Review: Silent Hill 2

Today is a special day. My backlog has finally brought me to a game that is nothing short of legendary. I’m talking about Silent Hill 2. As most of my readers will know, the Silent Hill series is held in high regard among gamers. But this particular chapter in the series is often considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. Ever since I completed the first Silent Hill game (almost six years ago) I’ve been eager to get my hands on the sequel so that I could see what all the fuss was about. Well, the time finally arrived. When I sat down to play through this game, I decided to do something a little different. I streamed the entire playthrough on Twitch. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do and it was an absolute blast! I enjoyed it so much that I plan on doing this for other reviews in the future. This is something I will provide more details on at a later date. But for now, let’s jump into the review.

Whenever I play through a game for my reviews, I always try to make sure I select the “best” version of the game in question. When I say “best”, I mean a few different things. First off, I look for completeness. If a game was launched on one platform, but then later re-released on another system with an extra level or some special DLC, I typically go for the release with the most content. Second, I always try for the most technically advanced version of the game possible. When talking about older games, this usually means it has been remastered for HD resolutions or has improved textures, etc. Of course, I do have exceptions to these rules. If a newer version radically changes the gameplay or contains major censorship, that’s a big negative for me. Also from-the-ground-up remakes tend to give me pause, as they typically end up being a different beast entirely when compared to the original game.

In the case of Silent Hill 2, the “best version” issue can be a bit complicated. So, bear with me a moment while I explain which release of the game I decided to play. There’s essentially four versions of the game to choose from; the original PS2 release, the Xbox version (also known as Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams), the “Greatest Hits” re-release for PS2, and the HD remake for PS3/Xbox 360. The vanilla PS2 version is the original release of the game, it features the main scenario and nothing more. The Xbox and PS2 re-releases are essentially identical and contain the original game with additional endings and an extra playable chapter. The HD remake takes all of the content from the Xbox/Greatest Hits release and presents it at a higher resolution, better textures, and new voice acting. So, it sounds like the HD release would certainly be the one to play, right? Well, that’s what I thought too. But it didn’t take long for me realize that something seemed a little off about this version of the game. Yes, the graphics were sharp and clear when compared to screenshots I’d seen of the PS2 release. But, they just didn’t look right… For starters, most of the fog effects were missing from the game. On top of that, I encountered audio issues and even the occasional graphical glitch. After doing a bit of research, I found out that when the studio went to remaster the original game in HD, it was discovered that the source code for the final version had been lost. So the remake team had to use an incomplete beta as a source for their remaster. This explains many of the glitches I encountered. But what’s up with the fog? The Silent Hill series is famous for it’s dramatic use of fog effects, after all. Well, as it turns out, the PS3 just isn’t able to properly replicate the fog effects rendered by the PS2’s Emotion Engine chip. Now, I’m not saying that the HD remake is unplayable. But, for a Silent Hill game, atmosphere is everything. So, for the best experience I recommend ignoring the HD remake and going with either the Xbox or the PS2 re-release.

I suppose that I should also mention that a PC version of the game does exist. But this version has never been released digitally and physical copies have been out of print for a long time. If by some chance you happen to own a copy, there is a fan-made patch that updates the game for modern systems here: Silent Hill 2 – Enhanced Edition.

For my review, I played the Greatest Hits re-release for PS2.

The story of Silent Hill 2 focuses on the character of James Sunderland. Prior to the events of the game, James and his wife Mary spent a vacation in Silent Hill. Some months later, Mary is diagnosed with a terminal illness and eventually passes away. Three years after Mary’s death, James receives a mysterious letter in the mail that appears to be written by his late wife. It says that she has come to Silent Hill and she’s waiting for James to meet her in their “special place”. The game begins when James arrives on the outskirts of Silent Hill. He finds that the road leading into town closed and he is forced to enter the town on foot. It doesn’t take long to realize that something strange is going on. At first glance, the town appears to be abandoned. But as he explores the city streets, he discovers that monsters roam the town. Adamant to discover the source of the letter, James braves the nightmarish horrors that lie before him. During his time exploring, James meets a handful of people. Each person he meets also seems to have been drawn to the town by unusual circumstances. One of individuals that crosses is path is a woman named Maria, a spitting image of his former wife…

For the most part, this game plays very similar to the original Silent Hill. Most of the gameplay is spent exploring the town and looking for clues that might lead to Mary’s whereabouts. Often times, the player’s path is blocked by some obstacle that must be overcome. Perhaps it is a sinkhole in the middle of a road, or a locked door. Typically, the solution lies in the solving of some puzzle that allows the player to progress.

Being a survival horror title, playing Silent Hill 2 can be a pretty creepy experience. The game uses atmospheric visuals and ambient sounds to set the mood. Notably absent however, is a large number of cheap jump-scares. Most of the fear players will feel while working through this game will come from their own imagination. Of course, this is fueled with a little help from the backstory and lore that is doled out to the player over the course of game itself. This experience is unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game before. Sure, I’ve played nail-biting horror games. But usually, this feeling is created because you’ve learned there’s something terrible behind every door. Silent Hill 2 doesn’t really rely on this tactic. Instead, it plays off the player’s expectation that something horrible must be coming based on what they’ve learned or observed. This is a difficult concept to explain, but one that will become obvious to anyone who plays the game.

