Prepare to play Silent Hill 2 while crouched behind the sofa armed only with your wits and a twinpack of toilet paper. Without equivocation, this is the scariest game ever devised. The original Silent Hill was slated as Konami’s answer to the Resident Evil series and was categorised as Survival Horror — a bit of a misnomer. Silent Hill isn’t about horror, it’s all about fear. Macabre, paralysing, chilled to the bone, psychological torment.
The gore-splattered Resident Evil games took their influence from George Romero’s ‘dead’ schlock zombiethon films, whereas Silent Hill has an altogether more cerebral sway. Imagine the literary Gothicism of Edgar Allan Poe combined with the disorienting suspense of Hitchcock, and you have an idea of Silent Hill 2’s privileged heritage.
The game starts with James Sunderland receiving a letter from his beloved wife who’s writing from the sleepy American town of Silent Hill. The problem is she died three years ago from a serious illness so, naturally, you set off in a confused stupor to discover what’s going on.
Expect lashings of dark imagery as you try to find out Silent Hill’s secrets. I dare you to play at home on your own with the lights out — see how long you last. Be warned before you play: Silent Hill 2 hails from Japan, a country adept at exploring adult ideas through popular cultural outlets, and it covers some psychosexual themes in the plot. They aren’t superfluous, because they’re key to understanding aspects of the storylines.
Action takes place from a third-person perspective and, though the control system is better with a gamepad, you soon get used to the keyboard combination. Fortunately, the control system was designed with fluidity in mind so it’s easy to pick up. As you progress through the game you collect clues and the plot unfolds through excellent CGI (computer-generated imagery) sequences.
The puzzles can be unspeakably hard but not impossible and, interestingly, you get different endings based on your style of play. Silent Hill 2 is not a happy place — even endings are tinged with dark and tragic threads, so if you make it to the finish it’s one of the few games that won’t cheer you up.
Silent Hill 2 already looked good on the PS2 but this PC conversion gives an incredible amount of detail to its grotesque beauty. The volumetric fog and lighting are not only well applied but also vital to the ambience of this game, and the overall soundscape adds brilliantly to the creepy atmosphere.
Konami has pulled off the abandoned town feel brilliantly and the fully exploratory 3D definitely elevates the Silent Hill series above Resident Evil. This Director’s Cut version adds a chapter not seen in the original PS2 game and gives you the chance to play Maria, a character you meet in the main game.
SH2 doesn’t quite pull off the hallucinatory descent into madness that made the first game so spectacular, but it plays out with such panache that it’s worth retreading some of the same ground. Forget the morality issues surrounding games like Grand Theft Auto 3 — this really is a game you shouldn’t let your children get their hands on.