Publishers re-releasing some of their classic games in the form of “HD Collections” is a contentious issue with many gamers. Some would argue that it is a cheap tactic that exploits old titles when the money used to make them could be spent making new high quality titles. The counter argument to this is that by re-releasing the esteemed titles they are exposing a new generation of gamers to these fantastic classic games, while also giving those that loved them first time round a chance to enjoy them all over again.
The latest titles to be pulled from the archives and polished up with a new coat of paint are Konami’s Silent Hill 2 and 3 in the form of the Silent Hill HD Collection. These are your textbook example of the old school survival horror title. Clunky controls that manage to heighten the tension rather than frustrate? Check. Grotesque monsters lurking in the darkness, just waiting to rend you limb from limb? Check. Convoluted confusing narratives that revolve around creepy cults and ancient demon gods? Check.
In short if you’ve ever found yourself lamenting the homogenisation of the survival horror genre then this package is for you.
The first game in the collection, Silent Hill 2, puts you in the role of James Sunderland, a troubled man that receives a letter written by his dead wife telling him to come and find her in the foggy deserted town of Silent Hill. The other game, Silent Hill 3, casts you as a young girl named Heather who is approached by a private detective in a mall that wants to talk to her about the situation of her birth. Things very quickly take a turn for the worst as the world around her changes in to a dark nightmare populated by all manner of revolting creatures.
Picking up the controller and taking control of the characters for the first time will likely feel a bit strange if you’ve never played the older Silent Hill titles before. As the games are fairly old their tank-like controls may feel strange and ungainly. However, within a short time you’ll get used to them and wonder what all of the fuss is about. In this current age of frenzied action games there is something quite refreshing about the game’s laborious pace; it allows you to truly drink up the atmosphere and take in your surroundings.
This collection goes to show how much games have changed over a decade. There are no checkpoints, with only a few designated manual save spots spread throughout either game. Rather than being annoying this really increases the sense of urgency, particularly when you are fighting, as if you die then you’ll have to load your last save. Likewise, when you come across a puzzle you’ll need to manually select the item you want to use to solve the puzzle, rather than rely on some context sensitive button pressing.
The camera system may also feel a little counter intuitive at times as you have no control over it. On occasion you will find yourself running blindly forward completely unaware of what is in front of you, with no way to adjust it. Having said that, there is something about the choice in camera angles that makes it feel like there is someone watching you, which, again, significantly amplifies the unsettling atmosphere.
Speaking of the atmosphere, easily the greatest feature of this collection is the brilliant soundtrack. The eerie ambient music, when coupled with the unnatural sound effects, goes a long way towards creating a truly unpleasant atmosphere.
One of the more interesting things about these early Silent Hill titles is that the enemy designs are so unique, with each of the hideous organic enemies acting as a reflection of your protagonist’s neuroses. For instance Pyramid Head and the busty monster nurses are indicative of the sexual nature of James’ psychological problems. Likewise the disturbing carnival setting and disfigured animals are symbolic of the dark origins of Heather’s child-like innocence. If you actually sit down and think about what is being shown to you it is all very interesting on a basic psychological level.
Graphically speaking, of the two games, Silent Hill 3 is clearly the better looker. In fact, in some places, you could almost say that it looks on par with current gen titles. That’s not to say that Silent Hill 2 doesn’t look very good, because it does, even if it lacks the same level of environmental detail that is found in Silent Hill 3. Similarly the CGI cut scenes (that are used more frequently in Silent Hill 2) look fuzzy and low resolution. In some ways this contributes to the game’s overall gritty B-movie aesthetic, but at the same time it is a little disappointing that they couldn’t clean these up a little any further.
The collection’s biggest strength, its fidelity, is also its only real weakness. All of the flaws that were apparent in the original games have been carried over completely unchanged, notably the clumsy combat system. Basically, holding the attack stance button has you wildly swinging your weapon at the enemy in the hope of hitting them, and while you can strafe when in a combat stance, it isn’t exactly intuitive. Silent Hill 3 adds a new block and dodge mechanic, but it still manages to fall flat in most combat scenarios. For the most part it is advisable to simply avoid conflict and focus on the exploration and puzzle elements of the game instead. Likewise the shooting is imprecise and vague; the guns that you gain access to are best used on the gigantic boss battles, as they are far easier targets to hit.
A welcome feature is the ability to separately select both combat and puzzle difficulty. Choosing the highest difficulty for the combat can turn the game into a hellish experience full of frequent deaths. Meanwhile upping the puzzle difficulty can lead to a significant mental challenge that takes your standard pattern recognition puzzle and adds in elements of general knowledge and detective work. For instance, one of the earlier puzzles, on the highest difficulty, in Silent Hill 3, requires extensive knowledge of the works of Shakespeare. True, in this modern age, you could just google a guide or simply look up the answers, but if do that you’re robbing yourself of a genuinely rewarding experience.
All in all most people reading this review will likely already know if they’re going to buy the Silent Hill HD Collection or not. But, if you’re a fan of survival horror, or are interested in playing some of the best games from the last generation of consoles then you should definitely pick this one up.
Graphics: 3/5 – In some places Silent Hill 3 could almost pass as a current gen title whilst at the other extreme the CGI cut scenes in Silent Hill 2 look fuzzy and pixelated, which is a little disappointing.
Sound: 5/5 - Wonderful soundtrack from Akira Yamaoka contributes a great deal towards the game’s intense atmosphere. A mix of disturbing ambient sounds and inoffensive soft rock goes a long way towards creating that signature Silent Hill feel.
Gameplay: 4/5 – Old school survival horror at its finest. Yes the controls are a little clunky, and the combat system is very wonky, but this all just ends up adding to the tension.
Longevity 5/5 – Two full games, with multiple endings, and the additional “Born From A Memory” side mission from Silent Hill 2′s limited edition version of the game. That’s more than enough content for most people.
Overall 4.5 out of 5
It’s hard not to recommend the Silent Hill HD Collection as it features two of the best titles from the last generation of consoles. Yes these games are about a decade old, but they are still incredibly playable, especially at night… without the lights on…
- Luke Mears