Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams
Ordinarily, receiving a letter from your lovely wife while she's away on holiday would be a great way to start the day. But ordinarily, your wife hasn't been dead for three years.
James Sunderland is the understandably perplexed widower in question, and the remote American backwater of Silent Hill is the vacation destination from which his former bride-cum-presumably putrefying pen-pal is mailing him.
Off sets Jimbo, determined to get to the bottom of this oh-so-unsettling scenario, and thus starts Silent Hill 2, in the scummiest motorway lay-by bog you ever saw, overlooking the fog-shrouded town of the same name. What you’re facing is a town deserted, bar a shambling army of misshapen monstrosities, arcane puzzles that’ll have you scratching your chin raw, and a story so disturbingly twisted it makes Silence Of The Lambs seem like Bambi.
Of course, none of this will be news to PS2 or Xbox owners, both having already been treated to what those in the know call the most terrifying game of all time. We're not talking the jump in your seat shocks of an adrenaline fest such as AVP2. Oh no, we're talking fear of a far more insidious kind. The sleep-depriving terror you felt as a pre-pubescent watching The Omen from under your duvet. The paralysing dread you had upon leaving school only to realise you were going to have to spend the rest of your life working.
What we have here is a port of the Xbox version, identical to the PS2 release but for two additions. First is the rather pointless option to eliminate the graphical 'noise' effect that gives the game its unique, grainy, hand-painted look. Second is an all-new extra chapter - Bom From A Wish - which provides an extra couple of hours of gameplay as well as shedding new light upon a couple of the characters from the main game.
While we are not ones to get carried away over the prospect of a one-year-old console title being ported to PC, Silent Hill is such a unique experience that our spines are already shivering in fearful anticipation.
The game plays out in third-person, and contrary to survival horror traditions, none of the locations are pre-rendered, allowing the game camera to roam and take up angles designed to heighten your isolation and claustrophobia with every shot. And believe us, indoors or out, claustrophobia is what you'll feel. A thick, disorientating mist hangs like a malevolent cloud over the k whole town, reducing visibility and providing succour to the nameless fiends stalking the streets. But there’s no respite to be found indoors either, as the desolate tenements, bars and shops are generally shrouded in complete darkness, with the only illumination provided by the feeble beam of your pocket torch.
Can we say this any louder? Silent Hill will scare the bejeezus out of you! An unmissable genre classic that takes horror in videogames to a new, psychological adult high. We’re expecting this out sometime early next year, and you'd be a fool - or a total wuss - to miss it.
Download Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Things Are grim. Here you are, stuck in this godforsaken, nightmarish town, inhabited only by hideous, misshapen fiends and a few fellow unfortunates whose souls are just as lost and tortured as your own. You're only here because your wife sent you a note, inviting you back to meet her at your favourite holiday spot, Silent Hill. This despite the fact that Mary passed away three long years ago. Are you dreaming? Insane? Or are you also dead, a walking apparition, wandering the byways of hell? Anything is possible, as you inch down a typically dim and grimy corridor, part of a tortuous network of cramped, waterlogged passageways deep under Silent Hill's manmade lake. On the walls, a papier-mache piasterwork of old newspapers, filthy and yellowed with age. Nothing unusual there - this whole place is caked with refuse, muck and human viscera. You're more concerned about that thing out there in the darkness - you can hear its heavy, relentless scraping, and you only have a handful of shotgun shells left. But as you get closer, you notice something strange. In the faint light of your pocket torch, you think you can just make out the date... Wait, no, it can't be. How the...? You stumble backwards as your mind reels in horror and confusion. These are today's newspapers!
Bring The Fear
OK, so out of context it might sound a little cheesy, but go with me on this one: this is a truly chilling moment in one of the most unsettling and horrific games ever created. You may have given up on so-called scary games because of their consistent lameness, but it's time to reconsider, because either I'm getting old and my nerves are shot, or Silent Hill 2 is some creepy-ass, blood-curdling shit.
For those who haven't been following its ups and downs, third-person horror blockbuster Silent Hill 2 first appeared on the PS2 more than a year ago, where it was heaped with praise by all who braved its dark recesses. More recently, an enhanced version appeared on the Xbox. shortly to be followed by this, near identical PC version. The main difference of the so-called Director's Cut is the addition of a new chapter of macabre action, this time played as the mysterious Mary-look-alike Mana, rather than the guilt-racked James Sunderland.
And despite its travels, the game has arrived on PC in amazingly good shape - you're looking at a certified rock solid conversion job. Beyond that though. Silent Hill 2 is just a damn fine game. Boasting superbly detailed visuals, an incredibly oppressive, tension-packed atmosphere and some of the most impressive use of sound ever in a computer game, this is horror adventuring at its most accomplished.
Tales Of The Unknown
It's also completely impenetrable. The plot is a vague and twisting thing, the reasons behind the horrors of Silent Hill only vaguely hinted at through your journey into the depths of silent Hell. And it's all the more creepy for it. Played alone, with the lights out and late at night, the game creates an enveloping fog of terror and apprehension that exploits all of our most primal fears. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of wobbly, slimy, acidspitting demons from hell. Outside, the fog is literal, as you can't see from one side of the street to the other through the swirling, shifting mist. Inside, whether in an insane asylum, filthy apartment building or abandoned prison, the shadows jump and cavort wildly as your torch swings to and fro. the deliberately restnctive camera angles deciding when you'll see what awaits in the gloom. And in this unbearably tense, skin-crawling context, the smallest thing can indeed send your mind reeling. You might walk into a room that is inexplicably upturned, with doors on the ceiling and fluorescent stnps flickering inappropriately on the wall. Y ou might be trapped in a frozen elevator when the sound of a sinister game show will suddenly burst forth from your broken radio, starring you as lead contestant. If a horror game is to be judged primarily on how scary it is, then Silent Hill 2 comes off brilliantly.
And to be honest, why shouldn't it? To me, fear has always seemed like a fairly easy emotion to conjure. It's not one of those tricky ones that require proper characters and empathy and narrative build-up. It's a perfectly simple, primitive thing. Cinema mastered the art years ago, but it's taken an amazingly long time for games to put it all together. The Resident Evil series has always relied largely on cheap shock tactics. Dino Crisis was about as terrifying as a bloodied finger in a joke-store matchbox. The first Silent Hill was a step in the right direction, certainly, but as far as I'm concerned this is the first survival horror game where it all truly comes together. It may not quite be The Shining, but it's a damn sight more unnerving than the likes of Scream 6.
On the downside, anyone hoping for something fundamentally new in the gameplay can forget it. The basic style hasn't changed one iota from the now-standard formula. Rotational control system? Check. Simple collect-and-combine puzzle system? Check. Recurring, invincible nemesis? Check. Minimal ammo, countless keys to find, a lot of back and forth taking items from place to place? Check, check and check.
And to be honest, if you've already enjoyed the game on PS2. the extra chapter is no reason to rush out and buy the Director's Cut. While it's just as good as the rest of the game, it's a mere slip of a thing with less than two hours of gameplay.
All that aside, this is still the finest survival horror game money can buy. If you can forgive the quirks of the genre, and you like your games with a side order of sheer terror, it's absolutely essential.