“In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill.”
When gamers were introduced to the haunted, foggy town in 1999, they were treated to a different style of horror that played on common psychological fears (fear of loss, darkness and so on). Silent Hill is “The Dunwich Horror” to Resident Evil’s “Night of the Living Dead,” trading in jump scares and zombies for atmosphere and some truly terrifying imagery. As part of Konami’s month long celebration of the franchise, the Silent Hill HD Collection brings Silent Hill 2 and 3 to current generation consoles, passing them through the Sony HDifier(tm).
For those new to Silent Hill, here’s a quick rundown of the games in the collection: Silent Hill 2 puts the spotlight on James Sunderland who finds himself in the outskirts of the town after receiving a letter from his dead wife. The horror of his visit is accentuated by the appearance of terrifying monsters, additional lost souls and a mysterious woman who looks exactly like his former love. Silent Hill 3 is a direct sequel to the original Playstation game. Heather Mason is an average teenager plagued by a series of recurring nightmares. While hanging out at the mall, she is approached by a private investigator who has information regarding her childhood. This chance meeting serves as a catalyst for future events that will reveal Heather’s startling origins.
Silent Hill is survival horror, pure and simple. Both games require the player to guide their characters through the haunted town, battling monsters and solving puzzles in order to advance the story. Although both games share many similarities, tone is not one of them. Silent Hill 2 is a quiet, dramatic character study while Silent Hill 3 is considerably more action heavy, accentuated by a stronger emphasis on combat and survival. In a way, Silent Hill 3 is akin to the Resident Evil-style of survival horror as resource management plays a larger role – bullets are considerably more scarce than they were in Silent Hill 2 and enemies are considerably stronger, warranting the use of items that will distract them long enough for Heather to flee.
From time to time, you’ll find that Heather and James’ path will be blocked (mostly by locked doors and keypads) that require you to hunt down the codes or keys. Unfortunately for you, these keys are often hidden behind puzzles that require varying levels of thought to complete, but choosing a puzzle difficulty will give you an idea of just how hard you’ll have to work towards a solution. If you’re the kind of person who likes to play games for their stories, changing the Action and Puzzle difficulty to the easiest setting will allow you to do just that. Silent Hill never had the best combat, to be honest, as it lacks the grace and precisions of today’s action titles. This has always been an issue for the franchise (one game got rid of it entirely), but Silent Hill is at its best when the atmosphere and tension becomes so unbearable that you’re terrified of moving down darkened corridors and forced to sleep with the lights on. And let’s not forget the audio work of Akira Yamaoka. If the monsters and environment won’t freak you out, the uncomfortable industrial ambience will.
Now that I’ve discussed the collection in a positive light, let’s talk about my three biggest concerns. First, why wasn’t the original Silent Hill included? I took the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection to task for pulling the same thing. What gives Konami? Why did you re-release two franchises that require experiencing the first game in some way? Much like Metal Gear Solid 2, understanding the significance of Silent Hill 3 is largely dependent on whether or not you played the first Silent Hill. Silent Hill 2 can live in a vacuum, as it contains no significant ties to its predecessor but Silent Hill 3 cannot exist without it. As a result, new players – whom Konami is obviously trying to court here – are going to be confused unless they play the game or read about it on Wikipedia. You can get it on PSN for a few dollars, but I find it hard to believe they didn’t have enough room on the Blu-ray disc for another 500MB game.
Second, I’m upset with how Silent Hill has been treated with this collection. Seriously? Just two games? Konami missed a perfect opportunity to truly celebrate the legacy of Silent Hill. Why not include all of the content from the Silent Hill 2 “making of” DVD produced when the game originally launched in Europe? How about some Silent Hill 3 concept art? Post-mortem interviews with Team Silent? Hell, why not include the Silent Hill comics? Maybe add another game, like Silent Hill Origins or Silent Hill 4: The Room? How about the Silent Hill: Play Novel for heaven’s sake? Silent Hill certainly deserves much more than this.
Finally, the new voice cast. When rumors began circulating that Konami was preparing an HD version of both games, news got out that the voice recordings for Silent Hill 2 were going to be replaced with an all new cast. The Internet raged and Guy Cihi, the original voice actor for James Sunderland, become very outspoken against Konami, claiming they didn’t want to pay him royalties. After much back and forth, the original recording was restored for Silent Hill 2 and players were given the option to choose to hear either the new or original recordings. I was surprised to discover that Silent Hill 3 didn’t get this compromise and the game’s script was entirely re-recorded. The new cast for both games do a decent enough job, but I find the speech to be a little too “breathy” and experienced some serious audio sync errors in Silent Hill 3. Certain effects, like Heather’s grunting and the swishing of a knife blade, feel cheaply produced and poorly implemented (you may think this is nitpicking, but it is too noticeable to ignore). At the very least, I am pleased Silent Hill 2 retained the original recording as I cannot imagine anyone other than Monica Horgan delivering the game’s final heartbreaking monologue.
Silent Hill 2 and 3 certainly good in HD, but that in itself is a problem. Back in the day, hardware limitations force Silent Hill to perform a few technical tricks in order to cut down on the draw distance, one of which being the implementation of fog. The Playstation 2 yielded more power and allowed Team Silent to beef up the fog effects, turning it into something more than just a camera trick and as a result, the game looked moody and it increased the tension of the abandoned town’s spooky atmosphere. The HD version of the scales the fog back almost completely, exposing what Team Silent was trying to hide: short draw distances. For a better understanding of this problem, check out this screenshot comparison feature from Siliconera.
Despite the above complaint, I must admit that both games look great with sharper and clearer textures, giving me an opportunity to catch tiny details that were once illegible. For example, I had no idea there was a poster for Maria’s show at Heaven’s Night on the wall of the men’s bathroom James visits before the game begins – a cool foreshadow of what’s to come. The clarity of Silent Hill 3 is breathtaking and looks much better than the PS2 version.
EDIT: There has been a lot of talk going on about severe graphical glitches and frame rate issues, resulting in Konami releasing a quick patch designed to address those problems. After installing the patch, everything seemed to run fine in Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill 3 still had the audio sync glitches that, while annoying, were not game breaking.
Like most HD collections, people who flock to these collections want them out of nostalgia, are stuck with a non-backwards compatible PS3 or what to play it out of curiosity. The stories and experiences of Silent Hill 2 and 3 have stood the test of time and despite playing them so many times over the years, they still resonate with me (and I still cry like a baby at the end of Silent Hill 2). The old school, 3D tank controls might be off putting to new players, but switching to a 2D scheme will make the experience much more comfortable and familiar. Combat may not be the best, but the strong atmosphere, genuinely terrifying moments and mature storylines will certainly hold your interest.
It truly is a shame that this collection doesn’t come with a whole lot of content. Talk about a wasted opportunity! If you compare this set with, say, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (which came with three disc-based games AND Metal Gear 1 and 2),it is hard not to feel gypped. The version of Silent Hill 2 on the disc does come with the bonus “Born From A Wish” scenario, but if Konami was using this as a means to introduce players to the series , it‘s a pretty weak effort and reeks as a cash grab.
The big question here is “Should I buy it?” That depends. If you count yourself a fan of the Silent Hill franchise and already own copies of these games on the Playstation 2 or Xbox, save your money and stick with the originals. Sure, you’ll miss out on the clarity of 1080p resolution, but in the case of Silent Hill 2, that comes at a cost. This collection is better suited for newcomers who have no previous experience with (or attachment to) Konami’s survival horror classic.