maanantai 23. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Silent Hill 2 - Director's Cut (2002)

Genre(s): Action / Survival horror
Released: 2002
Available on: PC, PS2, Xbox
Developer(s): Konami, Team Silent, Creature Labs
Publisher(s): Konami
Players: 1

In 2001, Konami released the anticipated sequel to their 1999 surprise Silent Hill. The second installment in the series was ported in the end of the year to PC and Xbox, as an enhanced version. It included an extra side scenario which gave the players the opportunity to play as one of the game’s major supporting characters in another situation, and find out some more about the game’s intriguing storyline – and a new ending. To prove they didn’t forget PlayStation owners in any name, Konami released this revised game on the PS2 as Silent Hill 2 – Director’s Cut. What was originally a damn good game, is still a damn good game... and a bit of the famous “then some”.

Sanity left town

Guy Cihi : James Sunderland
Monica Horgan : Mary / Maria Shepherd-Sunderland
Donna Burke : Angela Orosco
David Schaufele : Eddie Dombrowski
Florence Minowa : Laura / Amy Baldwin
Ward E. Sexton : Ernest Baldwin

James Sunderland is an ordinary 30-year old man with an utterly irrelevant, sad life. One day he receives a letter in which he is summoned to the town of Silent Hill, signed by his wife Mary. The odd thing is that Mary has been dead for three years, as the result of a devastating disease. Doubting his sanity and the authenticity of the letter, James goes to Silent Hill and all he finds is a deserted ghost town. Unnatural beings roam the streets, a thick mist devours every corner of the town and step by step, James’ life is turning into a living nightmare. Further clues and the few people he meets lead James closer to the truth about Mary, but what if it’s too much for him to bear?

This game looks awesome. Some people have seriously bitched about the game’s look, but I love it. The grainy, underdefined graphics give it somewhat of a Blair Witch look, like someone’s watching James all the time; it has been completely and utterly misinterpreted by some assholes who simply don’t understand what the game stands for and what the developers tried to accomplish with it. The game looks just as disturbing as it’s supposed to. It’s audiovisual horror at its very best – which brings us to the sound effects, which are simply amazing. The screeching, screaming... hell, even the sound of footsteps alone play a huge part in what this game represents. Akira Yamaoka proves himself as one of the leading composers of video game music in the world today, with simply unforgettable songs such as “Theme of Laura” and “Betrayal”. This game set some standards, and if nothing else has remained in the series to date, this audiovisual presentation has to some extent. Huge props.

The voice acting is OK. All of the voice actors are in-house talent, and taking that into consideration, I must say they could’ve done worse. I hate Laura as a character – there are not many kids I like in video games in general – so I writhe in disgust every time I hear that little brat utter the slightest line, and I don’t like Angela either but in her case the origin of my repulsion is her voice, not the character. The acting’s a BIT overdone. The actress, Donna Burke, returned for another round in Silent Hill 3 and I think her Broadway-wannabe performance in that game proved my point of view.

The bathroom from which our trip begins. Hey,
better to go now than later.
Silent Hill... where to begin? Let’s take a trip back to 1999. I had no idea that a survival horror game named Silent Hill was out to challenge Resident Evil, which was my favourite non-RPG video game franchise at the time. I tried the game once at that time, my friend had a pirated copy of the NTSC version on his modded PlayStation. I thought it was damn scary, and damn hard – I didn’t have the chance to try or even see the game again, but the game definitely left a mark on me. I kept a lookout for anything related to it. Back in 2003, I bought the PS2 and Silent Hill 2 – Director’s Cut was one of the first games that followed this purchase. At first, I didn’t like the game at all. I hated the idea of roaming around a town where there’s practically only one spot you can go to, to really make progress in the game. Because of just running around like an idiot, I found it very hard to focus on the storyline, too. At one point in the game which I’ll leave unmentioned, I got stuck. Completely stuck in a video game for the first time in years, and there was no way out of the situation but return to my old hobby of running around like an idiot by starting the game over. I bought more games all the time, and Silent Hill 2 ended up gathering dust on the shelf for several months – actually, almost a year! – until, for some reason, I bought Silent Hill 3. It was an illogical move, but worth it. After beating that game for the first time I suddenly became hooked with the franchise. I brushed the dust away and started Silent Hill 2 over. I haven’t regretted that decision for one moment since, as Silent Hill 2 really is a remarkable game, and one of the best survival horror games in history. All the sick twists in the storyline make the game feel like a great movie David Lynch never made, and it’s filled with professional imagery and incredible sound, a thick atmosphere and good gameplay.

