If you received a letter from your dead spouse asking to meet you at your “special place” would you go? Hmmm… I think the word dead would be all it took to keep me from personally making that mistake. But none the less that is what I found myself doing as James Sunderland in Konami’s Silent Hill 2. Yes, something about this plan seemed like a logical, good idea to him. So, off we went. It never fails to amaze me how much braver my characters are than I would ever be in real life. As a matter of fact, I’m sure I don’t know anyone who would ever get caught falling for a trap like this. Regardless, I’m glad James was hoping for the best and gave it a shot because; it made for one hell of a scary ass game.
This horror genre superstar finds James in a rundown public restroom on the outskirts of the near deserted town of Silent Hill attempting to meet up with his dead wife Mary. As he walks outside the haunting words from her summons are read to you in Mary’s voice. It appears she is waiting for him in this once favorite town of theirs and wants him to join her. When you take control of the character you will begin a very long walk to town. It is on this walk that you will meet Angela. Angela seems confused and is also looking for someone, her mother or her mama as she says. It is she who first warns James that something is wrong with Silent Hill and it might not be the best idea to go there. Choosing not to heed her warning he bids Angela goodbye and heads on in to town. The only other notable point to be made about this part of the journey is the good call of the development team to add sound effects suggesting that someone is following close behind James as he crunches through the leaves on this lonely dirt path.
The game wastes no time in introducing the first monster lurking around Silent Hill. As soon as James reaches town he is greeted by a shadowy, distorted figure sneaking off into the distance at the end of a nasty trail of blood. It is very easy to see the artist Francis Bacon’s influence in the monsters of Silent Hill. Each is hideously disfigured and distorted which tells the player that fear and pain together make up the origin of these hideous creatures. A curious strategy was introduced with the Silent Hill franchise that holds true in Silent Hill 2. James is unarmed when he gets to town and although along the way he will find weapons to use in fighting off the enemy, standing your ground and fighting is not always the tool of choice. Many times you will find that running away is your most effective option.
This is true with the Pyramid Head boss. In his first confrontation with James, Pyramid Head chases him around dragging his weapon the Great Knife and upon tiring of doing so will simply walk away if you’ve been able to avoid his crushing blows. This antagonist is certainly a franchise fan favorite who came along with a giant knife, a helmet covered head revealing no part of his face and no back story. It is completely left to player interpretation what his role actually is. Pyramid Head has been featured in other Silent Hill movies and games which have lead to much debate on his place in Silent Hill. In my own opinion he is an outward projection of the evil inside James himself. I feel that James owns this demon completely. This is true much so to the point that I have cannot agree that he belongs anywhere outside this game alone.
The amazing artwork is definitely not limited to horrific monsters. A lot of care went into the design of the environment and characters. Hours of research went in to designing facial expressions to make them real as possible. Artists made sketches of faces and studied faces from movies before making CG models in the steps toward animation. The town itself is very bland in color and on the surface seems lifeless and depressing. But each building in the town seems to have its own scars from what has happened there and has a genuine hypnotic effect leaving you wondering what stories it has to tell. This perhaps is the result of Silent Hill 2 being designed by artists and programmers as opposed to avid gamers. It was the goal of this amazing team to bring something just a little different to the table. I think they have succeeded far more than could have ever been anticipated.
The sound of Silent Hill is a completely unique experience in itself. In such an abandoned place where quiet is predominant I laugh now at the many times I opened a door and the loud metal cry it gave made me cringe in horror of what evil I might have just alerted. This is the one game that completely grabs you in every noise right down to the tone played as you select an item from inventory. Such a simple thing, but it is a sound I will never forget and will always associate with true fear. The music is phenomenal. Each melancholy selection works so well and helps keep the player completely immersed in this unimaginable hellish world.
Game control is similar to the first Silent Hill. Inventory is brought up on screen by button click and items are highlighted for selection by using the analog sticks. On the left analog stick, up moves the character forward and down moves him back. Left and right change his perspective from side to side. However, there are a few differences notable in the second of this series. Controls can be changed to be relevant to camera instead of character which made it easier for me to move in the intended direction than in the original game. Also, with the right analog stick you can maneuver the camera in order to look around your environment.
The town Silent Hill means something different to each person who plays it, wanders in lost or lives there. Not everyone will have the same experience. The characters in Silent Hill clearly do not all see the same environment around them. Every comment they make suggests that they are in their own personal nightmare made up of what scares them the most. Some characters will even approach James questioningly when he suggests that there is anything at all wrong with the town. As you progress through the game each choice you make is taken in to account and many of these choices have a direct effect on the ending you will receive. Just as with the characters your final outcome as a player will be directly influenced by actions you have made or not made. This aspect alone encourages replay and increases game value.
In my opinion, this game does great justice to the idea and spirit of the original game. It clearly stands out as one of the best game play experiences in the series. From the haunted look of this cursed town to the creepy music and finally the overall concept, Silent Hill 2 is a customizable nightmare fit to terrify the horror fan in everyone.