August 1, 2012

Silent Hill (Day 3)

If I was told to sum up Silent Hill 2 in one word, it would be depressing. I finished the game today, and the only smidge of hope that you are allowed to have during the entire game was in the beginning where you receive a letter telling you that your beloved might still be alive for some reason. After that, everything just goes downhill. Almost everyone you meet wants to kill you, and the ones who don’t give you the impression that they might just be figments of your dwindling imagination. Those who are actually human reside somewhere between bananas and psychotic on mental avenue, and the only one who isn’t completely nuts is the annoying eight-year-old who I want to murder. So I guess technically by default she could be classified crazy as well. There are several endings, each being slightly more depressing than committing suicide on Christmas day. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is one ending where you leave Silent Hill with the kid, which is obviously an attempt to be the happiest ending, but considering she tried to kill me earlier in the game, this ending could arguably be the worst of the possible conclusions. Silent Hill 2 makes you feel the true weight of the crushing dread of being completely and utterly alone. The second you think that you can rely on something, the game rips it out of your feeble grasp and gives hints that it might just be another of your hallucinations, making you unsure about what is actually there and what is driving you insane.

The thing is that the story and atmosphere are the only good things about Silent Hill 2. One could say that the controls are a horror in itself. The clunky turns, slow reactions, and terrible combat make me want to scream. The camera angles do nothing to help its failing sibling either. Your perspective swings around like it’s operated by a child with an IV pumping coffee into its veins. This makes jogging (I say jogging because your character does not run, he jogs) away from Pyramid Head in a corridor two feet wide down right impossible. The camera flails really start getting annoying when you walk into dark rooms infested with monsters. The camera will swing around while you try to aim your pinhole-sized flashlight at the enemies rendering any attempt to see what you are doing impossible. The game then turns into just mashing the attack button until things stop growling or your thumb falls off.

Another major piece of the pie that is Silent Hill 2 is its puzzles. All the riddles are fairly quick and none of them are incredibly hard. The biggest issue I have with them is that they are what I call “collect-puzzles”. What I mean by that is that they are less clever thinking and more find-all-the-objects-to-progress if you see what I mean. No, I suppose that doesn’t make sense. Well, it’s like this: if in the story you had to play a game of chess to advance to the next level, rather than playing a chess game, Silent Hill 2 would instead make you find all the chess pieces. I remember one “puzzle” where I had to figure out a way to clear out a key from a garbage chute. Little did I know that the only solution to the puzzle was to have picked up a six-pack of canned juice from the next apartment over, then throw that down the chute. How was I supposed to know that the insignificant can of juice from the other side of town was supposed to be used on that specific problem? Silent Hill 2 likes to use a lot of these kinds of puzzles to force the player to progress through the most circuitous route possible.

But I have said it before and I’ll say it again: Silent Hill 2’s core is the story. All the gameplay is just to make it feel slightly more immersive. It’s so well written and makes the player feel dreadful and depressed. But Silent Hill 2 is depressing in a good way. It’s supposed to make you feel completely hopeless as monsters line up to bite your limbs off. That’s what makes it scary. Horror games aren’t terrifying if you have loved ones shouting encouragement and helping you smack the enemies around. It is games like Silent Hill 2 where you are forced to feel the despair of your battle for life that make horror games scary. It is the anxiety of wondering if the struggle for your survival is really worth the trouble that defines good horror games from the bad startle-a-thon games. Silent Hill 2 is a fantastic horror game as long as you can ignore the gameplay enough to get into it.

Image Credit: IGN

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