To hell with special forces teams.
I'm not a tough guy. I'm bad with swords. I know how to shoot a gun, but I'd rather cook up some fettuccine in clam sauce with some fresh basil, capers and a twist of lemon. For the most part, I'm a regular, run-of-the-mill game nerd, though I do have X-ray vision.
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 for the Playstation, I was genuinely excited to be a regular Tom, Dick or (in this case) Harry, and the game was better for it. And I was just as excited about playing ordinary guy James in the PS2's Silent Hill 2 for the same reason. Now the Xbox version, technically titled Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams, has leapt out from behind the bookcase, which is great for Xbox-only owners, but PS2 players will find no real reason to spend money on another vacation in the beautiful lakeside hell/resort of Silent Hill.
Either way, Silent Hill 2 is a terrifying, chilling, disturbing, and in every sense scary psychological horror game. 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...
Silent Hill 2 takes place in a fully realized 3D world, but while the game pushed the limits of the Playstation 2, we know from games like Haloand Max Payne that the Xbox is capable of more. I guess I didn't really expect Konami to create all new character models and textures just for the Xbox version, but I was really hoping they would. Regardless, the characters still look good and the monsters are disgustingly freaky, exactly like the PS2 version. In fact, running side by side, it's difficult telling the two apart.
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 Projectfeel, and it works great. For those who hated the grainy effect, the Xbox version lets you turn it off. 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 and are one of the few Xbox graphical tweaks that are improved over the PS2. 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 firstSilent 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.
The only real addition to the Xbox version is a new playable mission, which is a pretty good addition when you think about it. While a bit short, you do get to play as a new character: deranged, confusing psycho-chick Maria, whom you encounter throughout the game as James. More Silent Hill mythology awaits you.
So the Xbox version is pretty much the PS2 version exactly, plus a nice dessert, and normally, I'd give it exactly the same grade. But honestly, I ranked the PS2 game a little high. Perhaps I was originally a little overexcited about Silent Hill 2, but I was just so creeped out at the time. As I played more, I noticed the extremely low variation in enemies and some other small complaints. So I'm going to give the Xbox version a B+, because that's the grade it deserves. In retrospect, it's the grade that both console versions deserve.
Resident Evil might have more whiz-bang, hotshot, S.T.A.R.S. commando action, but for sheer terrifyingness (scareification? horrorocity?), I'll takeSilent Hill 2 any day. Turn out the lights, turn off that damn radio and you'll see what I mean.