How time flies...
Time hasn’t been kind to the Silent Hill franchise, with each new instalment proving to be more disappointing than the last. Silent Hill: Downpour got a few things right, but generally speaking the quality wasn’t anywhere near the standard set by the PlayStation 2 era. But with all these sub-standard sequels, it is getting increasingly hard to distinguish if they were good to begin with. So come on a journey now through time and space, to the land of the Silent Hill of yesteryear in Silent Hill HD Collection. Has nostalgia painted too kind an image all these years?
Both games tell in their own way a compelling story. Silent Hill 2 is widely regarded as one of the most important narratives in the history of gaming; with the many revelations that appear as the plot thickens, this is still largely the case to this day. Silent Hill 3 on the other hand reverts to the more traditional plotline of cultists and old gods with glimmers of HP Lovecraft’s atmospheric dread. Both are compelling narratives for this era, though some might find the supernatural plot of Silent Hill 3 to be a little eccentric for their liking. It is worth noting that for the HD Collection, Konami have re-recorded the voice acting for both games, leaving the option to choose the original PlayStation 2 dub for Silent Hill 2. This will most certainly highlight the point that voice acting has drastically improved in quality over the past decade, but both games still come with a fair amount of cheese.
Playing through the games is a throwback to gaming conventions of the time, which largely translates as being clunky to move around and weapons feeling unwieldy. The default “tank” movement controls are so bad that a quick change in the options menu to “2D” movement is actually a requirement to playing these games. It is rather surprising that they didn’t alter the defaults to reflect the times. Weapons feel disconnected, though with the absence of degradation they are far more reliable to use and the camera on occasion is a cumbersome beast. The true appeal is the layout of each game as while it feels old-fashioned in comparison to the tutorial filled linear styling of modern gaming, it provides a more open feel that resonates far easier. Puzzles may seem to veterans like a familiar diversion, but to newcomers they are interesting features that spice up the flow.
Where both games succeed is with the steady build-up of dread that comes along as you play it. By not fully relying on shock scares that the survival horror genre relies on constantly through the ages, Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 provide bleak backdrops that are home to various abominations. Reading into the origins of Silent Hill 2’s foes is something worth checking out once the story is completed as it provides further insight. Silent Hill 3’s enemy design is just as crazy, though these are merely the manifestations of a corrupt cultist mind trying to summon a god. With their initially unpredictable and shaky movements, combined with the decrepit environments, the whole package paints a delightfully disturbing take on Silent Hill’s desolate exurbia.
Of course, most of you reading this have already played either Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 3. You probably already know that Silent Hill 2 is the main attraction and that Silent Hill 3 is merely a bonus in comparison. But the question of how good the conversion from standard definition PS2 style graphics to super fancy HD resolution is always the most important facet of these collections. Overall the process has been okay, but there are odd blemishes that weren’t around for the original versions. When the game features slightly inferior fog effects, it suddenly becomes more apparent just how well they disguised the technical limitations of the early PlayStation 2 days. Silent Hill 3 fares a little better, but both games feature an odd stuttering effect when loading new areas – a quirk that wasn’t present in the original PlayStation 2 versions and certainly isn’t welcome. The inclusion of Silent Hill 2′s “Born From A Wish” sub-campaign is certainly a nice touch, but that is as far as inclusions go for this collection.
They say that some things don’t age well and in a way this collection proves this idiom. Both games look and feel slightly inferior to the original PlayStation 2 versions with the “improvements” being minor at best. This isn’t largely the fault of the conversion team however, though the fog effects could have been improved in order to disguise any technical difficulties the originals may have had. But scratch beneath the surface and you will still find that Silent Hill HD Collection features the most compelling game of the series and a bonus game that still stands heads and shoulders above more recent outings. Developers shouldn’t look to either game for the combat, but the atmosphere and narrative are what made these games so special in the first place. Just a shame then that neither game got the treatment it deserved in its graduation into the HD Hall of Fame.