4.0 out of 5 stars
Quieter, slower, shorter, but deeper than the first, July 18 2004
It doesn't hit you upside the head with a tackhammer like the first game, but draws you in quietly. Almost teases you with terror, if I can invent a crappy new phrase. Interaction with "friendly" NPCs is more emphasized than the first game, which slows down the pacing a bit but forces you to invest more emotionally in the events. I really applaud the designers' attempts to flesh out the story and deal with some rather mature (I mean "complex" mature, not "South Park" mature) themes, while at last attempting to explain some of the nearly inexplicable supernatural dynamics of the cursed town. The bonus game is brilliant: playing out Maria's parallel story as a confused antagonist seems at first contradictory but eventually far more terrifying than anything in the main game. Realizing that you're playing not as a faceless evildoer but as a lost soul controlled by a greater evil force really strengthens the foundation under the entire series.
If only...as much effort were put into the gameplay as the story. The new true 3-D outdoor engine is nice, although it pushes the PS2 past its drawing limits. Collison detection is still clumsy, but forgiveable because of the slow footspeed of every enemy. Speaking of which, there are only about five relatively un-scary enemy types, and you see them all within the first third of the game. Too many of the environments are recycled from SH1, which in itself is not bad, but there is a real apathy in game design where same-old lock and key puzzles leave you feeling more like an apartment supe checking on his tenants than an adventure gamer. The apartment complex especially drags, and the hospital just didn't freak me out like SH1. The game nearly falls apart during the historical society building's Grand Sewage Expedition: NOT scary or disturbing, VERY frustrating and disorienting. I spent a good portion of my game time wandering pointlessly in this maze, eventually emerging and realizing it was a colossal waste of time, probably there to pad the "value". Fortunately, the hotel saves the experience.
So, I mean to say the overall experience is as good as the first; not as satisfying to play, more of a novel than a roller-coaster ride. Haven't played SH3, I've heard it's a rather short splatterfest which sounds like a sellout to me, so here's hoping the series doesn't run out of energy and turn into another endless RE or Tomb Raider cash tree.
"WARNING: Lock and key puzzle rant!!!"
Is anybody,...I mean, ISN'T EVERYBODY sick of stupid lock and key puzzles? Even a brilliant series like SH can't imagine a better mechanic for story advancement than "go there, get that, put it in that lock"?!?!?! Evil supernatural forces that have wiped out an entire town and can, at will, change the dimension in which I walk have to rely on a bleeping combination lock on a desk drawer to stop me?!?! REALLY?!?!?!?! Isn't it about time that we move on to some grander schemes besides solving some asinine Japanglish riddle, or having to walk ten miles to recover four parts of a rusty key to open a frail wooden door I could easily demolish with the sledgehammer in my inventory?
I swear, nothing ruins the mood of a good horror/adventure game faster than an absurd and clearly arbitrary task. I can't be expected to buy into the terror of my predicament when the designer is telling me that even though my item bag clearly shows I have a welding torch, an uzi, a hydraulic jackhammer, and the Rare Bonus Item Nuclear-Powered Flamethrower, I CAN'T turn the knob on that water faucet until I traipse all over town looking for the magical Wrench of Doom. How 'bout some new ideas?