“Silent Hill is a well-loved series” is something you’ll often hear. It isn’t really, not by the fans, and certainly not by anyone who’s making the decisions at Konami. Now the first three games, that’s something else – those are well loved.
Some fans (myself included) will also include the under-rated Silent Hill 4: The Room. In fact, I much prefer Silent Hill 4 to 3. A smaller number of fans also like various other more modern Silent Hill games. Personally, I thought Origins was really good, Homecoming was … buggy (I did like the creature designs & music though), Shattered Memories was .. a strange experience where everything can be very different, but of course, you don’t notice until your second playthrough. Telling me when I’m in danger or not kind of ruins the horror part.
In general though, like many long-running horror series’ (Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th, Hellraiser, Resident Evil, Wishmaster), it has become somewhat of a joke over time.
Konami on the other hand, doesn’t appear to give a shit about the integrity of Silent Hill at all, not even the classic Silent Hills as Homecoming and other projects have hinted at and this collection has conclusively demonstrated. For a start, this isn’t actually a collection.
As you can see from the category information this is the PS3 version, and by that I mean I played the PS3 version of this game on a physical PS3. I say that because of the continuing suspicion at the lack of platform-specificity in mainstream reviews. Some of these issues, especially the first are supposedly worse on the PS3 although I haven’t had the chance to compare to the 360 version, so I haven’t verified this for myself. However, the 360 version is said (once again, I haven’t verified this personally) to have problems of its own, being way too dark etc. The version I played (that’s the European version Konami has claimed didn’t need the patch the American version received) was unpatched as there were no patches available when I played (three weeks after release). It’s possible that some or all of these problems will be fixed. Personally, given the state of other Silent Hills and concerns over the relative unknown studio who did this port (and that’s really what it is, a port), I doubt it will be.
Let’s start with the good.
Some of the textures have been upscaled well and look clearer.
Some of the game’s stills have been changed to 16:9 really well.
The nurses make cool noises just after they die.
It’s Silent Hill.
Now that’s out of the way, what’s wrong with this version? Well, let me go into detail.
The big one. Slow-down. Not frame-rate drops (actually the frame-rate didn’t seem so bad), the whole game slowing down, sometimes only a little, but a lot of the time, a great deal. To the point where it feels like slow motion or battling to walk through treacle. Unlike many games that have slow-down, or stutter, where the problem only becomes apparent when there is a great deal of on-screen activity, in Silent Hill HD Collection it is always present whenever you’re outside or whenever there is more than one enemy on screen. If this were a different game where you’re expected to only come across enemies in small groups and then take them out, it wouldn’t be such a problem, but Silent Hill 2 and especially Silent Hill 3 don’t expect you to take out every enemy, you’re encouraged to run past them. In this version you run past them with your feet ensconced in treacle. The worst part about it being certain to happen when monsters are about is that taking them out is the bit where the slow-down is at its worst. If you’re just running around it, the slow-down is just intolerable, when actually trying to shoot a monster the slow-down is so bad you’ll want to hurl the controller at your screen.
It doesn’t end there. Those are just the times when you can definitely rely on having some slow-down. Those are the times it makes sense, because you can see the game has to do more than usual. Amazingly, you’ll get slow-down in other sections too. Sometimes even empty corridors are a bit much for the HD Collection. Actually most of the empty locations have intermittent slow-down issues. Sadly, it is a much shorter list of areas where you will get little to no slow-down. Here, I’ll list them:
That’s not a certainty either. Yes, it really is that bad. Especially when you have Maria with you.
Of course, even there you still get all the other wonderful gifts that the HD Collection bestows on the town of Silent Hill.
Actually, it’s not just slow-down, there’s also the opposite issue. Almost as if the game is playing catch-up, some sequences and sections will, albeit on far fewer occasions, careen forwards before reverting to normal speed.
A partially related problem is the sound synchronisation issue. Well, issues. Sometimes, not often, but it did this quite a few times in my playthrough, the sound will wander out of sync. Now I’m not talking about lip-syncing specifically, although it does happen more often for long speech in real-time cutscenes. In one case it wandered out by so much that the speech of one character ran in its entirety over another, it must have been out by six or seven seconds, followed by the portion of game just after running faster to keep up. Most of these sound issues were immediately preceded by the sound of the disc seeking (which makes you wonder what was in that 4gb install). Unfortunately that was also (usually) what happened before the next problem.
