Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Now, Silent Hill, when I think of those words, I think of the game that always does a great job at creeping you out in the best ways possible. I think of the game that never fails to keep me up at night, hoping to God that noise out there wasn't a zombie nurse. I haven't played all of the Silent Hill games, but that doesn't mean I'm not a huge fan of the series.
I've played SH4, got about halfway through that, I have beaten SH3, and I have also beaten SH2. Even though there still is Silent Hill 1 I've yet to try, I know what a Silent Hill game should have (and I HAVE seen videos and pictures of Silent Hill 1 before). And, if you're reading this review, so should you. We both know what Silent Hill fans want, they want a game that doesn't focus on fighting, has a creepy atmosphere, gives that same bone chilling effect that is traditional to each installment, and is just plain SCARY. Silent Hill 2 happens to be my favorite game in the series, and that is mainly because I was very pleased to see that just about all of the criteria was present.
Silent Hill 2 is about a man named James who is sent to the town of Silent Hill after being called there by his wife, Mary, who said that she was there waiting for him in their 'special place.' There's only one problem, Mary died three years ago. So, of course, James can't just ignore the fact that after three long, lonely years the woman he loved and thought was dead, was still alive. If I were James, I'd sure as hell be looking for her too. What was Mary doing at Silent Hill, you ask? Why not just Hawaii? Well, before Silent Hill turned into this hellish place that zombies and evil mutated dogs decided to inhabit it, Silent Hill was a fairly well-known town that many people went to for honeymoons and sightseeing, it was an average tourist attraction. James and Mary had gone there supposedly for either their honeymoon, or just a place to keep Mary's mind off of her illness, which I really have no idea what it was (tuberculosis, maybe, since she was always coughing, but you can head to wikipedia if you want to be sure on that). There, they went to many different places that they adored, and when they left, Mary told James to promise her that they'd go back one day. Too bad Mary died before then, or did she?
The music that plays throughout the game is absolutely fantastic, it's eerie and manages to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Although, while you're actually playing the game, music seems somewhat absent, and you're left with these mindbending noises in the background. These noises are okay, and they definitely keep you scared and nervous, but a little music couldn't kill the game could it? The only time you really hear any of the great music is during cutscenes but the music is so well played and added into the game at the best times, it makes up for it's absense when you finally get to hear it.
Of course, we couldn't have Silent Hill without having those grotesque monsters and walls all around you. The graphics are outstanding in this installment, and have obviously been greatly enhanced since Silent Hill 1. There are two types of Silent Hill you will be constantly crossing between throughout the game, and even when you aren't in the Otherworld--or whatever you choose to call it--the rundown buildings and bloody roads are a great sight. While playing, I found myself just running down every road I could just to see the detail of the areas.
Not only are the graphics and sounds great, but the characters are the real things that make Silent Hill 2 such a great game. I'll give you a basic rundown of the numerous characters you run into throughout Silent Hill 2, while trying to tone down spoilers as much as I can:
James: The main character, a kind-hearted man that means nobody any kind of harm, and just wants to find his beloved wife, and get the HELL OUTTA THAT TOWN. By just listening to the way James says things, you can tell how kind and how down-to-Earth he is.
Mary: We don't know that much about her, except that she's James' wife and she died three years ago... right?
Maria: You meet her fairly early in the game, and immediately James mistakes her for Mary, since she looks exactly like her, excluding the hair and clothes. If you play the sub-scenario, you find out that she is a stripper for the Silent Hill bar, which, if I remember correctly, is called Silent Heaven. We don't know why she's in Silent Hill to begin with until the end of the game, and that's only if you manage to piece things together correctly.
Ed: I found Ed kinda funny, actually, but not that "Haha this guy has the best jokes" funny, just "This guy has some issues, haha" funny. When you meet him, you feel like it couldn't have been at a worse time, seeing how he's throwing up in a toilet when James introduces himself. Later in the game, you realize how twisted he really is, but when he's not being all freaky and messed up in the head, he's probably somewhere eating his lunch.
Angela: She's probably my favorite character, next to James, mainly because she's just messed up in the head. But it's not like she's completely psycho, she's just got a pretty dark past, that I'm sure as hell glad I haven't gone through. It's also not until the end of the game that we find out why she's in Silent Hill, except in the beginning when she just tells you she's looking for her mother.
Laura: This little girl really confuses a lot of players, because, she's just an innocent girl. If this happened to be the first Silent Hill game you've tried, like it was for me, the same exact thing will go through your head when you meet her for the first time: "Why in the hell is a little girl in a town like this? Shouldn't she be terrified of everything?" Well you won't find that out unless you look into the backstory of Silent Hill (and if you want, I could tell you, but I won't tell you here. Bahaha). She also seems to know quite a bit about Mary, which is also revealed to you near the end of the game.
Pyramid Head: I'm NOT leaving this guy out. No way in hell... er, Silent Hill. This guy is easily a symbol for the Silent Hill series, because he's just ****ing awesome. We all need a big guy with a huge helmet on, holding a big, bloody cleaver raping undead mannequins in our nightmares, don't we? Now, without trying to get too into the backstory, Pyramid Head belongs in Silent Hill 2, and Silent Hill 2 ONLY. I was not happy when he was put into SH:Homecoming (want more info on that? Come talk to me).
Every one of these characters could NOT have been developed any better, it just seems impossible to me. They are all near perfect as far as personalities go. I found these characters all completely flawless, they just added to the atmosphere of Silent Hill extremely well. If these characters were absent, or their personalities lacked a bit, I don't think this game would have been as good as it is.
The only problem I had with this game, was the fighting. I know the game isn't supposed to focus on fighting, which is good, I like the fact that they want to focus on scaring you. The only problem was, when you WERE fighting, it was just as simple as running up to something, bashing or shooting it a number of times, and then kicking it in the face to make sure it's dead. That's all it really was throughout the entire game, no variety, just hit it, clarify that it's dead, keep going. That's the only thing I found bad about Silent Hill 2, seriously. It's that good of a game.
One last thing before I give you my overall summary, the radio. Where would Silent Hill be without that glorious radio? We need that static chatter in the background, it's just necessary to make Silent Hill, Silent Hill. Without it, we'd probably be wondering whether or not this is Silent Hill, or Quiet Mound.
Now, my overall summary. This game is great, I absolutely love it. If you're a fan of the series, you gotta play it. It's a definite recommendation in my part, even if you haven't played Silent Hill before. Just know one thing, Silent Hill is NOT Resident Evil. Silent Hill focuses on scaring you by adding eerie things into the background to creep you out. Resident Evil CAN be scary, I'll give it that, but in Resident Evil, anything scary that you come across you can easily just whip out your shotgun and blow it's head off. That's not scary, but it sure as hell blows off steam.
All in all, if you want to get scared, and you're pretty nocturnal, go for Silent Hill 2. Just be a REAL gamer about it. Get the game, wait until 2:30am to play it, turn EVERYTHING off, turn that sound up, sit in the middle of the room, AND PLAY IT. ALL OF IT. DO IT. NOW. ...please?