E3: Silent Hill 2 impressions

[05.18.01] » The parts that we had our eyes uncovered for, anyway.

   Though it's unlikely anyone will ever have the chance after this year, our advice is never to play Silent Hill 2 in the noisy, crowded, brightly lit environment of E3. The subtle (and the not so subtle) aural touches are completely lost in the crowd noise, and it's pretty difficult to get too afraid with thousands of people milling around. Even despite its show-floor handicaps, Silent Hill 2 still manages to be the creepiest game of the show.

   While it's been stated repeatedly in interviews with the producer that the control scheme would be more free-roaming rather than the traditional character-relative controls of survival horror games, the playable demo was evidence to the contrary. Perhaps the final game will offer a choice of control options, but the old character-relative controls are in the game after all.

   In fact, the demo played exactly like the first Silent Hill, but with better graphics. Like Harry, James has a wooden plank and a handgun, and seems ill equipped to use them. Combat still consists mostly of firing or whacking at enemies until they fall, and then making sure they don't get back up again. With only three floors of the hospital to explore, and lots of locked doors and inaccessible areas, there weren't many enemies to give James trouble--something that will undoubtedly change for the final.

   Also returning are the macabre puzzles. In the mental ward of the hospital, there's one padded cell positively drenched with blood; closer inspection shows the combination to a lock written in the gore. You'll also find a Purple Bull Key, a bent needle, and a strange object stuck in a drain, but there's nothing to do with them in the demo.

   More interesting than the playable demo was the new trailer movie Konami was showing on the video wall. It begins with snatches of conversation between James and his wife from the first time they visited Silent Hill, overlaid upon black and white scenes of James walking through what looked to be a morgue hall. She tells James how much she loves the town and wishes they could never leave, and attributes its peaceful atmosphere to the fact that it was once sacred ground.

   Then it cuts to the present day and shows James blasting twisted undead figures. The monster animation is a sight to behold; every creature seems slicked with blood and ooze, and they all thrash about unnervingly. The monsters include spasmodic nurses with no faces, creatures seemingly made of two pairs of legs fused together, and nightmare beds that drop from the ceiling onto James. Fortunately, the movie also shows what he's got to fight back with: lead pipes, shotguns, and even the ever-popular chainsaw at one point.

   The movie also shows off some new characters. Ed is a fat hillbilly type who takes a pragmatic approach to the encroaching horror: when told he can't just shoot people because they look like monsters, he shrugs and asks "Well, why can't you?" The name of the little girl in the first trailer was revealed as Laura. She seems not to be aware of the town's mutating nature, although she is seen in one shot hiding behind a bed. There's also a mysterious brunette who's seen lazily holding a knife and saying "Oh, it's you."

   Finally, there's Maria, who seems to be at the heart of Silent Hill 2. The movie shows a lengthy conversation between James and Maria in which he lists all the ways she looks like his dead wife: "Your hair, your eyes, your face ... " To which she responds, "My name is Maria." She's also the one at the very end of the trailer who says to James, "See? I'm real." It's not any clearer what connection Maria has with James' wife, but there definitely is one.

   Silent Hill 2 is due for a fall release on PlayStation 2, where you can play it the way it was intended--alone, in your room, with the lights off.

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