Silent Hill 2: Directors Cut (2003) Review

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Recently, I finished my second play through of Silent Hill 2 this time based on a proper PS2 version instead of the sub par HD collection version. How is Silent Hill 2 in 2016?  Still one of the best horror titles around.

Emulating this at a high resolution, one of the things I immediately noticed was how good the visuals look, considering the actual assets of the game are about a decade and a half old from a system two console generations ago. Everything looks highly detailed, grimy and dirty with an aggressive noise filter on top adding to the grittiness. It doesn’t look perfect in all areas of course with some textures being low res, but the overall detail remains incredibly high and so does the series signature fog effects. Shadows are stark and expressive and so is the lighting. At one point in the game, I was backtracking through the apartments and got back to the second or third floor, with my flashlight off, forgetting that I hadn’t killed the mannequins up there and I got one hell of a fright.

In this Silent Hill venture, which is mostly stand alone, with the cult aspects of the broader series lore lurking in the background at best, has you play as James Sunderland, a man drawn to the town by a mysterious letter from his wife, Mary. Even though the game is 15 years old I won’t go too much into the story since it is something to experience oneself, but it remains one of the best stories in video games. It is a highly personal and tragic tale filled with grief and despair. The imagery is stark and disturbing and also full of symbolism that I will leave to the rest for you to uncover and interpret (or read one of many interpretations on the internet if you still don’t understand).There are also four possible endings on the first playthrough that can occur not through the push button receive endings of modern AAA RPGs, but rather through the way in which you play the game and certain specific actions. I implore you if to go in blind to the game in this regard.

It is also a brilliantly atmospheric game, with the gritty visual design previous described and Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack and overall sound design which makes for a creepy, unnerving experience, such as the dogs barking and the crunching of dirt and leaves under your feet as you take the long walk towards Silent Hill, giving you the feeling of no turning back (a technique the game uses often to great effect.) The familiar sounds of radio static return and the sounds of smacking and enemy with a 2×4 or shooting them with the pistol are loud and satisfying. The music is top notch as well, with moody ambience, loud drum work in certain sections and the theme that plays in the Heavens Night quoting the bass lines from Twin Peaks and extensive piano playing in the more sombre moments make for a soundtrack that is varied in style but forming a coherent whole.Voice acting is also quite good. It doesn’t sound like the familiar Tara Strong’s or Nolan North’s that we are used to today, nor does it sound campy and ridiculous like the original Resident Evil, which is here helped by strong dialogue and performances that are consistent and believable.

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In terms of how the game plays, it’s very much like the first game, which is perfectly fine because it’s a working formula and these days the classic survival horror pillars aren’t terribly common so unless you’ve played the series to death over the past decade or so, it will feel refreshing or at the very least not stagnant. Boss fights are still mostly the same, with them being in a rather small room and you having to shoot at it until it dies. But it still works because of the tank-ish controls, camera angles and cramped space that generally require you to pick and time your shots just right.  However, while the game still unnerved me consistently as I played with headphones on and in the dark for maximum immersion, ammo feels too plentiful on normal difficulty, although this might be because I tended to play quite conservatively and generally only used ammo for boss fights or when there were enemies in a cramped room. Healing items,managed properly are just enough. In terms of game length, this playthrough took me just over 7 hours total according to the game stats, which score you at the end. If you want to earn all the endings or just get the highest ranking, there is replay value or if you just want to enjoy the story again. Although unless you’re a completionist, the replay value won’t be immediate but might be one of those every x amount of years sort of deal.

Since this is the Directors Cut version, I need to address the sub scenario, Born From a Wish which you unlock after completing the main game. I have not played this, but it is there if you want a little extra Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill 2 is a game that in all areas holds up quite well (apart from a couple tiny issues from emulation but that’s not the game’s fault) and remains a classic that is a must play. If you’ve played it before, it’s definitely worth playing again at some stage and if you haven’t played it, get a hold of a copy (except the HD collection version) and play this masterpiece as soon as possible.

10/10

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