[Ghosts Of Gaming Past] A Review Of The ‘Silent Hill HD Collection’

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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.

A lot.

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).

 
  • drmodem

    Absolutely spot on. Fantastic article!

    • Vixx

      Cheers, drmodem – much appreciated. :)

  • Voorhees83

    They came out with a fix for this game that ps3 automatically downloads when you play this game. There shouldn’t be anymore hardware crashes or obvious lagging. That being said, the collection deserves a little more credit then 1 and a half skulls.

    • chris99x

      I disagree. Even with the patch, which doesn’t fix all of the game’s many problems, 1 and a half seems about accurate.

      • Vixx

        Maybe I should have made it clearer in the review, but I played this for review AFTER the patch – the issues with sound, missing fog, graphical glitches etc. are all still there, Voorhees83. Even the slowdown, I’m afraid,

        Like I said: for the games themselves? We’re talking 9/10. But given the games are still unplayable for some despite the patch, it’s a below-average score for a below-average game.

        • Voorhees83

          Hmm, that’s weird. I have a copy on ps3 and really don’t notice any issues with sound or graphic glitches. As for missing fog, it’s been ages since I played these games on their original format. I couldn’t tell you that, but doesn’t seem to be a big deal to me on how much fog there was or is.

          Overall, I paid $20 bucks for this 2 game collection. They both bring back great memories and put a smile on my face. Definitely not any less creepy with missing fog. I’d be pretty pissed if I saw sound and graphic issues, but I don’t. I’m not saying anyone is wrong, but I find it a mystery.

  • AfterTheAsylum

    My PS3 version wasn’t bogged down with all these problems. In fact, I loved the collection. My only gripe is that SH1 was not remastered because SHSM was garbage (especially when compared to SH1 – my favorite in the franchise).

    • Vixx

      You didn’t enjoy SHSM?! I did. It wasn’t without issues, but I thought it was a great game (besides the fact enemies were contained to the nightmare sequences). I think if it had been presented as a new/stand alone game, it would’ve received much better reception.

      It’s great to read that you didn’t have any of the issues I had, AfterTheAsylum. Would much rather people have the chance to play the game without the problems I experienced.

      • ljbad

        Agreed. SHSM was a great game!

      • AfterTheAsylum

        I have a lot of gripes with SHSM. The biggest one is that it screwed me and the rest of you out of having a true remake of SH1. SH1 was eerie, panic-inducing and the story was just amazing. It had so many interwoven stories, high replayability and so many unnerving and reality checking sounds and visuals. It was as perfect as SH comes.

        So let’s eliminate the fact that SHSM prison-raped SH1 and my hopes.

        SHSM did not allow me the chance to make decisions. Part of the beauty of survival horror is the mental cataloging of ammo and health. Without the decision to run or fight, you eliminate hesitation (which is fear). Then SHSM confines my mortality to a specific scenario, which means I know nothing – nothing – is beyond the corner or behind the door. Things aren’t scary when you know what to expect. Yeah, the psychologist thing was cool. The interactive mental analysis was cool, but nothing else was. It was wasted. I play every silent Hill title, in order, every year at first snowfall and SHSM is the only one in the franchise that doesn’t grow on me. It’s uneventful and boring. If it didn’t carry the SH name, it wouldn’t have sold what it did and I still wouldn’t like it.

        So, allow me to say this… I don’t like the game as a standalone title. I dislike the game as a Silent Hill title. I hate the game as a Silent Hill 1 spiritual remake.

  • romanthemysterian

    I played the 360 version. It was pretty much fine.

  • haterzwantwar

    If I recall correctly, the fog issue was limited to the PS3 version as the current hardware lacked the capabilities to render the fog featured in earlier Silent Hill games, pretty sure they could have worked round this but you know how lazy they are when it comes to HD updates.

    I played through the originals when they were realeased and the 360 versions, enjoyed it but it could have definitely done with more polish. They said they were gonna patch the lip sync etc when there was a big uproar, then just gave the middle finger to fans, as is often the way once your money has been taken.

  • turtlenipple

    Played the 360 version and while the controls still kinda sucked I had a blast.. never finished 3 though

  • Taboo

    I must say that I definitely don’t agree with your rating. I mean 1 and half skull, really? :p

  • Craiggy

    What a lousy review for a brilliant collection of classic videogames. Silent Hill 2 plays very much as I recall from the days of the PS2 and XBOX which is to say it was the premiere gaming horror experience. Reliving those moments of fear on the 360 was a high point for me as a gamer this year. I can’t recommend the collection enough based on just that. But we also have the breakout hit Silent Hill 3 to enjoy and enjoy it I did without once finding the games in any way ‘broken’ or diminished and I couldn’t care less that they didn’t live up to the reviewers expectations. Those expectations were more than met at the time the games were originally issued. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 are now what they were then; wonderful. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to replay these gems again and even without the enhanced graphics we see today the Silent Hill collection still easily rates 4/5 skulls.