To hell with special forces teams.
I have never been part of a super ninja death-squad. The government has never trained me to be a one-man killing machine to fight evil. I have never joined an elite squad of commandos on a daring island raid. I did once make the all-zombie interstate archery team when I was in high school, but I suspect that any secret agent out there could kick my ass.
But why is it that whenever I pick up a new horror game, they want me to play as some sort of supercop? When I play a horror game, I don't want to be a skilled professional doing his (or her) duty. I want to be scared. I want to be terrified. I want to have trouble sleeping at night.
So when Silent Hill came out, I was genuinely excited to be a regular Tom, Dick or (in this case) Harry, and the game was better for it. And I'm also pleased to give a big thumbs-up to Silent Hill 2, a terrifying, chilling, disturbing, and in every sense scary psychological horror game. It's a game that puts you in the shoes of James, a regular guy who is about to be scared out of his wits in the beautiful lakeside hell/resort of Silent Hill. Perfect.
James was never able to get over the death of his wife, Mary. Three years later, he is still an emotional train wreck of a man when he receives a letter from his dead wife, sent from Silent Hill. Ignoring the obvious impossibility of the situation, James travels to the town in a desperate search for his dead wife. He does not receive a warm welcome...
It is, however, a graphically beautiful welcome. Silent Hill 2 takes place in a fully realized 3D world like its predecessor. But while the first one pushed the limits of the PSOne, Silent Hill 2 puts the Playstation 2 through its paces and it's a marvel to watch. The characters look terrific and the monsters are disgustingly freaky. The 3D town has every little detail, down to the little bolts on the fire hydrants and the right names on all the street signs. And as the town gets more and more twisted and you're running down streets made of rusted fencing, leaping over yawning chasms and squeezing in between blood-soaked walls, you'll really miss those street signs.
Fog and darkness are used to really heighten the suspense by not allowing you to see those creepy horrors until you're right on top of them. The game also uses a sort of grainy effect to give it a home video Blair Witch Project feel, and it works great. But the real star of the show is the light. You heard me, the light. The real-time lighting and the shadows that are cast by the multiple light sources - including your flashlight - are simply astonishing. I know it sounds boring, but you'll never really know what you were missing until you see this game. Makes the dark oval that passes for Claire's shadow in Res Evil: Code Veronica X look like a joke.
To match the fantastic visuals is some terrific audio...at least if you turn off that pesky radio so you can hear it better. Like the first game, you carry a radio that blasts static when monsters get near. Not only does this spoil the suspense and the surprise of the game, it's a really annoying noise. But fortunately, you can turn it off, and once you do, you'll be impressed by every footfall and every monster groan. The nerve-wracking music will stand your hair on end as you become convinced there's a hideous beast around every corner. It's just freaky.
Still, Silent Hill 2 is not the perfect scare. The combat is still a little sluggish, although it has been drastically improved over the first Silent Hill. The programmer's insistence that you must walk up and kick every downed monster to really kill it will get annoying. While good, the combat just lacks the precise edge of Resident Evil.
Also, the puzzles can get a bit obtuse. For instance...
I wandered around for nearly an hour checking every door before I finally figured out that I had to drop the 6-pack of juice down the garbage chute before I could proceed. A bit stupid; plus, it's a waste of perfectly good juice.
***END SPOILER, YOU WIMP***
But Silent Hill 2 seems to understand this. For the easily frustrated, or the extremely patient, you can set the puzzle difficulty level at the beginning of the game, which is a very nice feature. And with five different endings, you'll have plenty of time to try and recollect your wits for the next round.
Resident Evil might have more whiz-bang, hotshot, S.T.A.R.S. commando action, but for sheer terrifyingness (scareification? horrorocity?), I'll take Silent Hill 2 any day. Turn out the lights, turn off that damn radio and you'll see what I mean. It eats into your brain (mmmmmm.....) and you won't even notice how jittery you've become until the cat suddenly jumps into your lap and you fling your controller at the ceiling. I think a second vacation in the town of Silent Hill is just what the doctor ordered.