Only since the premiere generation of the third dimension has there been a push to evoke a response of genuine fear through videogaming. Capcom's Resident Evil was a trailblazer in this area, but despite its importance in popularizing the survival-horror genre, few would argue that it was Silent Hill that perfected the art of fright in console videogaming. The title achieved its meritorious status by employing a unique approach to survival-horror gameplay. The mentioned notability in the game's premise stemmed from the fact that in Silent Hill, it was not the sudden action that merely startled the gamer as was the case in Resident Evil (e.g. hellhounds through the window). Instead, it was the unsettling lack of unexpected energy that terrified the player. It was this groundbreaking approach that replaced the surprise of traditional survival-horror with sensations of genuine uneasiness and disquietude.
Despite its popularity, an entire generation has dissipated since the acclaimed title tingled the spines of game players everywhere. However, Konami has finally piqued the interest of the gaming community once again with the impending release of Silent Hill 2. With the title's oncoming release have come lofty expectations from the Silent Hill team as Konami looks toward the brilliant promise of the neoteric PlayStation 2 to intensify the already striking Silent Hill experience.
Silent Hill 2 has the gamer assuming the role of a heroic figure who has been living as a recluse since the untimely death of his beloved wife. The hero is not a gun-slinging, muscle-bound soldier to be sure, but when he receives a mysterious letter from his wife commanding him to go to Silent Hill, he needs no coaxing to depart for the foggy city in search of answers. Konami hopes that this premise will serve as the foundation for a truly frightening videogame -- a game which the company completely expects to surpass even the original in gaming horror.
Konami is staring at an arduous task indeed if they hope to turn the title's promising premise into an experience more wondrous than the original Silent Hill, but the company hopes that the potent atmosphere of the series will play an integral role in achieving this goal. Director Akihiro Inamura elaborated on the importance and frustration of the Silent Hill ambience. "The most difficult part from my perspective was to be able to deliver a perfect representation of what Silent Hill is. Even if we had more power and possibilities than we do now with PS2, it would be vital to define a line that would describe the game and atmosphere perfectly.
The title's mood can be ideally expressed by one video depicting a particularly disturbing encounter with the hero's apparently dead wife. As the hero creeps closer to the familiar figure, a glint of intent in the woman's once-loving eyes becomes steadily more prevalent and disconcerting. Perhaps more unsettling is the woman's cold, steady reach for the hero's face while whispering the strangely potent words, "See, I'm real." Compounding the effect of the title's dark, tense mood is the series' famous, prevailing fog. The fog lent a unique atmosphere to the first Silent Hill, even though it was not forged with an artistic purpose in mind. Director Akihiro Inamura explained the significance of the recognizable mist. He admitted, "In the first episode, we used the fog to face the technical problems of the PS, but it was also designed to reinforce the atmosphere of the game. We chose to keep this feature for PS2 because the fog gives the game a terrifying feeling: forms appear and disappear. You have a limited perception of your surroundings." Despite their importance, these aspects are only portions of a veritable cauldron of ingredients that will fashion the frightening mood of Silent Hill 2.
Also significant to the Silent Hill experience are the cadaverous horrors you must encounter en route to solving the title's ultimate mystery. The Silent Hill team artists have always gone above and beyond the call of duty; the series' monsters are far past the zombie norm in terms of fright. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they appear to be ambiguously human, the doddering things are some of the most frightening nemeses in the crowded sea of survival horror gaming. To elaborate, the title's art director Masashi Tsuboyama stated his belief that the monsters in the title are perhaps the most important tools in creating the Silent Hill feel. "With the power of PS2 we certainly have been able to increase the graphical aspects of the game, but above all we can create a greater impact on human feelings," he said. "The monsters in Silent Hill 2 are expressing more humanity [than in the original]. You can feel something when you see them. There is something human in them." For example, a small girl called Laura can be found sitting on the familiar concrete barrier of her home, swinging her frail legs, singing "Ring Around the Roses" to herself. (Ah yes, Ring Around The Roses -- without a doubt, the greatest plague-inspired nursery rhyme of them all.) Another particularly frightening scene involves a nameless body being dragged along the ground by a surgeon as the thing lifelessly twitches about. Just more Silent Hill fun for the whole family, I suppose.
In spite of the fact that the city of Silent Hill is still the setting of the game, there are few links between the first and second installments of the acclaimed franchise. In fact, the municipality is the only connection between the two titles. "The only link is the town itself," Inamura explains. "For the rest it is a brand new story, a brand new adventure." According to the game's director, very little will actually return in terms of content. "As PS2 is able to do much more than the first PlayStation, and because we wanted new experiences for the player, we had to design new locations. You may cross a few places already present in the first episode, but that's all." Even though the content of the title will be largely original, the gameplay and feel of the first title are to remain intact. "Everything works in similar fashion [to the original]," explains Tsuboyama. "A character in a 3D world is looking for clues about dramatic events. As he encounters enemies, he has to fight to survive in an action mode and find the hidden truth in the town."
Notwithstanding all the graphical enhancements brought to the franchise by the colossal power of the PlayStation 2, Konami remains focused on the most critical facet of any videogame gem: gameplay. Designer Suguru Murakoshi explained, "You know, there are many projects with great visuals, but nothing inside, something without any balance. I don't want people to say that Silent Hill 2 is only graphics. We've worked hard to keep the gameplay at the same level."
While the information released on Konami's latest epic thus far is certainly tantalizing, the details have certainly failed to touch on the greater allure of the Silent Hill experience: the deeper mystery that drives thrill-hungry gamers everywhere to brave trip after trip to the hazy town. All the previews in the world could not assign words to this pivotal aspect of the franchise, but if the Silent Hill team manages to effectively harvest the potential of the PS2, adventure fans have good reason to slaver over this title.
1/19/2001 Bryan Keers