PlayStation 2 owners may have gotten Silent Hill 2 right in time for Halloween, but game players who now own an Xbox will find their December port of the game to be just as seasonally appropriate. It includes a present from Konami: an Xbox-exclusive extra episode in which you play as one of the game's supporting characters. While this new episode alone may not be enough to warrant buying the Xbox port if you've already played the PS2 original, the extra token is certainly a worthy gesture to Xbox owners for having to wait five extra weeks.
Capcom's Resident Evil series had for several years been the uncontested king of horror video games until Konami's Silent Hill came along to give it competition. While Resident Evil focused on "boo!"-style shocks, Silent Hill created an atmosphere that was not only eerie, but also often psychologically unnerving: David Lynch's Twin Peaks combined with the look of a Marilyn Manson video. The original Silent Hill delivered excellent scares and built up the player's need to know the secrets behind this quiet New England town gone hellishly wrong into a fever pitch, only to provide an ending that was not only harshly anticlimactic, but also one that players would have to replay multiple times for it to make some semblance of sense.
Hopes have been high that the game's sequel would provide a more satisfying storyline on top of the graphical improvements expected from the series' jump onto a next-generation game system. It succeeds in that, in a sense, but loses some of the original game's appeal along the way.
With its completely new cast of characters, Silent Hill 2 requires that you forget everything you ever knew about Silent Hill, except that it's one hell of a foggy town and that there are things out there lingering in that mist. You play as James Sunderland, a man who comes to Silent Hill after he receives a mysterious letter from his dead wife, asking him to meet her there. Shortly after you arrive, you notice that there's something seriously wrong with the town--the only people you find are noticeably mentally unbalanced, and monsters shamble out of the rolling haze. As in the original, you soon arm yourself with a board-and-nail makeshift weapon and a radio that emits static whenever creatures are near, venturing out to unlock the many secrets that Silent Hill holds.
Expect to spend most of the time solving puzzles, which is the game's main focus. Some puzzles require you to collect and combine key items, others make you scan found notes and documents for certain numbers to apply to combination-style puzzles later, and a few are there randomly for you to figure out. Silent Hill 2's puzzles are well done--tough enough to make you think a bit about how to solve them, but not difficult enough to force you to refer to a walk-through. The few times that you might get stuck in the game will likely be due to a missed item or puzzle, forcing you to use the "open the refrigerator door multiple times" way of checking over every room until you find it. The game's excellent mapping system helps greatly with this because it shows you which rooms you've visited, which doors can't be unlocked, and where the puzzles you've already found are located, and it checkmarks the puzzles once you've solved them. Another nice feature is that as you walk into a room or down the street, your character's head turns toward any noteworthy items in that area, which saves you a significant amount of time while searching every corner and object in the town.
The game's monsters rarely present much of a threat to you. The gameplay provides plenty of opportunities to pick up ammunition and medical kits, and the creatures almost always appear so far away that you can dispatch them before they get close enough to attack. Indoors, you must destroy them so you can pass by, but outside, they're slow enough to just run past. Suffice it to say, the combat isn't very challenging and feels repetitive at times. The few fights that vaguely resemble boss encounters are easy work for anyone who's ever played a Resident Evil game.
The best aspects of Silent Hill 2 are its graphics and sound. The few unique monsters that you encounter in the game are superbly designed. The first, for example, looks like a man strapped into a straightjacket, covered by a layer of shiny worm flesh. Another is a bizarre assemblage of mannequin parts. Many, if not all, are disturbing on a subconscious as well as visual level, making this a game that's definitely not for kids (even though it's been toned down since earlier work-in-progress versions).