Sunday, September 14, 2014

VGR Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams

VGR: Silent Hill 2 also known as Silent Hill 2: Saigo no Uta in Japan (Silent Hill 2: The Final Song), Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears or also Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams, and later re-released under the title of Silent Hill 2: Director's Cut
From Team Silent/Creature Labs/Creature Labs/Hijinx Studios (HD re-edition)/Konami Computer Entertainment  
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS2, Xbox, PC & PS3

Type Survival horror/Psychological horror game
Year 2001

Following the impressive unexpected huge success of the original Silent Hill, making a sequel was an obvious move to make next.

Once again, this episode was developed by Konami's own internal development group Team Silent, which went on being responsible for the first four original SH games from 1999 to 2004. Silent Hill 1 had been directed by Keiichiro Toyama, but he left the studio at the time to make another original survival horror game instead, Siren. Masashi Tsuboyama took over the directing duties for this title. For the rest of Team Silent, the same core team mostly stayed on board. Meaning Hiroyuki Owaku as the writer of the game, Masahiro Ito, the creature designer, Takayoshi Sato as CGi creator, Gozo Kitao serving as executive producer and finally the great Akira Yamaoka, working from then on as series sound director and composer.

Silent Hill 2 was first released for PS2 in 2001. A later extended cut followed that same year for Xbox as Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears in Europe). That cut was later ported back to PS2 as "Director's Cut", that same Director's Cut was also released on PC later on. Each port having its own regional subtitle. (it's a bit confusing, I know...)

And finally the above-pictured Silent Hill HD Collection saw a remastered version of SH2 released for both Xbox 360 and PS3 (but more on that below..).

Silent Hill 2 offers a similar experience to SH1. In that it still revolves around exploring the town of Silent Hill while the town is mysteriously swallowed by the omnipresent fog, seemingly abandoned and invaded by all these monsters. The objective is to explore this town while surviving the journey, solving various puzzles, and finding out about your main character as well the secrets behind the town.

The game was proposed has an half-way expansion/sequel to the ideas of the original game while kinda offering a re-imagined similar experience as that same game. It was going to be a launch title for the PS2 (before Konami could get the specs for the later Xbox and GameCube). It follows the same basic concept of the previous game. It's not a direct sequel instead following a brand new protagonist now.

You play as James Sunderland. James was called to the town of Silent Hill through a strange letter he received from is apparently deceased wife waiting for him at their old "special place".

The main story is titled "Letter from Silent Heaven". On his way to Silent Hill, James meets this woman named Angela at the cemetery, she's also looking for someone, her mother.

After looking all over town, he finally meets this other woman, someone shockingly looking like his wife Mary, named Maria.

During the course of the story James will learn/rediscover the truth about Mary's death...

And also meet a few other faces. Eddie, a runaway that had it with people insulting him or calling him fat. And Laura, this young 8-year old who seemed to knew Mary.

After meeting Maria in the park, they go to the nearby hospital. This huge Red Pyramid Thing starts going after them there. Finally James remembers that Silent Hill hotel they spent some time together in, many years ago.

James tries to get to the Lake from the Silent Hill museum... and finds himself falling into several dark pits... literally...

As James explorers the darkest facets of Silent Hill, he learns how Angela was often abused by her father, that Eddie killed his bullies and a dog and was on the run ever since. The museum scenery leaves the way for a prison. The prison for a darker prison of the mind.

As he arrives at the hotel, James starts to remember... Was he the one that actually killed his own dying wife to put an end to her sufferance...?

Once again, Silent Hill 2 is a third person survival horror game using tank controls.

But unlike older games, it uses fully 3D-rendered environments so you can take control over the camera for a more "modern" behind the back-view to provide a better look at things. Which means you can even select controls dependent from James (and the cinematic angles) or the camera.

The game is mostly exploration and running away from the underwhelming number of monsters you see around. You also have to solve several riddles to progress.

The creatures were brilliantly designed by Masahiro Ito. This time there's a whole theme going on in their appearances. The monsters took in SH2 more feminine features, because they come directly from the mind of James (and his frustrations regarding his dying wife). Who doesn't associate Silent Hill now with its iconic Bubble Head Nurses? Well, apart from the one single obviously male figure, the now iconic Pyramid Head. Some later problems with the series came to be out defining this episode was. Pyramid Head has since become a huge iconic representative creature of the franchise. And despite its great use in this game, Pyramid Head went on too be way too big an icon for its own good, now making many more appearances through most of the SH games, movies and comics. And since it's not tied to our protagonist of James anymore, they kinda lost their impact over the years... But, hey, Pyramid Head's appearance in the later episode can sort of be explained since it apparently was inspired to James from a classic painting you can see at the Silent Hill museum. James saw it there, so others could just as well, of course.

The general "HUB" are the streets of Silent Hill filled with monsters. James has to explore all these streets while looking for his wife, which then sends him to explore all these different places.

The game doesn't feature any HUD menu, which wasn't really usual at the time. You can get all the info you need via the pause menu. The only real way to check on James' health, items and whatnot.

You can collect several maps. They're needed to be able to locate your position.

To check those above things as well as interact with your environment, James must have a flashlight on. The map gets updated as you explore the settings, it gets marked with the locked doors, the important locations, etc.

Once more, your protagonist can find a radio pretty early on. In Silent Hill the presence of monsters always gives your electronic devices static.

Turning both the radio and the flashlight off, most monsters won't be able to pick you up as long as you're not near them.

Finally a very useful little feature that will help you not miss anything, as long as you notice it: James will be looking at nearby objects you can pick up directly. So be aware of and attentive to your own character's state!

Puzzles are mostly in the form of riddles to interpret and solve. Some get really difficult, that's probably why there's a "riddle difficult level" this time!

