adrenaline's Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2) review

Silent Hill 2

I've seen a lot of this game in the past, though I've never really played it myself. This changed when a friend and I agreed to both play a game we had only watched before, Silent Hill 2 for me, and Shadow of the Colossus for him. If you're not a fan of survival horror, this game has some of the genre's typical problems in places, but overall it's a very strong, creepy experience, and ahead of its time in some ways. It definitely holds up better than I might have expected.

I'm not a huge fan of the way the game actually plays. It's somewhat like a traditional adventure game with some clumsy combat thrown in, though none of it is bad enough to hurt the game in the long run. It defaults to the tank-style movement controls that very few people are comfortable with, although there's a simple option in the menu to switch to the more intuitive way of just point where you want to go. The combat really isn't terrible as bashing monsters in the face is actually a viable option and you can move while attacking, it just isn't the game's strong point. Puzzles are a mix of some clever believable scenarios, some strange esoteric stuff, and a few groan inducing ones like using a can opener to open a can of light bulbs (what?) to light up a door so you can see the keyhole well enough (what?).  The game emphasizes exploration, as you can wander around town or in the various important buildings and find a lot of extra supplies you may not necessarily need, with certain paths blocked off to keep you from getting too far off course.  I like how the spaces feel like real buildings, and not just artificial environments a game was designed to take place in.  Many doors are sealed off or have broken locks, which keeps you moving to the next important place without feeling fake.

What impressed me most is how the game is designed to facilitate the dark story, and that story itself.  Pretty much every design decision has some thought behind it, and every aspect of the way the environment and strange monsters look has a reason for being the way it is.  I'm not going to pretend I understand why everything is how it was made, but you can tell how well constructed it is.  It's a psychological horror story, and the types of scares they go for in the game fit that.  It's not about things jumping out at you, it's about keeping you unsettled the entire time you're playing, dreading to see what's in the next room.  There are a few different characters all facing some sort of torment in the town, and the tale is an intriguing one, with a few twists along the way.  Little details in the world can be easily missed but help contribute to the narrative, although you don't have to see everything to appreciate what it does.

Besides the voice acting, the presentation is really good too.  The sound effects are effective whether they're just filling in the gaps or spooking the hell out of you, and the music is perfect.  Akira Yamaoka has done the soundtrack for basically the whole series, and nearly every piece is great, and it's in a variety of styles.  It's best when it's accompanying something strange going on and doing everything a few noises can to rattle your nerves.  The amateur voices are pretty bad, but it's rare for them to actually hinder the storytelling, and a few people are decent.  The graphics are quite good for the time also, and the camera can be frustrating in some situations, like when you're trying to not be killed, but in general it works for the presentation as a whole.  Silent Hill 2 is more or less a classic in the horror game genre, and worth experiencing, even now.

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