PS3 Review: Silent Hill HD Collection



The trouble with reviewing any of the HD Collection updates hitting consoles over the past few years is what exactly to review: Do you delve into the classic fan-favourite games that’ve been reviewed, dissected and replayed incessantly in the years since release, or focus and judge it merely on the technically merits of the fancy high-def upgrades?

In the interest of brevity, I’ll try to give you the long and short of it. The Silent Hill HD Collection collects two fantastic, must-play games which helped usher the survival horror genre into more cerebral territory and will certainly be of interest to newcomers and fans looking to play them on their next-gen consoles. Unfortunately the developers behind the HD update have crafted it with less-than-perfect brushstrokes, making it far from the definitive collection of the scary, surreal genre landmarks.
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The Silent Hill series certainly didn’t give birth to the survival horror genre, but it was monumental in helping it evolve from the cheesy B-Movie thrills of Capcom’s Resident Evil and Dino Crisis into the realm of intelligent narratives rich with symbolic depth, chilling atmosphere and nightmarish imagery. After the first entry hit the original PlayStation, making waves and inspiring many sleepless nights, Silent Hill 2 side-stepped the direct sequel route, choosing to tell a standalone tale set in the spooky titular town.

James Sutherland drives out to Silent Hill after getting a letter from his deceased wife, clinging to the desperate, misguided hope that she might somehow be still alive. When he arrives, he’s soon trapped within the apparently deserted town as a dense fog rolls in, concealing horrifying monsters, leaving James fighting for survival as he fights the figurative and literal demons of his murky past.
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The slow-paced controls, and limited weapons at your disposal might be off-putting to those weened on action-heavy games, but they’re crucial to the palpable, dread-filled atmosphere and sense of claustrophobic isolation as you roam the town solving clever puzzles and fleeing from nightmarish monsters with dwindling resources. The twisted imagery inspires ghoulish terror, the creepy ambiance offers genuine frights aplenty and the story unfolds with a shocking amount of symbolic depth that’ll have you poring over every detail long after you’ve completing it. It’s arguably the best survival horror game and one of the most cleverly-written narrative experiences you’ll find on a console. (The HD collection also includes the Maria side-story ‘Born From a Wish’, previously exclusive to Special Edition versions of the game.)

Silent Hill 3, however, revisits the characters of the first game with teenager Heather Mason finding herself trapped in Silent Hill’s mall as she becomes the target of monsters and a sinister cult. For newcomers jumping in with the HD Collection, that might limit the amount of enjoyment you’ll get from the story (Silent Hill 1 isn’t included – the PS1-era visuals wouldn’t be suited for an HD update without being remade from the ground up) but it’s ripe for revisiting, and unfairly overlooked in the wake of its genre-defining predecessor.
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The gameplay is just as tight, claustrophobic and thrilling, the sense of isolation and dread-drenched atmosphere is still there and Silent Hill 3 is arguably the best looking and most visually imaginative of the series, especially when it comes to the surreal monsters and the nightmarish otherworld sections. While the story isn’t quite as densely woven as that of the second game, it offers some great character work and some of the most creepily-engineered scares of the franchise, along with the standard clever puzzles and classic survival horror gameplay.

The games themselves hold up wonderfully, but what of the HD collection’s bells, whistles and changes? The visual upgrades are something of a mixed bag. On the whole, everything looks much sharper and more detailed by a wide margin, but odd alterations and issues stand out. The atmosphere of Silent Hill 2 was largely owing to the fog that enveloped the town, with the half-glimpsed ‘Did I really just see that?!’ peeks at enemies in the mist providing wonderful tension and plenty of freak-outs. The HD collection makes the strange decision to remove much of the fog, making previously unseen things visible and thus diluting much of the eerie ambiance. Less is tinkered with for the third game, but frame rate problems rear their head around the mall sections and Heather often appears to be running in slow motion.
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Then there’s the controversial voice work replacements. Fan outcry over the rerecording and replacement of the game’s original voice performances is understandable, but not universally justified. Sure, for the sake of nostalgic purity, everyone should want and feel entitled to enjoy the games of the past the way they remember them, but that same nostalgia also has a convenient rose-tinted filter for many. As fantastic as the larger narratives were, the voice acting and delivery in Silent Hill 1 & 2 was arguably pretty stiff and stilted, so the idea of updating them with “better” performances is hardly a crime, especially since the choice to select the original voices for the first game is offered. The performances themselves are hit and miss: Troy Baker does a great job at injecting some emotion into the previously robotic James Sutherland, but characters like Eddy suffer from more cartoonish vocals.

Silent Hill 3 was, to me at least, always the best game in terms of voice acting, and after two games of emotionless lead performances and main characters who felt more like cyphers for the top-notch stories than actual human characters, having a lead character with vocal personality and emotion felt like a welcome surprise. Unfortunately Silent Hill 3 fans get stiffed by the HD Collection even more; there’s the choice of original and new voice performances for Silent Hill 2, but no such option for the third game, leaving faithful players stuck with lesser vocal tracks.

Silent Hill 2 and 3 are fantastic games – landmarks in the genre that stand the test of time and are infinitely deserving of a revisit by fans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, the HD Collection injects just as many unfortunate added problems as it does technical improvements, making it far from a definitive collection. If you can see past the omissions, tweaks and occasional frame rate problems, there’s some impressive visual upgrades and two stellar, scary games hidden underneath, but fans of Silent Hill 3 especially will want to hang on to their original PS2 copies.

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Silent Hill HD Collection is available to buy now for PS3 and Xbox 360.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.