Game stuttering. I do mean stuttering, not frame-rate drop (unless a framerate of zero for half a second counts). Usually, like I say, preceded by a disc-seeking sound emanating from the optical drive, which had started making me cringe when heard, as early as ten minutes into gameplay. Not only does the game just stop, think about it briefly, and then continue, but it also interrupts the input. What this means is that every time Silent Hill HD needs to load something (usually a sound judging from what is happening in-game at the time) that isn’t on the hard disk, it will look for it on the optical medium, stop the game, flush the input and then start again. The result is that whenever it does this your character will lose all of their momentum and stop, only to continue again afresh. This happens … frequently. When running from one city-block to another in Silent Hill 2 it happened about four times, this is in combination with outside being the harshest area for slow-down to start with, and isn’t an aberration, in the Silent Hill HD Collection, it is the norm.
And I haven’t even gotten to the stylistic changes yet!
I consider the bad lip-syncing to be a different issue too.
There is zero justification for the lack of lip sync. Even if the porters couldn’t have changed anything but the sound files themselves, then they would have simply been in the same boat as film dubbers who will make a best effort to match up speech to mouth movements. Silent Hill, at least, the ones in the collection, are some of the highest regarded games of all time, you’d think they would be a labour of love. Maybe they were, but if so then the ability has not matched the ambition. Even the original voice option on Silent Hill 2 isn’t in sync on occasion. And with the new voices turned on, James’ breathing sounds like a knife being sharpened inside a barrel.
As an added bonus some sounds just plain don’t play at all, or don’t play on queue unlike every other port. Some sounds on the other hand have been changed for no particular reason, even some of the dialogue and walking sounds in Silent Hill 3 have been replaced – although the dialogue changes are not reflected in the subtitles. Then you’ve got the shotgun which is usually fine, but then occasionally twice as loud as it should be, or the handgun which has a repeating and loud ’empty casing hitting ground’ sound. Repeating and loud to the point of sounding like a high-pitched drill.
Fog. It’s really about as bad as everyone says it is, although, there is one point I would like to emphasise. The problem of the fog revealing parts of the game it isn’t meant to, is something that generally doesn’t happen during normal gameplay. The fog has been shifted back, in fact, it has been shifted just far enough back during normal gameplay that you can, a bit too clearly, see the world popping into existence, but the cutscenes in Silent Hill 2 have always pushed back the fog much, much further than ordinary gameplay. On the other hand though, it does look quite terrible when it does get pushed too far back in the cutscenes, and you really can see lots of things you shouldn’t be able to. Usually comparison videos will show you meeting up with Maria, but the boat sequence is worse in a sense, since it shows James literally rowing out of the world, past the clearly visible edge, on a textureless specular map.
However, the first thing you notice about the fog when you start Silent Hill 2 is that it has a component that you either couldn’t notice in other versions or that is completely new for this. That is, the sort of 2D effect you get. It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost like there’s a screen relative side-scrolling mostly translucent filter, so even when the camera is looking down upon James, it seems like it’s still moving horizontally. Luckily when more fog appears it mostly obscures this strange effect.
Unfortunately, it obscures it with a worse effect. The fog just does not look good in this game. It looks like a flat line slightly too far ahead of you. It jitters. It also looks like it was rendered in a low resolution 4:3 and then stretched into 16:9 resulting in an ugly, unappealing burst of whitish, too solid rectangles. In comparison, the PC version looks like Silent Hill 2’s fog. The makers of the Collection clearly didn’t like how they rendered fog either – in several sections of Silent Hill 3 when there is a thick persistent fog in every other version, it is conspicuously absent.
Depth of Field effects are missing from Silent Hill 2 and are present in Silent Hill 3, but don’t look like Depth of Field since it pixellates rather than blurs.
Now to the stylistic changes.
Stretched cutscenes. All of Silent Hill 2’s pre-rendered cutscenes are now stretched. Rather than replacing them with real-time sequences, or having black bars down either side, or zooming in and cutting off the top and bottom, they just take the 4:3 aspect ratio pictures and s-t-r-e-t-c-h them wider so they now fill the screen. The thing is that just stretching them is generally the worst option, this could have been fixed easily enough by having a simple set of options or using real-time. Speaking of options, the in-game menus for options, item use, and memo reminders are all in their original 4:3, why not cutscenes?
