The survival horror genre isn't what it used to be. The previous console generation gave us a wealth of titles with horror-themed elements on all platforms from various publishers and developers. In this console generation, however, the genre has become a niche, with fewer publishers attempting something new while others have transformed their franchises to include more action. Quite a number of the games from the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era were fondly remembered. From Konami, that includes Silent Hill 2 and, to a lesser degree, Silent HIll 3. Keeping up with the recent trend, Konami decided to hire Hijinx Studios to bring these two titles to the current generation with a little HD makeover. The Silent Hill: HD Collection may not be technically perfect, but the games still resonate after all these years.
The plots for both titles couldn't be more different. Silent Hill 2 has you playing the role of James Sunderland. Three years ago, his wife died from a horrible disease, and he's been a wreck ever since. However, he recently received a letter from his now-deceased wife asking to meet him back at their special place. To James, that place is the sleepy little town of Silent Hill, but without a specific location, he has to wander and try to figure out whether his wife is really alive, where the monsters are coming from, and why they're after him.
Since this version is based on the director's cut of the game, subtitled Restless Dreams, you get a bonus story that focuses on Maria. The scene opens with her aware of the monsters in the town and her holed up in an apartment with a gun in her hand. After arguing with herself about whether she should simply surrender to the monsters or kill herself, she goes into the town to find someone else before she resigns herself to her fate.
Silent Hill 3, on the other hand, follows Heather, the adopted daughter of the first game's protagonist, Harry Mason. Throughout her life, she was unaware of what had transpired when she was an infant and had been living in relative peace when she's hounded by a private investigator at the local mall. After her run-in, she is mysteriously transported to the alternate universe of the mall, which is filled with monsters. Once she escapes, she finds her adoptive father murdered, along with an explanation that a cult in Silent Hill was responsible for the crime. Bent on revenge, she ventures into the town to stop the cult and the second coming of their murderous god.
Like the plots, the pacing and structure for each game differs a good deal. From the beginning, Silent Hill 2 delivers psychological horror more than anything else. There are a few scares due to creatures popping up from nowhere, but most come from dark or foggy areas mixed in with ambient noise. Constantly hearing footsteps and growls in secluded areas but not being able to see anything raises the tension since you're always anticipating something to show up. The plot also amplifies the disturbing atmosphere with discussions of sexual abuse and animal abuse. On the other hand, in Silent Hill 3, the horror and plot build up slowly but rely on gore more than anticipation. The monsters look more grotesque, and the environments, while still showing signs of decay, are caked with more dried blood than any entry before or since. While it doesn't quite embrace the level of gore seen in Mortal Kombat or God of War, it isn't a game for the squeamish.
The gameplay, however, is similar in both titles. There's more emphasis on obscure puzzle-solving and exploration than compared to other horror titles, though you have the option to modify the level of difficulty for puzzles separately from overall game difficulty. Another similarity lies in combat. Unlike most horror games, both Heather and James are exceptionally poor at combat. They can fire guns, but don't expect them to deliver pinpoint accuracy; headshots are completely out of the question. Melee weapons are what you'll depend on the most, and even then, you should expect pocket knives and boards with rusty nails to be your weapons of choice.
These factors give both titles some staying power after all these years. While it applies more to Silent Hill 2 because of the overall story, both games give you a sense of true horror in ways that others in the genre haven't accomplished. Your poor fighting skills ensure that you won't easily wipe the floor with enemies. Your weaponry also reflects that, even though you get some good ones later. Except for the joke endings, each finale doesn't come with full resolution, and the monsters feel unique with explanations that are more interesting than a scientific experiment gone wrong. It comes with strong stories that aren't overused and hackneyed, begging to be experienced at least once since no other title can give you such a deep and twisted tale.
Similar to the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, this one can't be considered a complete collection for a few reasons. While the more celebrated titles are here, it is missing the other entries of that generation, including Silent Hill 4: The Room, Silent Hill: 0rigins, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. While it would have been nice to see the whole PS2 collection here, it doesn't hurt much since the series never had anything tying it all together, save for the titular town. The exception to this rule is Silent Hill 3, which makes the exclusion of the first game more baffling since it gives more backstory. PS3 owners at least have the option to download the first PSOne game to their system, but Xbox 360 owners will be out of luck unless they also own a Sony system.
