Waiting for an event is often exponentially more emotionally resonant than the actual event: Christmas Eve, the dentist's waiting room, staring at the phone waiting for that special someone to call. The creators of the Silent Hill series took this principle to heart in the first game, and now the second game hones those groundbreaking concepts to a razor-sharp point.

 Hopeless bleak despair
Why must I be sad?

   Possibly the most striking change from the original is the vastly upgraded graphical engine. Where the original had somewhat awkward character animation and copious "atmospheric" amounts of fog, the sequel feels so real it's ... well, scary. The fluidity of motion seen in both human and inhuman creatures rivals the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 2; James walks and runs like an average man would, and Maria's seductive body language might be the first even remotely successful attempt at such in an in-game engine. Lip movements, individual finger-waggings, and freely moving locks of hair all help to give the characters personality and expressiveness sorely lacking from the first game. As for the monsters, their horrific thrashings, writhings, and convulsions make them look like they could explode out of their skin at any second.

   The environments are also impressive. Large, crystal-clear textures adorn almost every surface of the world--many clues and other messages are legible even without close inspection. And the crude fog of the first game which was mainly meant to hide the game's short draw-in distance takes on a life of its own here as it coils and slides around you like a living thing.

Mr. Klaw
Exquisite dead guy

   In a way, though, the graphics could become photorealistic and still not contribute to Silent Hill 2's sense of terror as much as Akira Yamaoka's sound effects and musical score. One need only play the first ten minutes of the game to discover this: though the suddenly-thick fog is ominous, what really plays on your nerves are the sickly wet crunching sounds emanating from somewhere out there. Virtually no sound you'll hear in the game is a welcome one, from the harsh ambient music to the warning crackle of your radio to the high-pitched shrieks of wounded enemies--even James' own footsteps in the silence can become unbearable after a while. James' own speech can be a tad bit on the unbearable side for that matter, but only occasionally, and all of the other voice actors do an excellent job.

   As for the gameplay, the style of character/camera-relative controls adopted by Spider-Man and Devil May Cry is available in Silent Hill 2, which gives it perhaps the best controls in the genre. Instead of aligning the character along a line of movement and then going forward, Silent Hill 2 allows the player to simply push the analog pad in the direction that the character should go. The jarring, dramatic camera angles are still present, but the controls prevent James from suddenly veering off into an unwanted direction when trying to escape from pursuing enemies. For instance, if the player wants James to go left, he'll go in that direction for as long as the player holds down left on the analog stick or directional pad. If the camera should suddenly shifts to show James as walking downward, holding "left" will still cause him to move in that straight line down the screen. Only when the player lets go of the button do the controls remap to take into account the current camera position. It's tricky to explain, but leagues ahead of the old control scheme (which is still available for those who prefer it) in terms of intuitiveness.

 I can hear you
Hello radio

   The ability to customize the game doesn't stop with the controls, though: through the use of separate difficulty meters for action and puzzles, Silent Hill 2 becomes essentially all things to all adventure gamers. Those who enjoy obscure hints and riddles but find the sort of combat seen in these games silly can play with Beginner action and Hard puzzle, and those who'd rather mow down legions of undead demons can choose the reverse. Or, if you'd simply like to advance the story without worrying too much about obstacles, both options could be set on Easy. The possibilities aren't exactly endless, but there are enough of them to keep just about anyone happy.

   The game also has a novel solution for difficult-to-find objects. The world of Silent Hill is frequently dark, which would ordinarily make noticing key items a chore. However, as James walks through hallways, his head will turn toward anything he notices, providing an invaluable visual clue lacking in most other games. This ensures that the most difficult part of any dungeon isn't figuring out what to do, it's mustering the courage to do it.

   Calling Silent Hill 2 the best horror game ever on a console may be strong words, but the game is powerful enough to deserve such high praise. Every aspect, every detail is carefully calibrated so as to make the player genuinely afraid of what each new room may have in store. It's a masterstroke of anti-entertainment where the last thing you want to do is keep going, but feel compelled to open the next door anyway. Any and all future horror games have a new benchmark to live up to.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Silent Hill 2
Developer KCET
Publisher Konami
Genre Horror
Medium DVD (1)
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  09.27.01
Silent Hill 2 to be Xbox launch title
288 screenshots / 32 Xbox screenshots / 64 "Born From a Wish" screenshots
E3: 17 character renders
Japanese Xbox box art
Producer Akihiro Imamura
All Music & Sound Effects Akira Yamaoka
Character Design/C.G.I. SATO|WORKS U.S.A.
Sato "Takayoshi" Sato
Kazuhiko Ninomiya
Mychael Miller
Yukito Kurita
Lucas Aceituno
Full game credits
Full "Born From a Wish" credits