Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Vikki Blake, @_vixx
This is a story almost too terrible to tell.
Nah, I’m not talking about the closing moments of Silent Hill 2 (although, let’s face it, that was all pretty grim, wasn’t it?). I’m talking about the tragedy that is the once much-anticipated Silent Hill: HD Collection.
It hurts me to write these words – palpable, gut-wrenching hurt. No-one wanted a re-mastered version of Silent Hill 2 more than I did: NO-ONE. Forgive me this tattered platitude but: Silent Hill? It changed my life. It was the series that shaped me as a gamer, and it was the title that illuminated just how potent interactive storytelling could be. Each dizzying plot twist drew me further and further into Silent Hill’s dark, deep, desperate world and to be honest – even though the place terrifies me – I’ve never left it. A decade later and I’m still utterly fascinated by the mythos and symbolism.
Whilst fans the world over craved the chance to bathe in the grotesque majesty of the series’ early installments once more, for some of us, our excitement for the re-mastering wasn’t merely steeped in nostalgia. Sure, we craved the chance to step into Brookhaven in sparkly high-definition, but what excited us most was the opportunity to invite a whole new generation of tourists into our favourite, effed-up town.
And came they did. And they were duly terrified. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.
First up: a re-master? It’s not a remake. What this HD repackaging should have done is present Silent Hill 2 and 3 to a hitherto untapped audience. Utilising current-gen tech, it should have grasped the collars of today’s horror fans and screamed scares into their faces, exemplifying why it is, even after all these years, games writers still bang on and on about Silent chuffing Hill. Effective and affecting, the Silent Hill series was not just one of horror’s most impressive offerings, but also boasts of the best games – 2 – ever made. Slick, subtle and terrifying, it took an established genre with its customary conventions – those tight camera angles, careful audio cues, clue scavenger hunts and puzzle-solving – and infused it with a whole new dimension of apprehension. For the first time, what you couldn’t see – and couldn’t hear – was just as terrifying as what was snarling in front of you.
But all The Collection does is ram another nail into the coffin of the nauseating Japan vs. The Rest of the World development argument, with developers Hijinx having done nothing to assure the credibility of externally sourced studios (nor that of their own professionalism, I should think).
It’s not even really a “collection”, is it? More of a pair, truth be told. And whilst we might begrudgingly appreciate why the original game isn’t featured – we have Shattered Memories to dive into now, as well as a Playstation Store download – the missing Silent Hill 4 is admittedly perplexing. While it might not have reviewed as favourably as 2 and 3, Silent Hill: The Room – if a little hit and miss when it came to combat and that mind-numbing backtracking – was a dark, malevolent exploration of the depths of abuse and depravity. Konami’s decision to omit it on the off-chance we might not “100% want” The Room was … curious, right? A mystifying ruling, particularly given the Metal Gear Solid HD: Collection – released just weeks before – shipped at the same price but with an additional full game for your money.
The term “HD” seems a bit generous, too, given the re-mastering doesn’t look all that re-mastered. Compare the original Silent Hill 2 against the tarted-up HD Collection and on some occasions, the latter looks worse than the former. Confused? Me too.
Wait. It gets worse.
The atmosphere is no longer atmospheric. The fog – a staple component of the town’s unsettling environs – has dissipated, leaving lumpy, unattractive visuals in its wake, particularly so in Silent Hill 2 where some sequences – the slow, suspenseful boat ride to Lakeview, for instance – are inexcusably poor, revealing unfinished backdrops and once-hidden underlays. The opening of the game, where you jog down from the men’s room, snake around the path, step through the gates? If you’ve played SH2, you’ll know that this sequence is palpably tense as you’re constantly waiting for something to spring out and eat you. But without the fog, it’s just a hot mess. The foreboding so cleverly conjured by the original title has vanished thanks to lukewarm rendering and an arrogant inattention to detail.
The palette in both games has been darkened to such an extent that often you’re left to stumble around in the dark, no matter how generous you are with the brightness settings. The audio’s a mess, too. Yamaoka’s celebrated sound direction has been inexplicably distorted, resulting in missing sounds (forcing your protagonists to respond to noises only dogs and cats can hear, it seems) and others that have been mysteriously replaced – seemingly incorrectly – with footsteps appearing in place of foghorns and Heather’s machine gun suggesting that she might actually be farting her enemies to death. In the original Silent Hill 3 lip-syncing was so succinct you could practically lip-read the script; here, the syncing is off by several excruciating seconds.
The new voices? Heather aside, I don’t have any problems with them, and Troy “Batman” Baker does a particularly good job of conveying Sunderland’s complex characterization via his vocal work. But fans were irritated at Konami messing around with the original presentation, and the backlash was fierce. In the end – for 2, at least – the original voices were reinstated, but to be honest, if the only grip you have with this collection is the voices, I’m pretty sure you haven’t pulled off the shrink-wrap yet.
The truth is, Silent Hill HD Collection is very genuinely broken. Despite faring slightly better than it’s older sibling during the HD transition, Silent Hill 3’s graphical boost seems to have come at the cost of a laboriously laggy frame-rate. Despite having sat for a day playing through, my finish time on Silent Hill 3 states a little under four hours. THAT IS HOW BAD THE FRAME RATE IS. Not only does it throw you entirely out of the otherwise immersive gameplay – which itself is at odds with the careful teasing of the narrative design – but it also can cause full-on hardware crashes. I know this because it happened to me.
The Final Word: If you’ve never played either Silent Hill 2 or 3, then … well, I don’t even know how to talk to you. These games didn’t just set the blueprint for psychological horror, they set fire to it. Expertly waxing and waning with pinprick-precision, the storytelling of Silent Hill is as perfect as horror gets, gaming or otherwise, and reviewing the gameplay and stories of 2 and 3 would’ve secured a 9/10, the single point dropped only owing to the original games’ clunky combat design. But so butchered by issues, errors and game-breaking bugs, you might not get far enough in the HD Collection to find out. And that’s the truly horrifying thing here.
The Silent Hill HD Collection is available on the Xbox 360 and PS3 (reviewed).