I just beat both scenarios of Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams in one day. In one sitting, really. I first had to play to where I left off in the PS2 version, although that took an atom of the time it did the first time. (I notice that James no longer comments, of a map of the United States, “It’s a picture of something. I’m not sure what.”) Perhaps I was in a better mood or perhaps I was just prepared; the goofy world-logic did not distract me as much, today. Instead, I was distracted by the atmosphere and narrative. This really is a sophisticated game, artistically; one of the most-so I have encountered. Although it falls short on the actual game mechanics, that’s okay. Its mind is elsewhere.
I think I actually respect this even more than the first game, although they are rather different in their approaches and intentions. Where Silent Hill 1has its crushing sense of fear, that makes a person think twice to play it in the dark — or even to play it at all, at times — this does something more subtle. It is about all-encompassing, numbing sorrow and guilt — with all of the haziness and tempermental bursts and aimlessness and self-effacement and strange obsession that come with it. It is a portrait of a man willfully falling apart. A trip through his head, as he fights to either self-destruct entirely or to confront his demons and accept what he has been unwilling to accept. Whatever brings an end to the murmur. The entire game is focused around illustrating that picture.
A common enough theme in literature. In videogames, not so much. It’s too adult a depiction of pain. The scope of the game, by which it does illustrate this theme, is far more ambitious than I am used to. The original Silent Hill deserved enough praise just for being bright enough to understand how fear works better than any of its contemporaries. That seemed like a stroke of genius. This… is something else entirely.
Then Silent Hill 3 seems like an attempt to go mainstream with the series. It plays (and, in general, feels) much more like Biohazard than either of the first two games do. It tries to directly follow the plot of the first game, and to provide some more stable answers about just what this “Silent Hill” place is — something that really did not need to be done. It has a sassy, sarcastic lead. The music is more oriented toward pop, over the metal machine of the first game and the drones of the second. It’s just so… polished, and pretty, and palatable. Then The Room is supposed to follow after the second game, in some respects. I… well.
I guess I should reserve comment until I have seen them through. Something just feels a little unnecessary here.
Anyway. I am making progress.
A while ago, Justin Freeman made reference to a list of the top five (or was it “only five”?) significant games in this hardware generation: Metroid Prime, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, ICO, Rez, and Grand Theft Auto III. He said “Maybe Silent Hill 2” — although that would make an unusual five. I’ll throw it in. I will also throw in Ikaruga, Wind Waker, and Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. These nine games seem, to me, to be the sum of all of note that we have learned this generation. I have yet to find a tenth candidate.
Some will be surprised that I include Wind Waker, given my attitude toward the game. Some who know me better will know that it is precisely that attitude which puts the game on the list. Evolution finally comes through and admits what a meta-fighter Virtua Fighter has always been, as a series. It says some things about fighters, and about videogames, and the way we interact with them in a broader sense, that should do some permanent damage if you think about it too hard. And Ikaruga is, frankly, one of the most perfect and elegant game designs around — one which helps to illustrate on a base level, along with Rez, what videogames are, at their spine — and one which demonstrates the “pure” videogame (that is, videogame-as-design) at its most ideal. There is a level of truth here that, although related to the games of the early ’80s, could not exist in any previous hardware generation.
I might talk about this all in more detail, later.
Or. Maybe not.