Silent Hill2
Mark Asher - Early Hours - Comments - 08/31/01

Note: Esto es un juego de Playstation 2. De ahora encendido, El Cuarto a Tres ofrecerá la cobertura española-solamente dedicada exclusivamente a los juegos de la consola.

Tom's Comments: Silent Hill has perhaps the greatest opening of any game. Ever. It starts with the faint crackle of a needle laid onto a phonograph. Then the gypsy trill of a mandolin. Now a man is driving down a nighttime road with his sleeping daughter in the car. There are flashes of other people. A despondent man with a gun. A hysterical nurse. An eerie old woman with cataract eyes. A policeman roars by on a motorcycle and disappears into the darkness beyond his headlights. Who are these people? What do they have to do with anything?

The music curls through something like the resonant thrums of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme, with a vaguely Sergio Leone Western riff. It climbs into a plaintive minor key. Suddenly there's a little girl in the road. The man swerves to avoid her and crashes. The noise settles and he lifts his head from the wheel. Fog swirls around the car, which has come to rest at the edge of a town called Silent Hill. His daughter is gone.

He runs into town, calling for her. He sees someone -- his daughter? the little girl he almost hit? -- recede into the fog. He chases her down an increasingly narrow alley littered with broken, then bloodied medical equipment. The camera angles skew and twist. The perspective closes in. Darkness and air raid sirens well up around him. Then the nightmarish finale turns out to be just a nightmare and it's not a finale at all, but only the beginning.

This is Silent Hill. It never quite makes any sense, but that's okay. Senselessness has its place in horror. Backstories about secret government projects, zombie-making toxins, and biomechanical research are a dime a dozen. But Silent Hill was something different. It was bold, weird, and genuinely frightening.

And so far Silent Hill 2 has very little in common with it. This sequel opens with a man studying himself in a dingy bathroom mirror. That's it. Where's the music? Where's the opening cinematic? More importantly, where's the motivation? Who is this man? What is he doing? Is he here to take a leak? Is he picking up boys? Is he the janitor? We just don't know. Imagine walking into a public bathroom and there's some guy just standing there. That's how Silent Hill 2 starts.

You'll figure out soon enough that the man in the bathroom is you. You're controlling him. So what do you do? Search the bathroom for secret doors. There are none. Great. Now what? You'll finally figure out that you're supposed to do what any normal person standing around in a bathroom would do: leave.

Now the backstory spills out in a clumsy voiceover with a Yanni-esque piano tinkling in the background. This man's wife has been dead three years, but he just got a letter from her. She wants to meet in the town of Silent Hill. So here he is parked outside town, having a look at himself in the rest stop bathroom before taking a shortcut through the foggy woods. Three hours later, our hero has wandered the streets, whacked some zombified guys in straight jackets, and solved a few contrived puzzles. He's met a bratty little girl, a fat guy who vomits into a toilet and then gets pizza at the bowling alley, a hussy on the waterfront who looks like his wife, and some guy with a mannequin fetish wearing a bathtub on his head. It's more stilted than mysterious. I'm getting that sinking feeling that perhaps the creators of the first game were on sabbatical when this one was being made. Either that or they had no idea what made their first game so good.

The graphics look nice enough, but they should look better. Shenmue on the Dreamcast had better art and animation than Silent Hill 2, which puts so much emphasis on volumetric mist and lighting that it could have been subtitled 'Shadows and Fog'. Aside from these gratuitous effects, I'd almost guess this was a Playstation 1 graphics engine ported over to the PS2.

A more significant problem is the lack of motivation in the game. The first game constantly reminded you that you were looking for your daughter. We've all been children separated from our parents: first day at school, getting lost at the mall, being left with grandma for the weekend. And some of us have been parents separated from our children, a far more terrifying prospect. This gut-wrenching universality drove the first Silent Hill forward. But Silent Hill 2 offers maudlin yearning for a dead spouse. It's the stuff of soap operas and it lacks the sinister undertones of a missing child. It also goes by the wayside early and often.

The first Silent Hill was also creepy for its shifting realities, hidden agendas, and parallel dimensions. Was it a dream? Did the people you meet know more than they let on? Was this a school or some freakish asylum? So far, Silent Hill 2 has displayed none of that uncertainty, although there is a hint that it might lean that way eventually.

Perhaps worst of all, Silent Hill 2 is pulling punches. Probably in light of recent reservations about violence in video games, the developers have toned down the content. For instance, in Silent Hill, some of the monsters were child-sized demon/ghost/ghouls with butcher knives. The developers have said there would be none of that in this sequel. It's still gross and moderately graphic. It's still kind of weird. But so far, it's not much more disturbing than a Resident Evil game.

When I received the game, the PR representative from Konami included a thoughtful letter asking for opinions on whether Silent Hill 2 was appropriate after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. While these reservations are obviously well intentioned, they're misplaced. Silent Hill 2 is a horror game. It's fantasy. It's not real. It has no bearing on real events. Unfortunately, the developers and publishers seem to be afraid of their own game being scary. So far this sequel takes place in a kinder and gentler Silent Hill, a Silent Hill missing the visceral appeal it used to have, a Silent Hill that isn't creepy or disturbing enough to mask the bad writing, a Silent Hill that has some reservations about whether it should do certain things. In short, a Silent Hill that just isn't Silent Hill.

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