The game is now brighter and cleaner. Unfortunately, whilst for some games this is a good thing, for a horror game which relies on being dark with dirty textures, not so much. The brightening isn’t even particularly consistent, it only really applies to exterior locations, for the interiors are about as bright as they should be. This means that you can turn down the brightness and have dark interiors, or leave it be and have bright exteriors. It’s almost as if the porters got confused and had their dev PS3 set up with full colour range on an LCD that works to video levels. It just makes the outside portions look greyer than they are. The look is like in the intervening time betwixt the last release of a Silent Hill Collection (containing Silent Hill 4 I might add) and this HD Collection, they’ve had the cleaners in. Lots of textures have been cleaned up. The most obvious examples that can be seen (you can find good comparison videos on YouTube – I can’t capture HD from consoles) are; the road in the opening of Silent Hill 2 which is missing the layers of dirt and decay on top of the clean grey road, and worse, the opening of Silent Hill 3 in the amusement park in which the iron flooring has been degreased and made free of rust. These sort of changes persist through both games.
Silent Hill 3 also has odd trails, like the trails filter from Grand Theft Auto 3, running pretty much of the time, presumably to hide the slow-down which is worse with Silent Hill 3. It doesn’t work.
We had to get here eventually, the new voices. Specifically for Silent Hill 2, then we’ll look at Silent Hill 3. People seem to have simply stopped talking about them, noting you can turn them off, or they prefer the new ones. I thought I’d still talk about it a little. Let’s start with something objective. Part of the reason I think the old voices are better is because the voice actors and motion actors were the same. That’s right, when Maria is talking, she’s played by the same person as the person providing the physical movements of Maria. The guy who plays James? Not only is the voice actor the same person as the motion actor, but James’ appearance is also based on his actor, and more, even the type of person portrayed as James is based on his life counterpart.
More subjectively, the original voice actors sound like people, the new versions sound a little too much like voice actors. There are also, in my humble opinion, a few less than stellar lines in the new voice acting – and it is in these lines that we can hear that the new voice actors sound too much like voice actors the most. The two lines that I want you to think about in the game are spoken by Maria (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) and Eddie (Liam O’Brien). Maria’s line I’m talking about is when you find Maria again in the sub-basement of Brookhaven hospital. In the original an obviously furious Maria (she’s angry that you don’t appear concerned for her safety) steps out of the basement, and face twisted with rage screams ‘Anyway!’ right back at you. In the new version the new voice doesn’t quite match the anger evident in the movement and facial expression of Maria. Eddie’s line is when you find him in the prison / historical society building next to his latest victim, the way he delivers “put the gun to their head … pow” here sounds too much like something out of a 90’s action movie in its voice-actory deepness. I’m not claiming that the originals were vastly better or anything, but I do think they are better. Even though most of the new voices are absolutely fine, there is just something about James not being all deep-voiced and voice actory that suits him so much better, and the way the original “I got a letter” speech is delivered at the game’s opening is for me, one of the most poignant moments in gaming.
Of course, some people prefer the new voice acting. I’m fine with this, but I do think it’s a travesty to describe the original voice acting as laughable or not human sounding, Mitch Dyer of IGN (who gave a clearly awful port a 9/10 I may add).
The only really irritating thing was a small one admittedly, and one most people probably won’t even notice, but in the ending sequence where the full letter is read out – for some bizarre reason they have the voice of Mary panning slowly back and forth in surround. I can only assume it’s a bug because I genuinely can’t think of any reason you’d want that behaviour.
Oh, and here’s a personal bugbear. Vomiting. Have you ever vomited? Would you describe the feeling or sound of vomiting as alike to coughing? No, you neither, huh. Yet in films, TV series, games, everywhere, what happens when the rookie detective comes across his first dead body? He lifts his handkerchief up to his face and … for some reason starts coughing. In Silent Hill 2 we have the scene where Eddie having presumably just killed a man is sat leaned over a toilet-bowl and you can hear the noises from the moment you walk into the room. In the original voice acting, the sounds of Eddie made me physically sick in sympathy, the scene was so realistic in sound – even to the point of having a splishy sound of wet hitting wet. In the new one, Eddie mostly coughs into a toilet.
