Much as I love "survival horror" games, I have genuine trouble playing them. I like to think this is because I become so engrossed in the game and commit myself to it so completely that the scares are extremely effective on me. But others might say that it's because I'm a complete pussy. I'll let you decide which theory you want to subscribe to. When my girlfriend announced that she'd had enough of the 'cutesy' games I'd been pushing on her (the risible "Hello Kitty" game being the proverbial straw) and wanted to try something meatier, I realised it was time to bit the bullet and bring out Silent Hill 2, a game that had been lying untouched since I bought it almost two years ago. The idea being that she would play most of the game, handing (read: throwing) the controller to me whenever the action got a bit much for her.
Throughout the course of the game, you realise how much the game loves to fuck with you. It's true that most survival horror games like to fuck with you in some way - the cheap-but-fun parlour tricks of "Eternal Darkness" making you think your controller had become unplugged, or the twisted self-referential jokes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 - but Silent Hill turns this into an art form. The static on your character's hand-held radio being a particularly good example. It warns the player that an enemy is close, but doesn't give any indication of exactly where it is. And there's only one thing scarier than something you can't see: something you can't see, but know is there.
By the middle of Silent Hill 2, you'll have collected most weapons and found plenty of ammunition for your arsenal. Even on "normal" difficulty, the enemies aren't particularly troublesome. The ones you can't kill are easy to avoid. At this stage, even my girlfriend was taunting the enemies. I'm pretty sure I heard her smack-talking Pyramid Head.
And that's when the game pounces.
Inside a hotel, you come across a lift. You have to go down a couple of floors and pick up some items. Unfortunately, when you step into the lift (the only way down), an alarm goes off. A helpful sign informs you that the lift, in true videogame logic, has a weight limit of exactly one person. I spent five minutes shouting at the TV. "You sneaky fuckers! There's someone else in the lift with me! Someone on the roof! Someone I can't see!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?!!" Eventually, I discovered what it wanted me to do: my inventory was weighing me down, so I'd have to dump all of my guns and ammunition and go in unarmed. It wouldn't even let me carry a stick to club potential enemies with.
And with that, my shouting went up a notch. I paused the game and shrieked at the TV for a good ten minutes. I knew that I would be in a cramped basement filled with the worst kinds of brain-spew this side of a Francis Bacon painting (see what I did there?). And I would be completely defenceless. In the end, I spent more time bitching and moaning about what I had to do than I spent actually doing it, but that's entirely beside the point.
Not long after the game was finished, myself and my girlfriend went on a late-night tour of Kilmainham Jail, a special one-off tour as part of heritage week, given by a friend of ours. It was all about execution within the jail, taking us through some of the places not shown on the 'normal' tour. I don't think anyone was as freaked out as us - the whole thing was exactly like something out of Silent Hill, right down to the creepy map on the wall.
So now, if anyone asks me if Silent Hill 2 is a good game, I tell them about walking through Kilmainham Jail, constantly checking over my shoulder for zombie nurses. It takes a truly spectacular game to mess you up long after the computer is turned off.