As you may have already guessed, Silent Hill 2 tends to make me gush until I single-handedly cause a second round of biblical floods. It's one of those games that does a few things so well that it becomes mind-blowingly good, despite being a bit average everywhere else. See also: Resident Evil 4.
If a game combined SH2's level of atmosphere and storytelling with top-notch gameplay, it'd be an instant classic. The ever-reliable Prince of Persia: Sands of Time comes close with its very believable and non-crowbarred-in love interest subplot, but it still didn't fill me with the same fascination as James Sunderland and Pyramid Head's fucked-up bromance.
In the Conduit review, I made reference to a list of game design deadly sins. Thinking about SH2 again has given me inspiration for a set of interactive storytelling commandments, too.
Thou Shalt Not Go To A Cutscene Unnecessarily
Let's go to the current state of the series for our example - at one point in Silent Hill Homecoming, you're making your way down a corridor when the screen fades to black and we go to a cutscene in order to watch Pyramid Head walk across a room. It's impossible to take seriously because it's such an obvious fan-wank that all but has him wink at the camera. It also puts a big rusty triangle-shaped hat through the all-important immersion. SH2 has no less than three occasions when Pyramid Head shows up with no fanfare and without breaking playability, generally just before he starts hacking you up, and it's so wonderfully unsettling, because you know something is fucked up about it but the game doesn't seem to agree. And it's even creepier when he's NOT hacking you up. Your radio's going berserk and he's just standing there behind a set of bars, silently staring at you as if you've just done something he finds intolerably rude, like being in possession of all four limbs.
But when cutscenes ARE necessary:
Thou Shalt Record Mocap And Voices At The Same Time
I really thought this would be industry standard by now. I'm thinking of Oblivion and Fallout 3 here: When you talk to someone they stand perfectly still in front of you, fixing eye contact, rotating their jaws vaguely in time with the words and maybe playing one out of four or five preset gesture animations before snapping back to attention. Now look at the first conversation in the graveyard at the start of SH2 - James and Ms. Crazybollocks wander around, cock their heads to ask questions, gesture uncomfortably when they start creeping each other out... it's a hell of a lot more natural and is ten million times less likely to hurl the viewer out of the game than scary-puppet-fixed-eye-contact-o-vision.