Written by  :  Adzuken (861)
Written on  :  Oct 23, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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No, I don’t want to stick my hand in the toilet!

The Good

I’ve never really understood horror games or the horror genre in general. I always thought it was strange to willingly subject oneself to feelings of fear and stress. Yet for some reason I always end up playing games like Silent Hill 2 and Eternal Darkness. Okay, I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a wuss. Years ago, the Resident Evil remake gave my teenaged self nightmares. I guess I find greater reward in a game that I have to force myself through. Enough self-reflecting though, because the latest game I forced myself through has been one of the best games I’ve ever surmounted.

Silent Hill 2’s premise starts simply enough, James Sunderland gets a letter from his wife, telling him to meet her in the town of Silent Hill. The kicker is, she’s been dead for three years, yet for some reason, James still decides to search for her. It doesn’t take long for things to get spooky. James finds Silent Hill to be buried in fog, and almost completely deserted, that is, except for numerous monsters that stalk the streets.

The storyline is easily Silent Hill 2’s greatest asset. It starts off mysteriously enough to get you hooked, and things just continue to get more and more intriguing as you continue. The story is told through sometimes awkward cut scenes, but also through imagery and documents you come across. What I find most fascinating is how the game leaves it to the players to draw their own conclusions. There are a lot of things in Silent Hill 2 that aren’t clearly defined. There are even a number of endings, none of them claiming to be the true ending. It’s really engaging, and it makes you think for yourself.

The story is really original and interesting. On the surface, Silent Hill 2 appears to be an almost cliché survival horror game, but as things drag on, you realize it’s anything but. Despite its horrific setting, the game’s story is completely centered on James. It’s an introversive character analysis that not only gives you a glimpse into James’ head, but also gets into your head as well. It’s a welcome change from the industry’s norm of two dimensional characters, which normally lack human flaws.

Another thing that Silent Hill 2 does exceedingly well is atmosphere. Your field of vision is always obscured by fog or darkness from which a monster could shamble out of at any moment. It’s all very oppressive and gives you the feeling of everything working against you. Silent Hill 2’s strange music just adds to it all, without becoming too intrusive. It always keeps you on your toes, even if you know you’re probably safe for the moment.

The game is almost artsy in its approach. But they manage to pull it off without all the pretentiousness that most artsy games seem to trip over. It seems fully aware that it’s just a game and never takes itself too seriously. It also avoids feeling too campy or silly. Its charm is almost intangible and difficult to explain.

The Bad

It amazes me that a game that is so intelligent in its presentation can screw up the gameplay so bad. It’s like the game was made by a group of the greatest storytellers and artists in the industry, but no one thought to hire a designer. It’s hard for me to think of a single thing I enjoyed about Silent Hill 2’s gameplay. Silent Hill 2’s biggest flaws are the twin demons of stubborn camera and clumsy combat. They work together, you see, to ruin your fun. Whenever you walk into a new room, there’s a good chance that the camera will be pointed directly at you, while a monster sits slightly off screen. You can manually place the camera behind your back, sometimes, when the game is in a good mood, but there’s no guarantee that it will stay put. By the time you finish fiddling with the camera, a monster may have already bitten your face off. The camera also has an odd tendency to twist to strange angles in an almost sickening manner. It might be the developers attempt to make the game have a more picturesque look to it, but it just gets in the way.

Combat, on the other hand, is easily one of the least immersive systems I’ve seen in a game. They totally missed the feel of combat. It’s all really bland and unnatural. There’s no strategy to it either, you just flail at something until it falls to the ground, and then you stomp on it. Unless you use guns, but I never bothered with them, except on bosses. In fact, I used guns so rarely that I ended the game with enough leftover ammo to supply a small army. I had over 360 rounds of pistol ammo. The frigging Doom guy could only carry 200 pistol rounds without a backpack.

I can understand that some of these problems are likely added for effect. Knowing an enemy is just off screen is pretty unnerving, but I thought that was what the fog and darkness were for. I also realize that James is supposed to be an average everyday guy, but surely he’s not THIS incompetent. Now that I think of it, Silent Hill 2’s combat is completely unnecessary. Why didn’t they scrap the whole thing and just make you run to avoid combat? Maybe they could have allowed you to throw rocks at enemies so they’d stop chasing you. Now that would be scary.

Why is it that terrible voice acting and scripting seems to be a staple of survival horror genre? It’s a good thing that a lot of the story is told outside of these cutscenes, because they’re pretty awful. Everyone’s delivery is either flat or over the top. Everyone also pauses after every sentence or so and they all move slowly and awkwardly. Even the main character’s performance is terribly stiff and lifeless. It doesn’t prevent you from getting into his head and the cutscenes don’t ruin the overall plot, but my god, think of what the game would have been like if the cutscenes were up to par with the rest of the game.

Lastly, Silent Hill 2 is extremely rigid with how you play it. Basically, the only decision they leave to the player is whether or not you choose to explore. Let me give you an example: James walks up to this hole and tells me that he can’t see the bottom. The game then asks me if I want to jump down. No, Silent Hill 2, that sounds like a genuinely stupid idea. For all I know, there’s no bottom to it, or no way out once I get down there. Since there’s no other way to progress through the game, though, I’m kind of wondering why the fuck you asked?

The Bottom Line

I might as well note that I’m not an established fan of the Silent Hill series, and that this was the first one I played. Therefore, I don’t know how well it stacks up to the other Silent Hill titles. As it stands, though, I think Silent Hill 2 is a strange and wonderful game. It’s completely rotten at its core, but everything else about it is so charming and original. It’s almost like a delicious meal comprised mostly of sandpaper and shards of glass, you know something’s not right about it, but you can’t stop eating it. I’m sure Silent Hill 2 isn’t for everyone, but most people should at least try it. It’s different, and intelligent in everything except its core gameplay. Even despite all the negatives, I still think Silent Hill 2 is an OUTSTANDING game.