Silent Hill 2 (PS2) (2001)
Review by Faididi and Co.
Better dead than wed?
Story: Above Average
James Sunderland, a widower, gets the shock of his life when he receives a letter that's apparently sent by his dead wife. He follows its plea to come meet her at the sleepy town of Silent Hill, where the couple has vacationed in the past, but he arrives there to find the place deserted, except for the fifty thousand monsters that Harry Mason has apparently forgotten to kill.
This story is related to the first game's only in setting, as the plot and all the characters are completely different. The focus on the couple's relationship lends a fiendishly personal irony to the monsters that James will face. On the downside, this same focus leads to somewhat predictable twists. The puzzles are also tied together by less meaningful, almost out-of-the-blue themes, and one of the supporting characters (the retard) is a disposable element who needlessly pads up the all-right story.
Konami's Silent Hill 2 plays very similarly to its action adventure predecessor. Starting from a rest stop located at the outskirts of the town, James will explore the overworld-like streets and the dungeon-like interior areas, fighting off monsters and solving challenging puzzles. As the story already suggests, though, this sequel isn't content with rehashing old stuff. Whereas Harry has wandered through the northern half of Silent Hill in the first game, James checks out the southern half, meaning that the level design is completely new. It's no less filled with small details, too, offering lots of bonus items and other secrets to find for those who take the time (and the risks) to thoroughly explore.
The smaller number of weapons and the fewer possible endings are minor issues in light of how the gameplay uses subtle factors to determine James' ultimate fate. Rather than relying on two clear-cut factors for the ending (as done in the original Silent Hill or, for a more humorous comparison, Contra: The Hard Corps), this sequel broadly analyzes James' actions to determine the ending. This isn't a matter of simply how fast the game is finished, but how much time James spends with an allied character during one section, or which items he checks more often in his inventory. Silent Hill 2 is amazing, because it doesn't openly advertise such a key feature, instead respecting the Player's intelligence and trusting the audience to discover this surprise for themselves.
Of course, Silent Hill 2 doesn't mess around when technical issues like controls are concerned. The sidestepping movements unexpectedly feel stiffer, but the rest of the controls remain responsive. More importantly, it offers additional options rarely found in other action adventures of its age. It allows you to switch between character-oriented controls and screen-oriented controls. It also provides separate difficulty settings for the combat (great if you have crappy reflexes) and the puzzles (great if you only wanna mash buttons, lol). These options really help the game accomodate all kinds of Players.
Silent Hill 2 brings the original game's sanity-wracking visuals to a terrifying new level with its gorgeous (if you can call it that) graphics. The fluidly animated characters are made more life-like by the exceptional lighting and shading effects. The environments are impressively detailed, whether they're the seemingly calm streets and parks or the hellishly foul prison dungeons and charnel houses.
The sound effects are perfect, be they footsteps across various types of terrain, doors creaking open, or James' wooden plank with its exposed nails smashing into the bad guys. The voice acting is comparable to that of the first game, and that includes the monsters' scary vocal effects. The music also plays a larger role than before, but they never overtake the unsettling, deathly ambience effects that defines the game's true atmosphere.
Silent Hill 2 is a thoroughly impressive sequel to an already phenomenal classic. Its fresh new level and enemy designs, vividly nightmarish visual and audio effects, and truly subtle links between the story and the hero's in-game behavior sets this new series at the top of the entire horror action adventure genre.
Expansion / Special Edition: Above Average (PS2, Xbox)
The Xbox version (Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams) and the PS2 best-seller reprint (The Best or Greatest Hits edition) includes the original game while packing in a few more extra features.
The most noticeable bonus here is the opportunity to play as Maria and experience her side of the story at some point within the first quarter of James' adventure. However, this bonus mode is very brief, with merely a pair of weapons to find, one real puzzle to solve, three save points to use, zero bosses to fight, and no real mind-blowing secrets to reveal. This small amount of extra content feels like it should've been included with the original edition in the first place, even though it's nowhere as bad as the case of Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku Gaiden (Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness).
The PS2 reprint of Silent Hill 2 also differs from the typical reprints in that it's not fully compatible with the save files of the original edition. Only the secret bonus options and other perks earned via reaching the endings may be carried over; any mid-game progress can't be continued.