Following on from a previous post of mine, covering my personal top 7 Survival Horror games, I thought I would fan the flames of controversy by reviewing Silent Hill 2 and explaining why it didn’t reach the number 1 spot on that list. After all, I value honesty when it comes to reviews, so that’s exactly what I am going to be with this one. There are some actual reasons for this too, and they don’t revolve around “I just don’t like it” or anything like that.
On the contrary, I actually really like Silent Hill 2. It was, for a long time, one of my favourite games. However, that changed as gaming moved on (even still within the PS2’s generation) and as I discovered other games. So, let’s take a look at what I love about Silent Hill 2, as well as what kept it from appearing further up that list.
There was a time when I thought that Silent Hill 2 was the absolute pinnacle of Survival Horror storytelling. Every single character had their own motivations and backstory that had led them to the terrifying town of Silent Hill. On top of this, almost every aspect of the story can be interpreted differently, meaning that people always have their own take on major plot elements. Admittedly, the main twist of the game is pretty clear-cut and doesn’t leave room for interpretation, but the rest of the story does.
That was one reason why the game stuck with me for so long. The depth of the storyline and the way that elements of the game’s world and enemies all connect to it was amazing. It still is, to be fair. Plus, the way in which Pyramid Head plays into the story just adds to the unnerving feeling that you get as everything unravels.
For those who don’t know, Silent Hill 2 follows James Sunderland as he returns to the titular town after receiving a letter from his deceased wife saying that she is waiting for him there. Once he gets there, he is confronted by all kinds of horrific creatures, maniacal characters and a little girl seemingly intent on making his life hell. Oh, and that’s only the beginning. He eventually meets a young woman called Maria, who looks like the spitting image of his deceased wife Mary… Yet she has a very different personality and is obviously not Mary.
As the game progresses, things because darker and more confused as the lines between realities seem to blur. That is until you reach the final twist and learn what is really going on. From there, you can get a number of different endings depending on how you progressed through the story. The plot, despite that terrible summary, is actually a work of art!
We should probably ring out a fanfare of some kind, as Silent Hill 2 is officially the first game I have reviewed that gets a 100% score on the storyline!
However, this was probably both the biggest draw for Silent Hill 2 but also the start of it falling short compared to other games. You see, it is obvious that a huge amount of time, thought and detail was put into the story – it would be impossible to make something so deep and complex if that weren’t the case. However, a game cannot survive and grow based entirely on its story… It can thrive for a long time and create lasting memories and fondness… But that can only go so far as game development moves on.
This is where things get a bit more muddled up. You see, when the game first came out it seemed amazing in terms of gameplay. The controls seemed to fine and everything seemed really polished. The monsters felt unique and different, which is always a plus. It just seemed so well crafted… At the time.
However, after playing other PS2 Survival Horror games like Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly or even the controversial Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Silent Hill 2’s gameplay lost some of its charms. Suddenly, it didn’t feel that unique or different anymore. In fact, when I went back to play it after those games, it felt a bit formulaic. The storyline still stood strong, but the gameplay didn’t seem to offer anything new.
The controls felt a bit clunky, although that could be put down to the fact that Silent Hill 2 was one of the first Survival Horror games on the PS2. But it was a bunch of little things building up together that really got to me when I went back to the game.
For example, although I know it is supposed to give you the feeling of isolation, the excessively long run at the start of the game just makes the world feel void of all life, even threats. Yes, it might build up a false sense of security, but then this doesn’t really have a pay off as the introduction to the first enemy is completely telegraphed by mini-cutscenes. On top of this, where the enemies used to feel unique and different, going back to it after a game like Fatal Frame 2 makes you realise how much you are fighting the same few enemy types over and over.
Then, when you compare it to games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the base gameplay feels like Silent Hill 2 didn’t really add anything new to the genre. For example, in Shattered Memories the game psychologically analyses you through your interaction with the game world and the way you answer certain questions. This then leads to the story and gameplay changing, including the enemy designs. This was an awesome gameplay mechanic that was more than just some cheap selling point… It actually meant that people had very different experiences of the game. It was something completely new when it came to the Survival Horror genre.
Silent Hill 2, on the other hand, followed the more typical gameplay ideas for Survival Horror. In short, it felt like the first game but with better graphics and a more interesting storyline. The gameplay itself didn’t really change much. As someone who is a fan of experimentation in game design, this ended up grinding my gears a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Silent Hill 2 and consider it one of the best Survival Horror games ever made… That should be evident as it made my list of the best PS2 Survival Horror games. However, I think it doesn’t quite live up to the rose-tinted nostalgia that I once had for it.
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