So, the player dons the sneakers of James Sunderland, a regular Joe with a regular job, and starts exploring Silent Hill with not more than a map and a picture of James’ late wife. Many roads within the town limits are blocked in one way or another. Playing the game for the first time may evoke some very bitter feelings, because it misleads the player to several dead ends with no shame at all. Luckily the streets are laid out quite simply, and a red cross is drawn on the map every time you come to a dead end to keep you from falling to the same trap twice. Exploring the streets enough triggers the first fight, which results in our “hero” getting his very first weapon – a wooden plank – which gets us surprisingly far, and the radio, which can luckily be turned off. Seriously, it doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose. The static which is supposed to alert you of enemies’ presence doesn’t help, and it certainly doesn’t scare one bit. It took Konami one more game to figure that out. Everything else in this game will rattle your psyche, especially when you get off those damn streets roaming around like a complete moron and listening to the echoes of the first game. Following a series of clues leads us to the first “stage”, an apartment building, and at that point the game really begins and lays out a quite clear, but free and deliciously complex route which will eventually lead you to the climax. In other words, that’s the point in which Silent Hill 2 transforms from the exploration of nothing, to one of the scariest, most influential and best survival horror games of all time. On the second time around, the importance of the game’s first sequences becomes a bit clearer, and playing surprisingly becomes a little more interesting. Silent Hill 2 is one rare game because it’s better on the second time!

Combat in this game has been criticized for the same reasons as the first game’s combat. In a way, there’s a good reason, but is it, really? Many people complain about the controls and character behaviour, which are admittedly less responsive than in Resident Evil, to name an obvious example. First, you need to incapacitate an enemy, in other words knock it down and then stomp on it to make sure it’s dead – please do that, ‘cause some of them can carry on forever and annoy you to extremes. The behaviour and methods suit the character. Every die-hard fan who stopped caring after Silent Hill 4 knows that. James has no combat skills; he’s an ignorant clerk in some shop wherever the hell he’s from. Everyone can’t be like Ash in Evil Dead – although the game does actually include a reference to him. James is scared shitless. Wouldn’t you be? You expect him to throw a series of tasty punchlines, aim for the head and whip everyone’s ass without ever breaking a sweat? Go home, wrong game! The controls are fine in comparison to the first game, they could be better, but at least the camera’s not a big problem once you learn to use it manually, and the aiming system is smarter. Stop whining about James’ incompetence. It’s part of the character, and part of what used to be so great about the franchise.

Hellish puzzles are an important part of the Silent Hill experience alongside high levels of psychological horror. So, normally you have a choice of three or four different difficulty levels, which affect enemy strength, numbers etc., but in this game, you ALSO have the option of choosing the difficulty level of the puzzles. Easy and Normal are quite simple to those who excel at riddles and puzzles, but if you want some true, up-the-ass challenge – and for some reason, want to get stuck in the game – try Hard or better yet, Extra. You’re in for some tears, seriously. All of the puzzles have incredible logic to them, and they’re marvellously designed. Unfortunately, you can’t change the combat and puzzle levels once you’ve started the game, so be honest to yourself about your own skills.

The obtainable items are not highlighted in the same way they were in the first game, in an effort to make the environment more realistic – so James was made to automatically look and lock his eyes on curious items around him. A very cool graphical detail, which is also beneficial to the gameplay, especially when you’re collecting items scattered on the streets. One of the most important changes, in my opinion, is that you can now take each memo, note, drawing, writing on the wall or whatever of the kind with you and read it at any time, so you no longer have to backtrack to a clue or write it down yourself when and if you’re stuck on a tricky puzzle.

There’s a total of six different endings in this version of the game, amazing weapons, fabulous design in characters and environment, tons of storyline details which you’ll probably want to pay more attention to after the first round, and plenty of unlockable stuff. The most curious unlockable, of course, is Born from a Wish – the subscenario starring a major character whose identity I choose not to spoil, although most of you know exactly who it is. The subscenario brings a few more puzzles and storyline threads to the table, introduces a new character and all in all, gives an enthusiast about 30 to 45 minutes to spend in the world of Silent Hill 2. Very nice.

