I was originally going to write this blog yesterday. You see, last night, I made it to the end of Silent Hill 2, and it left me in such an odd state of mind that I found myself unable to write this. After an evening of pondering and dissecting what I'd played, and a night's rest, I'm feeling ready to try and piece my experience back together into something that's worth reading. I should probably warn those of you that haven't played Silent Hill 2 that this blog is going to feature a few spoilers in terms of the game's story, so here's the obligatory spoiler warning:
Silent Hill 2It was my girlfriend who actually made the choice to pick up Silent Hill 2. We'd both recently played through Resident Evil 5 and were disappointed with the lack of genuine horror moments it contained. Me being aware of the franchise's reputation (but never having played one), and her being aware of a film set in the universe (but never having watched it), we decided to give it a chance. Why the second game? Two reasons, I guess. For one, I read that its story was a standalone story, unlike Silent Hill 3 which supposedly continues the story of the original game. For another, it was the cheapest iteration of the franchise I could find online. We picked it up on Sunday night, and after a few lengthy sessions, finished it on the Wednesday. I've come away with some very mixed feelings about the game, so I'll apologise in advance if any aspect of this blog comes across as incoherent or contradictory. Want to know more? Then read on...
What's Good About It?My main expectation from the game was for it to freak me out, and in that respect it really didn't disappoint. Silent Hill 2's aesthetics come together to create probably the most unsettling atmosphere I've ever encountered in a video game. The unnerving sound design and the dilapidated, faded visuals come together to create an atmosphere that emphasises the disturbed, warped loneliness and isolation of the protagonist James Sunderland. Its visuals and audio push the story along in a way that the game's voice acting (more on that later) simply couldn't ever hope to. The game also boasts a really innovative gameplay mechanic in the form of its Map system. While using a map or series of maps to navigate a gameworld wasn't exactly a new phenomenon on SIlent Hill 2's release, these maps are updated with annotations by James in real time. If a door's locked, he'll scribble it out on the map. Find something important that you'll probably have to come back to later? Worry not, James'll stick a ring around it to make finding it again easier. Think Phantom Hourglass, only six years earlier. Probably the best thing about Silent Hill 2, though, is the depth of its story. Most of what's going on is never actually explained, but simply implied and left for the player to piece together (this is the primary reason why I had to leave it overnight before writing this). It's a game with a hell of a lot of subtext - like James' sexual appetite, unsatisfied by his dying wife and embodied in the character of the highly sexualised Maria, and Angela's sexually abusive relationship with her father, to name but two strands of Silent Hill 2's complex personal drama. It's never fully established what is real and what is imaginary, leaving the player to draw their own conclusions about the game's events as the credits roll. Silent Hill 2 is a game that I spent more time thinking about outside of playing it than I did actually playing it. Make of that what you will, but I think it serves as a testament to its impact on the player.
What's Not So Good About It?Silent Hill 2 has its fair share of faults, none of which are game-breaking and most of which amount to little more than a spoiled gamer in 2010 not being happy to return to the accepted gameplay mechanics of 2002. I'll get this out of the way first - the tank controls didn't bother me at all. I genuinely thought they were going to, but it was surprisingly easy to slip back into that method of character control. Less easy to slip back into was the game's combat. This is less an issue of control and more an issue of feel. Everything in Silent Hill 2 that isn't combat-oriented is atmospheric, unsettling, and in some cases downright disturbing. Combat, on the other hand, is none of those things. It's clunky and sluggish, but that isn't the primary issue. My biggest gripe with fighting in Silent Hill 2 is that is just isn't scary. Save for the odd jump-scare when a leg-monster gets the jump on you, combat isn't a fear-inducing experience centered on self-preservation - it feels more like a game-lengthening inconvenience. Other complaints I have are minor - some of the puzzles feel particularly contrived (like the juice-cans-down-the-garbage-chute scenario), a few important items aren't immediately obvious within their environments, and the voice acting is atrociously one-dimensional, belying the game's multi-faceted, subtext-heavy storyline. In the wider context of the game as an experience, though, these really aren't very big deals.
I went into Silent Hill 2 expecting a survival horror game, something to remove the bitter taste left behind by Resident Evil 5, and looking back on it I'm quite glad that I did. Not only did it deliver by the truck-load on the fear front, but it also provided a much deeper story than RE5's gun-toting, Hollywood-action-movie feel could ever hope to. It's also got me incredibly curious about the rest of the Silent Hill franchise and wondering if I should branch out and experience those titles. I get the feeling that, much like Final Fantasy VII, Silent Hill 2 is going to become one of those games that I replay every couple of years or so in the hope of picking out even more details and experiencing even more of the complex story lurking deep beneath the superficial one. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Burnout Paradise (X360)