Review: Two of the greatest survival horror games ever get the HD treatment in the SILENT HILL HD COLLECTION – but it’s not the remastering it could have been…
As HD collections go, Konami have gone for a muted approach. The Silent Hill HD Collection simply sharpens up the graphics and re-assembles the voice casts of Silent Hill 2 and 3, giving them a straight and simple update. Silent Hill 2 also contains additional Director’s Cut content.
The early Silent Hill games existed on a knife edge of game design. The real genius of what Konami achieved was to take what could seem like a poor design choice and incorporate it into what makes the game special. Unweildy controls complemented Akira Yamaoka’s unnerving sound design, odd fixed camera angles combined with dark, foggy deserted townscapes to create tension beyond all of the games’ competitors.
Hearing the scuttling sound of monsters moving around, accompanied by white noise, long before you see anything creates a much more palpable sense of fear than witnessing hordes of zombies rushing towards you.
Silent Hill’s choice to forego using firearms as primary weapons also helps develop the atmosphere. When all you have to defend yourself with is a broken pipe, the idea of coming up against any kind of enemy fills you with fear. Of course, there are guns, but they’re rare and ammunition is scarce, best saved for taking down the tougher enemies that appear from time to time.
Both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 are unique experiences that riff on a continuing theme of characters’ own private hells, plunging them head-first into their their worst fears, regrets and inner torments. The strangely convulsing monsters made up of mannequin parts in Silent Hill 2, or the faceless bloodstained nurses of Silent Hill 3, instil terror by turning things that are so familiar into sinister creations with unknown motives. Zombies you can understand, but these alien twists on reality are far more unsettling.
Lost in translation
It’s hard to escape the fact that these are old games. In particular, the clunky control system that actually aided suspense by inducing a kind of frenzied swinging style of attacks now feels a bit too clunky. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the proliferation of the free cameras of our modern action games, but the sluggish controls and fixed cameras that worked so comfortably on the PS2 now feel a mite frustrating.
This would be easier to stomach had the game’s visuals been updated in a satisfying way, but both titles seem to have inherited irritating graphical glitches that were never around in the originals. Having monsters half appear through walls is just wrong on any generation of hardware.
The biggest problem is the fog, though. Silent Hill was defined by its fog: thick, stifling and omnipresent. So for it to look like the game world has been enveloped by a giant grey marshmallow that recedes when you walk towards it… well, it isn’t ideal.
Surrounding it are some odd, poorly-texture wisps that float around, but these just look out of place. Getting the fog wrong is quite a crucial error, and it really dulls the dramatic effect that the fog could have so successfully established.
Not all the remastered features have lost their impact. Yamaoka’s sound design is as powerful as ever, and certainly superior to the audio in the newer Silent Hill games. The re-recorded voice tracks are clear and crisp, and still feel like they belong as part of the games.
But this is ultimately an exercise in disappointment. The two best entries into the Silent Hill series have been unsuccessfully remastered, bizarrely leaving them in worse shape than ever before. Classics of their time, and still well worth experiencing, they’ve not received the attention they deserve.
A disappointing update, the Silent Hill HD Collection still boasts two irrefutable horror classics, but they’re ageing and ugly in this state.
The Silent Hill HD Collection, from Konami, is out now for PS3 (reviewed) and Xbox 360.