Silent Hill: HD Collection (Konami, 2012, Xbox 360/PS3)
Well, if you’ve been reading any of my other reviews or forum posts and/or know me even in the slightest, you’ve probably already guessed what score I’m going to give this collection.
And you’d be right.
But it’s not my avid fanboy-ism taking hold, I assure you! The Silent Hill HD Collection is an awesome update of two of survival horror’s greatest games, in one convenient package! And for less than the price of a regular retail game! Bonus! Exclamation point!
For those of you that haven’t played a Silent Hill game before (blasphemers), I’ll try to fill you in. Silent Hill is the name of a small American town with a rather shady and downright evil past. To the unfortunate civilians that manage to stumble upon the town, a typical itinerary might look something like this: Walk through mysterious thick fog, find radio, hear radio emit static, monster appears, kill monster with makeshift weapon, hear air raid siren, witness walls and floor peel away into darkness, find flashlight, put flashlight in convenient chest pocket, complete soul-wrenching quest to fight literal personal demons.
All jokes aside, the (early) Silent Hill games are truly the peak of the survival horror genre. In this collection, you get Silent Hill 2 & 3, frequently hailed as the best in the series. You might be asking why the first wasn’t included – it was released for the Playstation in ’99 and to completely overhaul the graphics would have taken a helluva lot longer. If you’re worried about continuity, you only need to be half. Silent Hill 2 actually has nothing to do with the first game (save for the town itself) and can be played on its own. Silent Hill 3, however, is the direct sequel to the first game and might require a playthrough of the first (which is available to PS3 owners on the Playstation Store; sadly, 360 owners might have to Wikipedia/YouTube the plot) in order to truly understand everything.
Naturally, I started with Silent Hill 2. Our protagonist James Sunderland has received a letter from his wife Mary, asking him to meet her in their “special place” in Silent Hill. Wow. Scary. Well it gets even scarier when you consider that Mary has been dead for three years. Despite that little setback, our hero makes the drive to the town, stopping at a highway restroom to reassure himself that he’s not crazy. This is widely regarded as the best game in the series. While I can agree it’s the best story, in my opinion it’s not the scariest. James’ tale is one of emotion and a rich psychological atmosphere, tackling controversial subjects such as incest, sexual frustration, torture and of course, murder. I have to say, after watching the intro cinematic, I was immediately disappointed to see that the graphics hadn’t appeared to change at all. I told myself it was a pre-rendered cutscene, so the in-game graphics would be different.
Boy, I love when I’m right.
I was blown away as soon as I took control of James. I’ll admit, given the recent trend of “HD” remakes that seem to do nothing more than paint a fresh coat of pixels over the main characters while leaving the environments to suffer, I was skeptical that I would see anything different here. But Konami has set the bar in putting the “HD” into HD collections. Not only do James and the other character models look much sharper, but the environments have been completely overhauled with that fresh pixel paint. Granted, it’s not perfect and you’ll still be able to tell you’re playing an HD upgrade, but it’s really refreshing to play these games with this level of polish.
My only gripe would have to be the fog; it swirls around you and looks a bit too crisp for its own good. The fog is supposed to obscure my vision. If they’d left it in low-res, it might have worked in the game’s favour.
Silent Hill 3, as mentioned above, is a direct sequel to the first game. Our protagonist this time around is 17-year-old Heather (to say any more would ruin 1’s story) who finds herself in a shopping mall running an errand. After encountering an odd private investigator, Heather escapes – only to find herself trapped in the Otherworld, pursued by a cult that needs her for some unknown reason.
I’ll admit right now, I’m still playing through Silent Hill 3. I played the original on the PS2, so I know what goes down; but my backlog of games to play and review is steadily rising and I need to push onwards! However, I’m far enough in that unless the final act of the game is completely broken, I can make a sound analysis. The game is crispier (yeah, crispier) than 2, especially since we don’t have any pre-rendered cutscenes to suffer through this time around. My only gripe with this title would be the massive slowdown that seems to occur whenever there are more than a few monsters onscreen. The frame rate doesn’t dip; but the game slows almost to a crawl, as if everything is underwater (tip: when you find the Bulletproof Vest, which will slow you down in exchange for damage protection, don’t wear it). It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s noticeable enough to get annoying.
From a gameplay perspective, both 2 and 3 are almost identical. James and Heather (like Harry in the first game) are everyday people, not soldiers. Combat is clunky and for good reason. Swinging a metal pipe or a stick with nails feels desperate, as you try to keep the horrifying creatures away from you. I did find that ammo was a little too plentiful, particularly in the second game, making things a little too easy. You can always bump up the difficulty (which remains separate from the Puzzle Difficulty, something a dunce like me is grateful for). Speaking of puzzles, 3 can be brutal in that regard. I can’t tell you how long I spent aimlessly walking and wandering with an item in my inventory that I knew needed to be used somewhere, just not where specifically. That’s part of the reason I haven’t yet finished it this time around. Despite beating it years ago, I can’t remember where everything is or goes. And since I only play at night, staring back and forth between a guide and the screen just kills the atmosphere.
Speaking of atmosphere (I’m a master of segues), it’s the area that Silent Hill absolutely crushes the competition. Mansions filled with zombies might make some uneasy, but Silent Hill can (and will) destroy your nerve. Play at night with surround sound (or headphones, if possible). The creature designs are grotesque and warped (Pyramid Head, the Mannequins, and the Closers in particular). The locales around town might seem quiet and dilapidated in the “daytime”, but once that siren goes off and the darkness descends, it gets scary. A scheme that can only be described as blood and rust seems to take hold; chains hang from ceilings, the streets become a grated walkway and a mysterious rain begins to fall. All of this is illuminated by the simple pocket flashlight both characters use. And hearing that radio emit static, along with the movement and vocalizations of the creatures off in the darkness (or even fog) is still chilling.
Speaking of sounds (last one, I promise), it’s the area right behind atmosphere that makes these games the best. The soundtracks – both by Akira Yamaoka – are gritty and industrial, ratcheting up the fear factor by several degrees. Silent Hill 2 has completely redone voiceovers too, in addition to the original voices. I gave the new voices a spin and was quite impressed. The actors are working with the clearly Japanese script, but they manage to sound more compelling this time around. The sound effects are also fairly decent; the monsters emit horrific vocalizations, but in true Silent Hill fashion, the most terrifying sounds are of the things you can’t see. Another 2 reference might seem lopsided, but bear with me: Heading down the Hospital stairs, a high-pitched squeal that can only be described as a cross between a baby and a pig suddenly burst from nowhere, scaring the bejeezus out of me. The best part is never finding out what exactly made that noise.
If you remember playing either of these games back in the day and want to do so again, by all means pick up the Silent Hill HD Collection. If you’re new to the series, this is a great entry point; however, playing 3 without playing 1 might confuse the plot. Regardless, you’ll still enjoy the atmosphere that both games create and you will get freaked out. Do yourself a favour and plan your next vacation in the quaint, quiet and terrifying town of Silent Hill.