That's one deep fuckin' hole, right there.
Not very hard on the first, normal round. The real challenge here is to unlock everything. Many endings in the game are tricky to accomplish, but one is just downright difficult if you don’t know the exact criteria you should attempt to meet. I mentioned getting stuck in the game for many months, and thinking in retrospect – I have beaten the game eight times, and have unlocked everything – I could’ve never survived that situation because I was out of decent ammo. A good tip is that you should save all your ammo to situations you really need guns in, and try to cope with the melée weapons as long as you personally can. You’ll be surprised how long you can actually survive. Once you are able to tone down on your trigger happiness, you should have no problems in beating the game. Try the hard mode(s) to see what the game is really made of – you’ll have your hands full in combat and a devastating cramp in your brain due to the puzzles.

I think I pretty much summed it up when I said: “All the sick twists in the storyline make the game feel like a great movie David Lynch never made, and it’s filled with professional imagery and incredible sound, a thick atmosphere and good gameplay.” Damn right. And righteous. Silent Hill 2 is remarkable as it is better than many horror films of the past two decades. It introduced the series to mainstream audiences who missed the first one despite its critical success. Silent Hill 3 did one better in terms of controls and graphical effects, and Silent Hill 4 is arguably the scariest game in the series although it’s not a masterpiece in any way – but Silent Hill 2 is the most balanced title, an enjoyable, scary game in itself, a mental maelstrom that won’t let you go once it begins. Not even when it ends.

Graphics : 9.2
Sound : 9.5
Playability : 9.0
Challenge : 8.8
Overall : 9.1


a.k.a. Silent Hill 2: Saigo no Uta (JAP), Silent Hill 2 (PC), Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Xbox U.S.), Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears (Xbox EU)

GameRankings: 70.33% (PC), 90.00% (PS2), 82.40% (Xbox)

The license plates of the cars would indicate that Silent Hill is located in the state of Michigan.

Silent Hill’s infrastructure is partly based on San Bruno, California.

The streets are named after famed authors, including Lewis Carroll and Thomas Harris.

Mary is named after Mary Ann Nichols and Mary Jane Kelly, the first and last victims of Jack the Ripper.

Angela is named after Angela Bennett, Sandra Bullock’s character in The Net.

Eddie was originally intended to be a very humorous, optimistic and kind character, and named after Eddie Murphy.

There are quite a few references to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult TV classic Twin Peaks. The first, most obvious reference is the setting – a small town filled with secrets. The second is the complete difference in persona of two individuals who look exactly the same (Mary/Maria in the game, Laura/Madeleine in the show), which on the other hand was Lynch’s reference to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, originally. In the show, there was a character named James, who was in love with a dead woman. Also, a character named Ed (or Eddie), who worked at a gas station, and a character named Laura. Eddie’s last name is Dombrowski, which was the last name of a girl named Louise, who was mentioned once during the show’s second season.

The Blue Creek apartment building in itself is a reference to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. “Blue” for the movie’s title, and “Creek” as a synonym for “River”. The apartment building in the movie was called Deep River, and the buildings in the game have similar blueprints that the building in the movie. Blue Velvet is also referenced in the scene in which James locks himself up in the wardrobe to hide from Pyramid Head, then shoots him once he gets a bit too close to the closet door. This is a recreation of one of the final scenes in the movie, in which Jeffrey Beaumont kills Frank Booth.

The game references Adrian Lyne’s movie Jacob’s Ladder. James wears the same clothes as the film’s main character Jacob Singer, who coincidentally sees disfigured, scarily abstract monsters wherever he goes. One of the apartments which James needs to get into in order to find a way to the back alley of the building, belongs to a person named Lyne.

Since the game’s release Pyramid Head – the bringer of judgement – has become one of the most popular and recognizable characters in the Silent Hill universe. He has since appeared in the movie adaptation of the franchise, Silent Hill – The Arcade, Silent Hill Homecoming and New International Track & Field, alongside several Konami characters including Solid Snake and Sparkster.

If you kill an enemy with a chainsaw and then stand over the fallen body for a few seconds, James holds up the chainsaw and screams out in the same way as Ash (Bruce Campbell) in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.

“In Water” is supposedly the official ending of the game.

Harry Mason from the first Silent Hill game makes a cameo appearance in the candid UFO ending.

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