A version of this review was originally published on StrategyInformer.com, and is reproduced here with permission.
As many would consider several of the Silent Hill among their best ever horror games (and indeed their best videogames, period), it’s apt that Konami should choose to re-release a couple of them onto the Playstation 3 amidst the swelling of support/disappointment over their latest release, Silent Hill: Downpour. Indeed it’s just nice to see Silent Hill 2 popping up onto the radar again, and hopefully the spit and polish applied to this HD Collection will introduce that classic to a whole new generation.
In terms of content then, Silent Hill HD Collection groups together both Silent Hill 2 and 3, with the more disappointing later releases (and the somewhat seminal original) left in the gutter. Maybe there will be a full collectors release on the next Playstation platform with the entire series on one holo-disc or whatever we end up using, but for now, grouping two of the strongest entries in the series together is a sensible choice.
Whilst we’ve seen varying amounts of success and effort poured into these HD collections thus far, Konami has chosen to be smart about exactly what improvements and tweaks that they’ve made to the two games. Indeed, to somebody that hasn’t played these games in years, you might be pushed to tell the difference between the PS2 and PS3 era visuals; the fog and dirt seem eerily familiar, and there are no jarring technical niggles that stand out as partocularly disappointing (Silent Hill 3 has a tendency to creep into slower frame rates from time to time, but it’s nothing show-stopping).
For me, the fact that both 2 and 3 look as if you’d conjured their images from rose-tinted memory is a sign of a job well done, as popping the original discs into the drive reveals a very different experience. Aside from the obvious benefits gained from rendering at a higher resolution, textures have been cleaned up and re-worked where appropriate, the inventory and menu screens are crisp but kept roughly to their original styles, and that grimy and oppressive fog is rolled back slightly to enable a fraction more of the environment to be viewable at any moment.
And where other titles from the Playstation 2 era wrestle with art styles that and textures that simply don’t look right when scaled up to an HD resolution, both these Silent Hill games almost get a free pass in that regard, as much of their atmosphere comes from simply hiding things from the player. These early games were as much about your mind filling in the blanks of the superb audio cues as they were actually facing off against the hideous creatures roaming the streets, and no amount of retro-dilution can alter that. When you do encounter the monsters, their design and jarring animation still carries a weight of spiky creepiness, and the combat is as oppressively clunky and difficult as it always has been.
Indeed, that painful combat system is shown up even more in these re-releases thanks to a new control scheme that removes the old ‘tank-style’ movement. Being able to directly move either James or Heather with an analogue stuck is a godsend in this day and age, but it does come at the price of mitigating the difficulty level somewhat. Running away is as simple as pushing a direction, and the protracted combat animations feel extremely at odds with that new-found fluidity. Purists can always keep to the original controls however, and even the new voice work (which has been completely re-recorded to a much better quality, with better actors) can be swapped out in favour of the fairly flat delivery they might be accustomed to.
As for the games themselves, it goes without saying that Silent Hill 2 is the bonafide classic here, and everybody interested in the medium owes themselves at least one playthrough.
Revisiting those streets, it’s amazing to see how much hand-holding has been introduced to the genre in the interim, and indeed how much of the tension, confusion and oppression has been filtered out with the introduction of modern design. You’re left to your own devices in Silent Hill 2, and the sense of isolation (which is a conceit central to the plight of James in his search for his long-dead wife) is what drives the experience. Well, that and Akira Yamaoka’s incredible score anyway, which remains one of the best that videogaming has ever produced.
In that regard, Silent Hill 3 is almost a bonus addition, as 2 is pretty much worth the asking price alone. Not that 3 was ever a particularly bad game in its own right, but the plight of Heather never felt quite as emotional or personable as that of James, and it tended to wander a little more slowly through its set pieces. Revisiting it now reveals that those points largely hold true, but it’s also worth noting that the atmosphere and sense of impending dread is every bit as disturbing as it always was, which is a step up on most modern horror titles to begin with.
About the only disappointing aspect of the Silent Hill HD Collection then is that there aren’t any additional features to speak of. They’ve missed a trick here, as I can recall watching a documentary on the original Silent Hill 2 (complete with an acoustic rendition of the title theme from Mr Yamaoka himself) near its release in 2001, and I’m a sucker for those sorts of curio additions in packages like this. Give me a retro collection with more ephemera than videogame and I’ll be a happy man, but then maybe I’m in the minority in that regard.
Regardless, Silent Hill HD Collection is a wonderful trip down memory lane for those that played the originals, and it stands as a masterclass in the horror genre for anybody that didn’t. I’m confident that Silent Hill 2 will be held up as one of the greatest games of all time in years to come, and you owe it to yourself to (re)visit those deserted streets.