This console generation has been an interesting one, where marvelous technical advancements have mixed with many odes to the past. With the introduction of downloadable game services came an influx of remakes, revamps and sequels, based on classic titles from yesteryear. Many affordable homages were released under that high-tech game plan, but the philosophy of making what’s old into new extended further into retail discs, thus creating a market for HD collections containing popular series from gaming’s last console generation. Konami‘s Silent Hill HD Collection is the latest set to grace our high-definition, controller-based devices, looking to provide gamers with a chance to relive some memorable scares. Due to this resurgence, the question becomes whether those games’ mechanics have held up since they were first released one decade ago.
Strangely enough, the Silent Hill HD Collection does not contain the series’ first nightmare. Instead, its single disc is made up of two sequels, which showcase some of the most popular ghosts of the eerie town’s past. Silent Hill 2, a game that has often been referred to as the best interactive horror game of all-time, is the star of the show. It’s flanked by Silent Hill 3; perhaps the scariest game ever made. Together, the two provide around 15 hours of atmospheric gameplay for a $40 price tag. The deal is a decent one for those who wish to relive the past through digital means, but keep in mind that the survival horror genre is one that doesn’t tend to age overly well. These are still two good games, but they’re noticeably dated.
At its core, the survival horror experience has been made up of the same principles: exploration, combat and puzzle completion. You walk around an area, looking for different things that will help you progress, sometimes having to combine different items into one progression-allowing creation. Many times, puzzles will require in-depth looks throughout varied environments, where tiny items can be discovered by repeatedly pressing a button. It’s a rather old design that still works relatively well. Combat factors in throughout, although it’s not constant. Since you’re usually in a setting that promotes mobility, running is often a better option than combat. There’s nothing perfect about these control schemes, but they (sort of) do the job.
At the beginning of Silent Hill 2, a young man named James Sunderland receives a letter from his deceased wife, asking him to meet her in their favourite getaway town: Silent Hill. After traveling to what used to be a popular resort town, our assumed main character becomes the town’s play toy, as he searches through its darkest secrets in an attempt to understand his strange situation. Not surprisingly, finding clues means in-depth detective work throughout a dark and deteriorating environment that is filled with labyrinthine buildings.
Throughout the campaign that made 2002 a frightful year, players are forced to battle monsters, as well as the elements. Silent Hill 2 is more in line with what we’re used to from the series, with an open world design and hints that lead the player from one point to another. Back when it was released, it quickly rose to status as my favourite survival horror game, making this digital return an interesting experience. Dated controls and the aforementioned clunky elements do factor in to make hindsight better than foresight, but that is to be expected.
Silent Hill 3 is a bit different from its predecessor, in that its action is much more closed-in from the get-go. It’s set 17 years after the events of the series’ debut, following a teenaged girl named Heather who has found herself caught in the town’s otherworldly core. What begins as a trip home after a day spent out on the town quickly turns into a nightmare. While James Sunderland’s quest puts him in Silent Hill from the get-go, Heather’s journey begins in a neighbouring town. This means that the majority of the first half of the game is spent in closed-in areas, many of which happen to be pitch black. A flashlight, mixed types of weapons (a knife, a pipe, and guns) help tackle what are incredibly disturbing creatures, whose sickening sounds fill each enclosed hallway with dread.
Although this second sequel isn’t as strong as its incredibly popular predecessor, it’s far from a slouch. The pure claustrophobic fear that resides within its lines of code trumps just about every other survival horror game this pair of controller-friendly hands have battled through. However, the developers’ emphasis on using overbearing darkness and an ungodly amount of enemies can lead to frustration as you search through complexes in order to find the one part that will complete a puzzle. That complaint is amplified by the near-perfect angle that Heather must be positioned at, in order to pick-up certain things, leading to sweeps of areas where important things can be missed. Silent Hill 3 deserves commendation for its shocking imagery, disturbing frights and unique puzzle ingredients, including cleaning fluids and a walnut. Although it’s not a perfect game, there’s still a lot to like about what is an enjoyable experience, even after a decade-long slumber.