This leads into another flaw. As good as the games may be, there's nothing extra included in the box or disc. There's no setup for each game, no behind-the-scenes footage, no archival images, or a chance to listen to the soundtrack. There's no background to some of the references you'll encounter that tie in Silent Hill 3 to the original. The only thing you'll find in the main menu aside from the two games is the option to view the credits for the overall production. For something as memorable as these two games have become, it feels like a big letdown for those interested in the series beyond the games.
For the most part, the audio in the game is excellent. Both games carry composer Akira Yamaoka's score brilliantly into Dolby Digital. The moody, unsettling tone is amplified further by the use of unconventional instruments and clanging of metal mixed with guttural monster sounds. Much ado has been made of the use of a new voice cast for both games, but in all honesty, the cast did a good job in giving these characters some life. Some performances don't fit in very well while others edge out the old cast by a sliver. For the purists, the old voice cast can be selected for Silent Hill 2, but it's disappointing that there's no such option in Silent Hill 3.
Graphically, the game is both good and problematic. The human character models look great, especially in the third game, where they look more worn-down when compared to the ones seen in the second game. The monsters still look gruesome due to their blood-wet skin and pale flesh tones, and their movements are unnerving, especially the involuntary twitching exhibited in the throes of death. The environments are gory, rust-soaked and decaying. They're unsettling even when you aren't in the more demonic versions of the world. While it doesn't appear prominently in the third game, the use of light and shadow in the second game, along with the film grain effect, really add to the atmosphere.
However, both games exhibit issues that completely counteract all those positive traits. In Silent Hill 2, the fog has been cleared up and pushed further out than before. This reveals a few areas that don't get drawn in until much later, an effect similar to pop-in but happening all at once instead of in pieces. The rollback of the fog also kills the tension in some scenes. The first time James sees a creature shambling about, he wonders if it was just a shadow. However, the player can clearly see the figure walking instead of being hidden by the fog, making James' statement seem ludicrous. Silent Hill 3's issue isn't created by fog but by lighting. The overall lighting is darker than normal. In the opening scene in the carnival, it becomes hard to navigate through the environment because most things seem invisible. The navigation through the mall causes many situations where navigating a hallway is an exercise in frustration due to lack of lighting. Even cut scenes and monster revelations don't have as much of an impact as before because you can barely see what's happening. Even fiddling with the options doesn't make things any better, and the only way you'll be able to see anything is if you boost the brightness on your TV set, which shouldn't be a requirement to enjoy a game.
The default controls conform to the style made popular by the early Resident Evil games, where the player controls like a tank. There are a few differences, however, including the ability to move while attacking. However, you must still do things like holding down a trigger to get into an attack phase and holding down a button to run. Luckily, players who aren't big fans of the control style can alter it a bit so that pointing in a direction moves you there instead of forcing a rotation before forward movement can occur.
Your enjoyment of Silent Hill: HD Collection will depend on your experience with the series and these two games in particular. If this is your first time with these games and you have an appreciation for the style and mechanics of older survival horror titles, you'll enjoy these games immensely. The stories and pacing are excellent, the music is hauntingly brilliant, the puzzles are taxing, and the intentionally poor combat heightens the fear that the game tries to convey. However, if you've experienced these games on their original systems before, you'll be disappointed with the conversion. Even though the new voice cast is pretty good, the lack of an option to hear the original cast of Silent Hill 3 is disappointing when Silent Hill 2 has the option. As good as the graphics are in both titles, the lack of fog in Silent Hill 2 exposes enough to drown out some of the tension and exposes some flaws. Silent Hill 3 is dark enough to the point where navigation is needlessly difficult, and some details can't be seen at all. New players who haven't played these before should certainly give this compilation a shot, but those who have played these before would be better served by playing on the older systems instead.
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