The game controls are very much a product of its time. There’s still no player controlled camera. So occasionally, you will not be able to see a monster that is standing directly in front of you simply because the camera won’t shift view for a few more steps. The default controls also still feature the classic tank-like style of movement found in both the original Silent Hill and early Resident Evil games. Thankfully, there is an alternate control option in the game’s settings that drastically improves the playcontrol.

Silent Hill 2 features multiple endings. The ending you receive is decided by the behavior of the person playing the game. For example, if the player is particularly attentive to one of the NPCs, they are more likely to receive one ending. On the other hand, if they remain very self-centered, another ending is triggered.

If you’re playing the Xbox, PS2 re-release, or the HD remaster, there’s a short second scenario titled “Born from a Wish” that serves as prequel to the main game. In this chapter, you get to play as the character of Maria and see a little of her backstory before she meets up with James in the main scenario. Players who complete both the main game and Born from a Wish can replay the main scenario with some additional content and new possible endings.

I found my time with this game to be incredibly enjoyable. Everything about the experience was top-tier; the story, the tension, the visuals – you name it. In fact, I enjoyed it even more than the first Silent Hill. For this review, I only played the main game and the additional scenario. I didn’t go back through a second time to see the additional endings. But I enjoyed my time with this game so much, that I have no doubt I’ll actually be doing just that.

Silent Hill 2 is a very psychological game. Both in terms of the story content and the way affects the person playing it. As I said earlier, there’s very few jump-scares in the game. Most of the horror is generated by your own fears and the tension of wondering what’s around the next corner. This type of effect can be difficult for game developers to achieve. But Silent Hill 2 manages to nail it perfectly.

Version Reviewed: PS2

Difficulty: Variable –  When starting a new game, there are difficulty options for both the game itself and the various puzzles found within the game. This allows players to fine-tune their experience. For my playthrough I left both of these settings on Normal and found the game to be just a bit easier than I expected, but there were still a few tense moments. This is the setting that I recommend for first-time players. But after completing the game once, I do feel that one of the higher settings would probably be recommended.

Multiplayer: No.

Story: The storyline for this game is simply amazing. It’s going to be difficult for me to say much about it without ruining the a big part of the game. But, trust me when I tell you – it’s good! Silent Hill 2 does a great job of leaving little narrative breadcrumbs for the player to find and piece together. Players who take the time to fully explore the environment will finds plenty of extra clues and tidbits that only enhance the game’s story even further.

Originality: By this point in the time, the survival horror genre had been well established. Silent Hill 2 stays fresh by introducing a strong narrative combined with psychological elements. The end result is a game that feels unique and better than nearly any other of its type.

Soundtrack: The game does feature some music at various points. These tunes are catchy but honestly speaking, not a big part of the game. Most of the game’s audio attention is focused on ambient sounds and dialogue. The voice acting is very well done regardless of the version you play. The HD remake offers the option of the original voice cast or a new reading with different actors. In my opinion, either one is just fine.

Fun: If you like spooky/horror games, it doesn’t get any better than this. Everything from the graphics to the sound is perfect for this type of game. You’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are fairly standard fare for a PS2 title. But, in my opinion, they actually come across better than they should due to the lighting and fog effects present in the game. Without a doubt, the HD remaster has better overall visuals than the original versions. But, these improved textures come at the cost of other visual elements. The PS2 and Xbox versions provide a really nice “film grain” feel and the fog effects are stunning – these elements are missing from the remaster.

Playcontrol: The default controls are a bit stiff and clunky. But thankfully there are options in the game that fix this to a large degree. The fixed camera is something that takes a bit getting used to, but it is not as bad as other games from this era. Combat is probably the worst thing about the controls in this game. Often times, enemies can fall out of range of melee attacks while the player is mid-swing. Also, the auto-aim feature when using guns seems finicky and inaccurate at times.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violent and grotesque imagery. Mild language. Occult references and an overall horrific atmosphere.

Value:  The Silent Hill: HD Collection featuring both this game and Silent Hill 3 is available on the Xbox marketplace for around $30.00. While not the version of the game I recommend, if this is your only option, the price is affordable. Used copies of the Xbox or PS2 versions often go for $50 or more. Even though I feel these are the vastly superior versions, it’s difficult to recommend paying that much when the HD Collection is available digitally.

Overall score (1-100): 95 – It’s easy to see why this game has garnered such acclaim over the years. For me, it ranks right up there with the Resident Evil remake as one of the best survival horror games I’ve played. The visuals, the atmosphere, the story – everything is perfect. Playcontrol is the only real issue with the game, and this alone prevents it from reaching a perfect score. But regardless, there’s no denying that Silent Hill 2 is truly worthy of its legendary reputation.

Original System: PS2

Available today on:  Xbox One/X/S  – (Updated as of Summer 2022)

Best Experience: PS2*, Xbox     [*Greatest Hits re-release] (Updated as of Summer 2022)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Silent Hill   –   Silent Hill 2   –   Silent Hill 3   –   Silent Hill 4   –    Silent Hill: Origins   –    Silent Hill: Homecoming   –   Silent Hill: Shattered Memories   –   Silent Hill: Downpour

Silent Hill: Book of Memories

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