rating:4In bringing together Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears and Silent Hill 3 onto the one disc, Konami have served up to PS3 and XBox 360 owners some of the most revered survival horror ever made. But with this re-release, is Silent Hill as scary a place in 2012 as it was ten years ago? First of all, the story is what really defines these as classics. Silent Hill 2 delivers a truly chilling, off-kilter, David-Lynch style psychological narrative about James Sunderland - a man looking for his wife in the mysterious town of Silent Hill. The towns antagonists seem to spring from James own neuroses, the obstacles he encounters relate to his own past, and the characters he meets have - like him - been drawn to Silent Hill for their own dark reasons. As the story is the real star of the show here, spoilers are to be avoided, but be assured its a truly exhilarating experience and is as fresh today as it was when it first hit shelves over ten years ago.
Silent Hill 3 is a continuation of the first game in the series and, a few nods to Silent Hill 2 aside, has little to do with the story of the second game. Here we assume the role of a young woman called Heather Mason who has dreams about being hunted in Silent Hill. Heather has memory loss about her own past and quickly finds that her family history is inextricably linked with the town of Silent Hill and a religious cult that operates there. Her adventure begins to reveal the mysterious details of her own birth and inevitably leads her to Silent Hill to find the truth. With the seemingly minimal effort spent on updating the games, couldnt Konami have included the original Silent Hill on the disc too? It would make the experience of playing Silent Hill 3 a lot more satisfying by bringing the gamer bang up to speed on the ongoing story. Another hurdle that the package comes up against is the controls and the ever-infuriating camera system. The pre-defined spooky camera angles that create so much tension in the games occasionally combine with clunky control schemes to cause much (unintended) stress to the player. When youre miles underground in dark, burned-out corridors, surrounded by corpse-filled trollies and horrific half-human monsters whose shadows are cast large on bloodstained walls, you want the camera to be your friend. Well, what you really want is a hug - but youd settle for the camera. Silent Hill gives you neither. The increasingly macabre and surreal horror that unfolds around you is tethered to reality in that the central characters arent marines or martial artists. In Silent Hill 2 and 3, you control ordinary, clunky, everyday people in extraordinary situations. Its good, honest, survival-horror stuff.
One thing that is above criticism is the quality of the sound design. The music and incidental effects are breathtaking - a muffled screech from a closed toilet cubicle, the shuffle of unseen monsters, even a sudden unnerving silence of a room are all executed perfectly and will make you hold your breath at times as you run around Silent Hill. When it comes to the visuals, however, we need to talk about the two games as very separate entities. Although both games are being presented to us in sharp high-def goodness, they both display a differing level of graphical sophistication.
Silent Hill 3 is the newer game - and it shows. The richness of the environments makes the game feel almost contemporary, the lighting is good even by todays standards and the characters are detailed enough to pass for recent if you dont look too closely. The big let-down is the extremely low-quality textures in use throughout. When the camera cuts to a close shot in order to focus on a particular item or animation, the stretched, blurry textures that usually pass unnoticed in normal play become painfully obvious. Its unfortunate that these close-ups usually coincide with a moment of character or plot development, and so - just at the moment realism is most needed - nasty textures are presented that show off just how flat some of the environments actually are. Slowdown is also a real issue in Silent Hill 3. If even a single enemy is close by, the game loses steam and really begins to crawl along. If, in the middle of this, an enemy jumps at you, they seem to float through the air as if underwater.
Silent Hill 2, being the older of the two, runs a far more simplistic engine. Fog effects are key to the game, but, like a cheesy bit of makeup or a bad physical effect in an old horror movie, the ever-present soup looks terrible to modern eyes. The models for some of the level furniture can be very basic too, with our hero seemingly wading through PlayStation 1 era boxy environments at times. As well as this, the CGI cinematics are beautifully animated, but were stuck with the same disappointing video files from the early 2000s. Surely someone at Konami could have rescued the original files and re-encoded them in a modern video format. They look as though theyve been copied and pasted, blurry and off-colour, straight from the PS2 disc... or an old VHS cassette. A real weakness of this package in general is the lack of care that has gone into its production. Apart from the genuine boost to 720p, which makes for sharp visuals, it seems that not much else has been done to bring the games into the modern era. Silent Hill 2 comes with the option to select a new dialogue recording but, apart from that, graphical issues, slowdown and a really poor use of the hard disc install (on PS3 at least) means that loading screens still appear between rooms as the Blu-ray chugs away - even after a mandatory four gig install. When the game is booted up, theres a screen with two options: Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 3. Thats it. The inclusion of concept art, soundtracks, or behind-the-scenes featurettes could have made this a real gem for collectors - but there simply isnt anything here. Although Silent Hill HD Collection feels like a bit of a disappointment on so many fronts, the bottom line is that this disc contains two fantastic games that still stand up today. Unless youve got ready access to the original releases, this is a must for those who like a good story and for those who like a good fright.
Silent Hill HD Collection is available to buy for the PS3 and XBox 360 now.
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