To fight back, James can grab lots of stuff along his journey way. From simple melee weapons at first like planks to a few "normal" firearms you will find in these environments (no rocket launchers in this game!). You're even able to grab Pyramid Haad's huge knife at some point (even though it's able to kill most monsters AND bosses in single hit, I wouldn't really recommend it since it's so sluggish to control).

You're given plenty of hints of the backstory of the town through the various notes and documents you find in the game. How Silent Hill is able to draw from the subconscious of the people called back there, each one's given to this really odd alternate take on the real world. The introduction of the story takes James slowly into this "fog world" dimension where the dead apparently can interact with the living. But at some later points you will cross over a much darker "reality"...

Laura, this little girl, doesn't seem to see any of the monsters in town.

The story of the game took a lot of inspiration and influences for various kind of sources. They were perfectly able to recapture the atmosphere of "psychological horror" the first SH did, while trying to expand on both the psychological side and exploring the mind of the protagonist rather than offering a whole convulsed plot like the first one (the whole rituals and sect-thing from the original game).

The art direction and tone of the game takes most of its cues from such films as the work of directors David Cronenberg, David Fincher, David Lynch and also Alfred Hitchcock, as well as most of its basis from the original classic psychological thrilller film Jacob's Ladder. Silent Hill 2 taking just as much from Jacob' Ladder as the original game, from its director Adrian Lyne to James sharing the same initials as the protagonist Jacob Singer, actually wearing the same kind of green army jacket, even Maria's role pretty close to the "temptress" Jezebel in that film, her relation to the main character and the wife of both protagonists. The same nightmarish hospital imagery filled with these faceless demons...

They also drew some inspiration back from the 1992 game classic Alone in the Dark. Finally most of the plot takes also some cues from the classic novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The game looks great. They put a lot of work and effort into making these gorgeous shadow effects, trying to recapture at best how actual shadows are cast on walls with a flashlight.

The game is fairly long, there's a lot to do and explore. And it features about 6 different endings. Since most SH games are never properly linked or direct sequels to another another, all these endings are usually kept ambiguous to any real canon, and SH2 is no different. All of these endings are possible to obtain depending on your playthrough, lots factors are taken into account, which will result at the end of the day in either James resurrecting Mary to instead leaving town with Maria or just plain ditching all hope and committing suicide.

The Silent Hill series has had its fair share of random scifi twist endings, but the ones in Silent Hill 2 takes the cake. There are two secret harder endings to get, "joke endings" only possible on a second playthrough. In the "Dog ending" it is revealed a dog was behind everything that happened in Silent Hill, he orchestrated all the events of the story! The "UFO ending" (a staple of the series over years!) shows James meeting Harry from the previous game...

It's kinda uncanny and funny how this is now usual for such a serious series, since then.

An additional secondary scenario is included in most later ports of Silent Hill 2, titled  "Born from a Wish", from Maria's point of view before she ever met James. It's a fairly interesting and decent side story taking play shortly before both met. Maria wakes up with no memories, but she somehow knew there were monsters around and nobody out anymore. She finds a gun, thinks about suicide.. but she instead ends up exploring a local mansion where she gets a warning about faith and James' arrival. She goes looking for him... 

Akira Yamaoka composed a lot of pretty effective and memorable themes, which are played through the score. Evocative cues mixing torgether along the story. 
Team Silent put great emphasis on the sound effects of this game. Everything carefully planned and recorded, such as simple footsteps changing depending on the type of ground you walk on, contributing in their own way to the unsettling atmosphere of thw town.

The game went on becoming a huge success, to a mostly overwhelming positive reception from the audience and critics alike. It quickly oversold over a million of copies worldwide. And for good reason!

Silent Hill 2 has a fantastic atmosphere, well detailed graphics, a captivating story and stunning creature designs. Sure some people might find the controls difficult, but really? I mean, come on! This is not as awkward as most survival horror games (think Resident Evil). Those are much better, precise and top notch perfect controls that answer to the eye. Sure, RPG or FPS fans might really be the only ones having problem getting the hang of those, but the game runs much smoother than most current titles of the genre.

Overall,Silent Hill 2 is a timeless classic.

A pretty captivating game, with an engrossing story, gorgeous graphics and atmosphere.

It's a really mature game, handling so many dark themes and taboo subjects. This is not a game for kids! It warrants an actual R-Rated mature label without any swear words!

A Silent Hill HD Collection containing both Silent Hill 2 and 3 (no SH1 for some reason...) was recently released in 2012 for both the PS3 and 360. The SH2 port was kinda butchered here and there. Despite featuring now decent higher definition models and textures, it's not without several flaws. Since the guy at Hijinx Studios were not able to get their hands on any available original masters, they had to work from an earlier unfinished build of the game. There's a new voice actors option, you can select either the original ones or the new voices. The new voices are really odd, if you're checking those and are familiar with the classic, since those voices sound so different for most characters and most notably James. The lip-synch is also really off. The real problem is that there's a lot of bugs and glitches since they made the HD port from an unfinished release. They even had to patch the game on the launch date, but the update didn't fix most issues. It makes the HD release feel really rushed in the corners. The main problem is with the fog being way too clear and transparent,  showing way too many incomplete environments that should have stayed hidden by fog. Still, Silent Hill 2 HD stays techincally a great game, with a great atmosphere mostly intact and it keeps the quality of the original game. New textures, a few minor things altered too. It also lacks any real new bonus features to be honest.

Despite everything, when it's all said and done, Silent Hill 2 is still a solid game.

And it will always remain a touchstone of the survival horror genre.

I give it:
3 / 3 Necronomicons!

No comments:

Post a Comment