Prior to making a decision regarding whether or not to take a trip down memory lane, by entering the digital history of one very iconic ghost town, gamers must evaluate themselves. If fixed cameras and aged control schemes are things that are bound to be a turn off, then this package may not be a good purchase. Where it excels is in delivering a history lesson of sorts; one that is full of creeps, scares, shocks and disturbing imagery. Even though it’s been quite a while since these games first hit retail store shelves, the scares have not been diminished. Both games are extremely creepy and atmospheric, even to this day. To fully enjoy all of those elements, one must forget about the lack of camera control that is provided. It’s also important to be able to overlook needle in the haystack exploration, ambiguous puzzles and clunky combat.
The Silent Hill franchise has never been for casual gamers, despite its predominantly high-quality storytelling and the inclusion of easy difficulty settings for each iteration’s puzzles and combat. Even today, the survival horror genre’s mechanics aren’t perfect, and its slow-paced nature happens to be for the more seasoned/involved crowd. As a result, this Silent Hill HD Collection is more for longtime fans than newcomers. That isn’t a slight against the series or a deterrent against those looking to see what made fans fall in love with the fog-filled town years ago. Instead, think of it as a bit of a warning that the games aren’t as accessible as many others are today. If you’re up for the challenge then, by all means, unleash these ghosts from video game history. Game enhancing awards can be earned by those who make their way through each one more than once, and multiple endings are also available to promote replay value.
After being assigned this revamp project, Hijinx Studios‘ team members took the time to remaster each of its two campaigns. Like every other remastered set before it, an effort was made to polish the included, standard definition visuals, into high-definition. Full widescreen presentation was also added. Was this attempt as successful as others have been? Unfortunately not. Although both games look slightly better than they did before, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed by this resolution-based makeover. What’s presented is serviceable, considering how dark each title was to begin with, but a lot of the featured textures don’t show a noticeable amount of improvement. Certain parts look better, but others (such as Silent Hill 2‘s lake), actually look worse. The fog in Silent Hill 3 also has white blocks that come flying at the player’s avatar. Additionally, the cinematics from Silent Hill 2 don’t show much of a change, appearing to have similar fidelity to my memories of the 2002 PS2 disc.
To be frank, I’m not someone who bases a game’s worth on its visuals. Nice-looking visuals are a great bonus, helping to create a sense of realism and immersive impression. However, great gameplay is what makes a game good. As long as it plays well and runs well, it’s tough to really complain unless you’re looking for a spectacle that will show off a brand new, high-definition TV. The fact of the matter is that none of these HD collections will be up to snuff with the games that are being released in this year of 2012. With that being said, there are things that one should expect from a project like this one. That list would include a noticeable visual upgrade, better overall specs and the ability to run without issues on improved hardware.
While it’s surprising that some of the visual elements are so mediocre and unimpressive, the main issue lies in the way each one plays. Neither one happens to be well-optimized for the PlayStation 3, which is the version I looked at. Even after a release window patch, this remastered gameplay action suffers from some annoying issues. Most of them are attributed to performance, with frame rates that leave things to be desired. Even when enemies are not around, character movement will stutter. Sometimes, this is only a minor occurrence with a slight glitch, but that isn’t always the case. Many times, overall slowdown reared its ugly head, meaning that it seemed like my utilized avatar was running in quicksand. That issue should not be a part of something like this, because the goal is to improve performance. The fact that it happened at times where enemies seemed to be absent from the local area makes this glitch all the more grievous.
Konami called in the assistance of new voice actors to record new dialogue for Silent Hill 2. It wasn’t a necessary change and I found that the two different casts’ work was close to a wash. The only major issue is that some of the lip-syncing is off with the new voice work. If that will become a frustrating hindrance to your overall experience, then it’s suggested that you pick the default option. Both are presented at the main menu when a play through is launched, but saves cannot be split between the two selections. The rest of the set’s audio has been well-remastered, mixing incredibly creepy sound effects with great, atmospheric music.
Available for an affordable price tag, Konami‘s Silent Hill HD Collection marks the competent return of two of the survival horror genre’s past triumphs, filled with diverse enemy designs and frightening atmospheric effects. Where it excels is in its ability to allow fans to revisit previously-mastered nightmares, although newcomers will also become invested in the supplied titles if they’re able to overlook how dated their mechanics are after a decade of dust. If the aforementioned technical issues weren’t prevalent, and the game hadn’t gone completely black on me during one initial loading attempt, it would be easier to give this set a higher recommendation rating. However, those deficiencies keep what could’ve been a great package from achieving that commendable status. Instead, what you’ll find here is a only a serviceable collection that just so happens to include two well-liked games. The real shame is that the original Silent Hill was overlooked.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.