Upon its PS2 release nearly a year ago, Silent Hill 2 was undoubtedly the blackest, most sinister, twisted game ever to grace the world of videogames. Successfully splicing the survival horror and adventure genres to brilliant effect, Konami was universally applauded for producing one of the games of the year - thankfully the public thought so too, and bought it in droves.
And after a torturous delay, the game finally makes it to the Xbox in Europe on October 4th (despite having been available in the States for ages), and comes complete with an exclusive episode in which you get to play as the mysterious Maria, but more on that later.
The main game tells the story of James Sutherland, a slightly confused and desperate individual who returns to the fog bound lakeside town of Silent Hill, after he receives a letter from his dead wife Mary, asking him to return to their 'special place'.
Of course, Sutherland's mind is more than a little blown by this, but decides to investigate anyway, which is where you come in. The game has you dashing around the deserted town in search of clues, and quickly takes on the adventure game formula of finding objects, solving puzzles, talking to anyone you come across and inevitably unlocking doors to further your progress. But you don't have it all your own way, with bizarre, twisted, slimy and deformed creatures shambling around to provide the all-important horror element.
After an unnecessarily drawn out beginning, where you're wandering around for ages looking for something to do (although it does give you time to admire the gorgeously stylised graphics, and fantastic fog effects) you finally find an apartment to explore and unlock, and it's here where the game really begins to take shape.
Inevitably, comparisons will be made to the various Resident Evil titles, but Silent Hill 2 scores over all of them in a myriad of ways. Firstly the voice acting and dialogue are a world away from the often hammy Res Evil efforts, and weave a genuinely intriguing, and adult plot line. How many games can you name that tackle Euthanasia and suicide? Granted, the often Twin Peaks-esque story might not be to everyone's taste, but it demonstrates that videogame plot lines are finally growing up.
Elsewhere, the dynamic camera system is superior, and nearly always gives a sympathetic viewpoint, which is essential when you're trying to dispatch a bunch of mutant undead, although there are a few exceptions when you're running blind into a pack of salivating limb waving monsters. The combat is generally pretty limited (usually a case of fire, fire, fire, stomp on head) only coming into its own during the boss sections, but it's always terrifying.
The use of lighting also deserves a special mention. Once you're in the deserted and filthy apartment environment, and you find a torch, the grainy, grimy look complements the unhinged storyline perfectly, and is the perfect game to play with the lights off. Sadly, the Xbox version's graphics are functionally identical to the PS2, but don't let that put you off - it still looks stunning throughout, and the cut scenes are uniformly impressive. And as for the audio - we can't recall there ever being a more vile concoction of other worldly noises. Clearly the dev team are people you wouldn't want to meet down a dark alley.
The puzzles are also extremely well conceived, and recall the glory days of early '90s LucasArts point and click adventures for sheer forehead slapping brilliance (once you crack them, of course). If you're into lateral thinking, Silent Hill 2 is a real joy to tackle, although you can always adjust the difficulty level if the challenge is proving too much. Likewise, the level of combat difficulty can be adjusted to cater for your tastes - all things that make the play experience more accessible to a broad audience.
For a game that relies so heavily on the narrative to drive the player on, it's worth mentioning in advance that it never really makes sense. But that's not to say it's frustrating or unsatisfying in any way - right to the end you're left with that 'what the hell?' feeling, but it all adds to the enigma. For the real die-hards, there are four different endings, and different objects that appear once you've completed it, but whether it makes any more sense is another matter.
The PS2 owners of Silent Hill 2 will no doubt be intrigued as to what the extra content is, but prepare to be underwhelmed. Essentially you get a mini episode that casts the player in the role of Maria, who runs around in a rather fetching mini skirt and crop top doing much the same things as James does in the main game. The only problem is that it'll take any self respecting gamer less than an hour to complete, - and that includes the inevitable running around, puzzle solving and monster slaying.
To say we're disappointed with this extra is an understatement, as it's more like a demo than anything, although it does shed a tiny bit of extra light on Maria's role in this curious tale. Oddly, Konami has decided to strip out the extra DVD content that came with the PS2 release, such as the 'Making Of' featurette. Surely it could have squeezed it onto the Xbox version? Meanies.
In conclusion, Silent Hill 2 is an essential purchase for Xbox owners who don't already own the PS2 version. For the die hards - rent or borrow it, but don't be tempted to part with another Ł45 - get Project Zero instead (providing you own a PS2).