May, 1999 - I remember it all so vividly...
It was two o' clock in the morning - half-eaten pizza rolls on the table, the sound of my friend's cat playing with his string toy on the floor, the lamp that would only light half the room, my leg twitching as I nervously adjusted my seated position over and over, and then the school, dear god the school. We had just entered the alternate world in the first Silent Hill, (you alumni know all too well what I'm talking about, and if you don't, the best description I can muster is the Freddy Krueger boiler room scene, but you've got to picture it going on outdoors, without a sky). Mike and I got so wrapped up in the moment, that we actually stopped playing and threw in Rival Schools to cool off.
Now in December of 2001, Konami has seen fit to release a sequel to the most disturbing game of all time.
You scared yet?
For those of you unfamiliar with the town of Silent Hill, it is a quiet lakeside resort-town that has a rather curious way of taking your guilt and lies, and making them tangible. The town of Silent Hill, covered by fog, and sometimes, confining darkness, takes the old saying, "Stare into the abyss long enough, and the abyss will eventually stare back at you", to a whole new level of truth.
The story begins in a run down bathroom. James Sunderland has just received a rather cryptic letter from his wife Mary, stating that she is waiting for him in their special place, Silent Hill. Doesn't seem so strange, with the exception of course, that Mary has been dead for three years.
I'm not going to go any further into the plot, as I'm sure the basic gaming public has a pretty good idea of what the game is about by now. The less left told, the less left spoiled, I always say.
I will say this, I disagree wholeheartedly with the popular statement that the game's plot is not as good as the first games. Konami went to great lengths to make this an entirely different kind of experience than the first game, as often precluded too, Silent Hill is a different experience for different people. The town reacts differently to James, than it did to Harry (of the original Silent Hill fame) and that is alluded to a lot, as the terror in this game builds at an entirely different pace...
Make no mistake though, its still there.
Graphically, the game seems a bit cleaner on the Xbox than on its PlayStation 2 counterpart, but that would be nitpicking, as they are achievement by any system's standards. The filthy tile and putrid urinal's in first scene of the game are testament to that. The fog is creepy, to be sure, but no game uses darkness in quite the way that Silent Hill 2 does. Its just plain terrifying, and when you hear that radio go off, you don't want to look up and move forward, you just want to stop playing altogether and make yourself a sandwich.
Which brings me to the subject of the game's sound elements. Because of the aforementioned fog, and darkness, you will find yourself relying on your pocket radio very often. Don't worry though, you get it early enough. The sounds are equally terrifying, and needless to say, the lack of music throughout most of the game adds volumes to the creepy atmosphere. The fact that you can hear the things that have no chance of ever hurting you because they are too far away goes a long way towards affirming your sense of terror. Sometimes, just knowing that they're there is enough. Moreover, the sprinkle of music that's present, goes along way to getting under your skin; the opening theme, for example is truly brilliant.
I can't complain about the controls too much. Yes they are a bit floaty, and its very easy to not time a strike very well, but we have to understand that most of this was intentional. James is not a member of S.T.A.R.S. He's just a regular, slightly chubby guy, caught in a horrifying world of guilt and terror created by his own psyche. Needless to say under those circumstances, he controls like gold.
Gameplay still consists of solving abstract puzzles, to get to the next place you won't want to go through because your to terrified. Plenty of secrets to uncover, and multiple endings enhance the game's replay value greatly. Exclusive to the Xbox version, Restless Dreams features a side quest for the supporting character, Maria which honestly does nothing for the main game itself. Though it explains little of the plot, the game session is relatively short, lasting no more than an hour if played correctly. In addition, The side quest also suffers from horrendous (and when I say horrendous, I mean outright embarrassing) slowdown, that is nowhere to be found in the main games, so is obviously not a fault of the hardware. Just lazy programming.
Nonetheless, with built in sound and an extra quest, the Xbox version is the version to get.
However you look at it, it is nice to see a solid game is behind the self-proclaimed scariest game of all time.
Which it is.
· · · Youandwhosearmy