James Sunderland is the protagonist of Silent Hill 2. Just like Harry, he is an ordinary man. Three years ago his beloved wife, Mary, became seriously ill and died. James never recovered from this tragedy. One day, he receives a strange letter.
"In my restless dreams I see that town, Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday, but you never did. Well, I'm alone there now, in Our special place, waiting for you"
Mary’s signature is on the letter. Could Mary be still alive? Or is someone else behind that letter? Doubt is enough for poor James to take the road to Silent Hill. In order to enter the small town, James is forced to pass through a thick forest, because all of the entrances to the town seem to be inaccessible. This is just the beginning of a story that develops slowly, tinged at times with surrealism. Silent Hill 2 narrates a deep and idiosyncratic tale about love, life, death - a story made of silences, where reality is a dream – a story about the possibility to change a destiny that took the wrong way.
It’s important to notice that Silent Hill 2’s story is not connected to the events of the first episode. Harry Mason and James Sunderland are two different persons, all the characters are new to the series, and the part of the city you have to explore is not the same (but is Silent Hill really always the same city, or does it change depending on its visitors?). The few places that were already present in the first episode, like the hospital, have0 changed. Anyhow, here and there little hints that can help you understand the events of the preceding episode are scattered. It’s a wonderful touch of class, that gives to the small town of Silent Hill a sort of sinister omniscience: this is a living place that hides secrets – secrets that don’t have a sense for James but that have a sense for you, the player. Through this delicate separation between protagonist and narrator, it’s as if the town is speaking directly to you, a strange sensation that you can understand only playing the game.
Explorations are the essence of Silent Hill 2. Unlike what happens in most Survival Horror Games, playing Silent Hill 2 you’ll never feel like you are scouring the town just to retrieve a key or a preposterous item that’s needed to open a certain door. Every little side quest, every little riddle is perfectly inserted into the game. Playing the game more than once, one comes to appreciate the skill with which the developers worked to create a continue state of tension into the player. To help you during your exploration there is a nifty, clear map that indicates your next destination (after you have found the proper clue, of course) and where all the places you have already visited are clearly marked.
The game experience in Silent Hill 2 is customisable, allowing different kinds of players to enjoy the game according to their expectations. At the beginning, you have the possibility to adjust the overall game difficulty (combat related) and the puzzles' difficulty levels separately.
Anyhow, in order to fully enjoy this title, I strongly suggest to play with puzzles set to Medium or Hard level. The game becomes more challenging and the overall gaming experience is improved. In Silent Hill 2 there are not those easy-to-solve puzzles typical of Capcom’s Survival Horror games. In the Hard mode, Silent Hill 2 puzzles remind me of the ones featured in two wonderful yet very difficult PC titles, The 7th Guest and its sequel, The 11th Hour. What’s even more interesting is the fact that many riddles are randomly generated. In other words, you can’t just use a guide to solve all the puzzles featured in the game. Write down the clues that you find during your explorations: this will save you from restarting the game because you forgot one of them.
From the options menu, you can also chose among two different control settings. First of all, there is the classic 3D control scheme, the same used in the preceding episode and in the Resident Evil series, where Up makes your character walk forward, Left and Right change direction, and Down makes your character walk backwards without turning around. This setting makes the character move in a more realistic way, and all the players used to Survival Horror games will go for this one. The other control setting is the one used in most adventure games ( Tomb Raider, Soul Reaver etc.), the so called “camera relative” control scheme where the character walks in the direction you are pressing the analog button. This is surely a more intuitive control scheme.
L1 and R1 are used to strife left and right (a nice addition to the classic buttons layout), R2 is used to draw your weapon. The main buttons have the same function they had in the previous episode: Circle turns on/off the flashlight, Square is used to make James run, Triangle is to take a look at your map and X is the classic multi purpose button. As you may have noticed, the developers didn’t forget anything in order to make of Silent Hill 2 a game suitable to different typologies of players.
The incredibly disturbing creatures that populate the dark rooms of Silent Hill will try to kill you in many ways. Fortunately, James will find a lot of weapons during the adventure. Many of them are conventional weapons, like the handgun or the shotgun, but you’d better reserve your ammo for stronger bosses. For great part of the game you’ll be using improvised yet extremely effective weapons, like the delightful wooden stick with a nail that you find at the beginning of the game.
Once again, the fog is a protagonist in Silent Hill 2, an element that affects not only the aesthetics of the game but also the gameplay. In fact, surviving in Silent Hill 2 means first of all dealing with claustrophobic situations. The fog is a living being that envelops James as he moves through the streets of the town. The view is limited to a few feet around your character. And don’t think that things go better when you are inside a building. Most of the time, the rooms are dark: your only source of light will be a small flashlight attached to James’chest. There is no need to say the amount of light provided by this little object is nearly ridiculous.
The fog, the darkness, the eerie flashlight force the player to find a strategy that’s different from what he might have experienced in any other game. Many will be frustrated by the limited views of Silent Hill 2, but in my opinion the developers decided to limit the possibility of the players to rely on their eyes for a precise reason. They wanted to create something more than a “video” game, a game where another sense could guide the player: the sense of hearing. Thanks to a new sound system, that enables stereo TVs to simulate a 3D sound, you will be able to find out from which directions the danger is coming. To fully enjoy this new feature, you have to use a Tv big enough to have a decent Stereo Sound System. I tested the game on a 29” Tv and I was simply amazed.
I see Silent Hill 2’s unique gameplay as the result of a process started with the first Silent Hill. Thanks to the power of the new console, but first of all thanks to their skill (due to its complex design, the PS2 is a tough machine to develop on), the developers have been able to design a game, that if played with the right attitude, is a little revolution.