ahhh!! It must be art or something then....

Shit, I really don't know wether the game isn't actually worse than the original here, since they removed the mostly retarded moments (like the charming "cop-giving-a-perfect-stranger-her-gun-and-leaving" moment in the original) and they drastically cut down on the stupid tendency for the characters to meet, chat a bit and then disappear for a while (guess they never heard of that "safety in numbers" concept) to the point where a character actually hangs around with you for several parts of the game! Unfortunately, everything that was corrected was replaced by even more bogus character interaction that will leave even the most ardent Silent Hill fan scratching his/her head. Case in point: (this is just frigging incredible) midway through the game you follow a charming lil' character to a room, only to discover that she locks the door behind you and leaves you to die at the hands of two freakish monsters as she laughs and goes away. What does your character do later when he meets her again in a cottage by the lake?? Slap her around and break her legs? Shout at her? At least cock his gun and prepare himself for another surprise? Noooo, that would make too much sense, and since the story needs to go in another direction let's just settle with James going "Hey gorgeous! How you doing? Better be careful with those things out there!" *nudge* ...geez... I'm not trying to spoil things for you but Konami must think we are all retarded if they expect us to accept how they just force James to do what he does in the "good" ending with this character as a perfectly rational reaction. then again, what's another plot-hole gonna do to this game, uh?

As for the gameplay, while the game leaves most of the stupid puzzling around from the original, there are still places were the game weakens and slips in on of those lovely "collect the 45 coins of the moon, sun, stars, and whatever" puzzles in a place where it makes absolutely no sense. Or takes you for a walk as you check every room in the hotel/hospital or whatever looking for the golden key to the exit, Yay!!

Moving on, while extras are always welcome additions, I have to express my utter disappointment with the "Born from a wish" bonus scenario, which billed itself as the "inside story" of sorts for the game as it allowed you to play with Maria prior to James's arrival to Silent Hill. First of all, I believe we start off on the wrong foot with the premise and choice of character. Maria is one of the supernatural (or not?HmmMMMM???) characters that came to life in SH and is the one most closely related to Mary's mistery as it becomes obvious once you meet her and realise they both look exactly the same and have pretty much the same name (that's Konami's kind of subtlety for ya in case you were wondering). Thing is, outside of that Maria is a pretty boring character all around, with all the interest that surrounds her being simply because of our lack of knowledge of the character's past, and because she acts like a completely stoned babe at a frat-party while in the midst of a veritable nightmare. Angela would have been a much better choice for a "bonus scenario" extra, as she's the only other character outside of James that has also come to Silent Hill drawn by a supernatural event that relates to her past, a much more traumatizing and sadder event whose resurrection has unfortunately taken it's toll on poor Angela's mind (hey, we can't all be stone-cold macho men like James). All through the game she appears in hauntingly disturbing cutscenes that due to their more linearly scripted nature often become clearer and make more sense than the main game's plot! It's no wonder after all that she became one of the poster moments for the game (the one where she lies on the floor clutching a knife) and I would have preferred to crawl into Angela's little disturbed head much more than Maria's. Then again Maria IS the skanky stripper in the game with a glassy, stoned gaze and perpetual smirk that just scream "fan service" as the Japanese say, and regardless of how "serious" Silent Hill considers itself to be, it's always gonna go with the skanky stripper... Gameplay-wise, the extra scenario adds practically nothing, just two new weapons (a meat cleaver and a revolver) and the whole thing revolves around a shitty ghost-story that Maria has to solve by doing the good 'ol "check-every-room-for-the-key-and-solve-the-completely-ridiculous-puzzles-in-the-way" routine. Well, at least it comes for free.

I also should mention that there's a nasty lip-synch bug that pops up on every game-engine cutscene ported straight from the X-Box release and the fact that you really need some badass polygon-pushing card in your system to get Silent Hill to run without problems, as the textures alone are enough to slow most systems down to a crawl.

Oh, and I'm still waiting for Pinhead's cameo.

The Bottom Line

While still suffering from bogus storytelling and uneven gameplay fit for plenty of bitching, Silent Hill 2 tighttens the package by removing much of the slack from the original game, placing the focus on a more personal story, loosing the needless subplots and assorted elements stolen from the RE games, and dealing with much more unique and human elements that make the horror moments in the game even more impressive and haunting. The result is a game that towers over it's predecessor and rises as one of the best survival/horror titles around.

Aside from that this is THE game to show off your gaming rig, showcasing some of the most impressive graphical and aureal work in a videogame. A definitive must for anyone that enjoys quality mature gaming.