Hands-onSilent Hill 2

We get a playable demo of Konami's creepiest game.

Silent Hill 2 producer, Akihiro Imamura, wants to do more than frighten the player with his game. He hopes to create an atmosphere--an ambient mood--that agitates the player and causes uneasiness. While the TGS and E3 demos of the game evoked such feelings from the player, Konami's latest build of Silent Hill 2 provides a clearer idea of the game's overall direction and tone.

The demo begins with James Sutherland--the game's lead character--standing on a hilltop rest area, that is overlooking a sprawling lake, reading a mysterious letter signed by his dead wife. The letter asks Sunderland to meet her in the town of Silent Hill, where the two had spent some time together. Aghast and agitated, Sunderland decides to walk down a gloomy dirt path toward the town. This is where the player assumes control. At the foot of the hill, the player encounters a woman named Angela hiding behind a cemetery grave. The game, once again, switches to a real-time cut-scene where the two have a brief conversation about their respective goals. Following this, Sunderland moves on toward town and encounters his first enemies. In this way, by combining gameplay sequences, real-time and CG cut-scenes, fight sequences, and an amazing sense of atmosphere, Imamura hopes to immerse the player in the town of Silent Hill. The thick fog and eerie sound effects are obvious clues that something isn't right, but it will take considerable exploration and puzzle solving, and a variety of plot twists, to uncover the mysteries surrounding the town.

Visually, one specific graphical effect truly epitomizes the gloomy and threatening look of the game. The fog, which was also used in the first game, is much thicker and more realistic in Silent Hill 2. Rather than using cross-poly textures, the fog in Silent Hill 2 is volumetrically rendered. The fog now rolls with the changing direction of the wind, giving specific areas more visibility than others. Although it is overused at times, the general effect is absolutely astounding. The rest of the game is equally as impressive, on a graphical scale. The characters are ultra-detailed and are able to exhibit subtle nuances of facial and physical expressions. The quality of the pre-rendered cinemas in the game is nothing short of remarkable, but even the variety of real-time cut-scenes are visually impressive and adept at conveying the serious tone of the game's story and characters. Most of the environments in Silent Hill 2 are rendered in real-time 3D--the developer has sparingly used 2D bitmaps for distant environments. They are also very detailed, with subtle textures such as a variety of wallpaper inside rooms, graffiti on walls, and bloody footprints on dirt, among others used throughout the demo. Rounding out the visual package is the dynamic lighting, which is used quite effectively in the game. Hallways are lit sparingly by dim fluorescent lights, while Sunderland's own flashlight shines a dull stream of light whether he turns.

In the gameplay department, Silent Hill 2 controls almost exactly like the first game. Sunderland is able to use everything from a two-by-four with a massive nail through its end, to a double-barrel shotgun to dispose of his enemies. Much like Capcom's Resident Evil games, the player must hold down one of the shoulder buttons and simultaneously press the action button to attack enemies. Sunderland's proximity to the enemy character defines the type of attack. For example, while the enemy is on the ground and Sunderland is standing directly above it, he can kick and stomp away. The directional controls are also standard survival-horror fare. Pressing up on the directional pad or left analog on the PS2 dual-shock moves the character forward, while pressing back makes him backpedal--the player must move in a small 180-degree circle to turn around completely. The camera in Silent Hill 2 is a bit more dynamic than in the first game. At this stage at least, it seems that the game's developer was more concerned with giving the player the most cinematic view, rather than the most optimal. There were various times in the game where the camera would rotate to the most inopportune views, often facing Sunderland head-on. One of the shoulder buttons can be used to rotate the camera to a standard behind-the-back perspective, but this is only a temporary solution in most cases, as the automatic camera takes over as the scene changes. In the indoor environments, the camera problems were minimal to nonexistent, but it can be quite noticeable when negotiating the large outdoor locations.

Perhaps only secondary to the game's visuals in conveying the overall mood of the game are its sound effects. A variety of sound queues are used to alert the player of impending danger. For example, as an enemy approaches, Sunderland's radio, which apparently picks up sounds from the afterlife, begins buzzing with static. The sounds of Sunderland's, and other character's footsteps, are also used to break the eerie silence in the game. Also, the sound of footsteps appropriately changes as the player walks from dirt to concrete.

Judging from this latest build of Silent Hill 2, it seems that the game is essentially feature-complete. The game shares much of its controls and gameplay style with the first game, which should appease fans of the original Silent Hill. The improvements come in the form of the atmospheric visuals and graphical detail, and a story that should be more complex and winding than the first game. Silent Hill 2 is currently set for release in September for the PS2, followed by an Xbox version.

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