On the other hand, for Silent Hill 3, I thought the voice acting was pretty much on par with the original version with the exception of Heather who sounded at times a little … too happy munchkin, which didn’t suit Heather as well as the tired and stressed teenager voice of the original. I didn’t even mind that Leonard seems to have picked up a little more Cockney and the “Happy Birthday” bit was taken on by Mark Hamill’s Joker (well not really, but it sounds quite alike). The only part where I thought it wasn’t quite as good was when Vincent delivers his “you’re the worst person” speech which I preferred in the original.
Littler annoyances. In Silent Hill 2, after exiting the menu the game will unpause, but the action will continue before the display fades up from black. As a result, you can’t see what’s going on for a while after coming out of your item menu and you can easily lose a great deal of health until you can see. Shadows with occasional gaps suddenly popping into existence whole. The saves for Silent Hill 2 are inside the Silent Hill 3 HD folder. Silent Hill 3 when using the 2D controls has the shoulder buttons listed as not used when they cycle target. The long and large (4gb) install really doesn’t seem to help much with anything. The music is too loud by default, and the bass can be a touch overwhelming on a system that has the range. You can’t change the voices in Silent Hill 2 without quitting and restart, nor can you go back to the select a game menu without, once again, quitting and restarting. Trophy pinging is a little atmosphere killing, but not really the game-makers fault this time. Enemies will occasionally glitch out of position to elsewhere on the screen for a frame or two. The descriptions of the different control methods (2D/3D) is better explained by the names in the PC ports as Directional / Rotational style, and loads of other things. Not much on their own, but together, a sign of a lack of attention to detail.
Outside of all of these points, it’s just Silent Hill 2 & 3. There are zero extras, there is no concept art, no making of (The Silent Hill 2 making of is actually quite good), no nothing. Not even manuals on the disc (the printed manual is … short). Once more confirming that this isn’t really a collection, but a bundle.
I’d be (a little) more forgiving if this were a port to the PC, you can get away with less optimisation for hardware since some games are plain made for higher spec hardware than I (or indeed most people) have. For example, I consider GTA4 and Final Fantasy 14 to be badly ported since both games run fine on current gen consoles, but not on my PC which can run every other current gen console port at higher quality than the consoles. Ports to console on the other hand, have no real excuse.
The funny thing, is that it could have been worse – it certainly isn’t the worst port I’ve ever played (that dubious honour belongs to the PC port of Prototype), but then of course, it could have easily been better had it been ported competently. Still, at least it isn’t a mindless shooter. The terrible shame at the heart of all this though, is that what should have been a simple porting of the PC version back to the current gen consoles has been needlessly complicated by small pointless negative changes, new voice recordings, and seemingly rewriting and consolidating portions of the basic engines so Silent Hill 2 and 3 can share bugs that were present in neither game in any other version.
Play Silent Hill 2 either on a PS2, an XBox, or the PC. The PS2 and XBox versions are perfect, but do have quite low resolutions. The PC version is wonderfully clear, but awkward to get working right and you lose the shiny textures and ability to use the right-stick. Silent Hill 3 is best played on a PC; the port is pretty perfect – and you can even get a very good widescreen hack. Silent Hill 4: The Room is pretty good on PC, but doesn’t handle the right stick as an actual analogue – you can map the mouse, but it isn’t simple. It is easier to get working right than SH2 and it loses nothing in translation. Otherwise, play it on the earlier consoles. The PC versions have surround sound too, not sure about all the console versions. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing this collection didn’t include Silent Hill 4: The Room.
If you had no other ways to play Silent Hill 2 & 3, then you could play the HD Collection, but it contains sadly the worst, least responsive, and pointlessly changed version of the games. Really, it should have been delayed and given to a different team.
EDIT: Post patch, it has slightly better fog distance. I have now noticed that the subtitles cut out of the first meeting with Maria near the beginning of the cutscene. I’m not sure of that’s the patch or not. What I am certain that the patch has done is make the surround sound not work via optical. That’s right, Dolby Digital / DTS over optical won’t work after the patch. Well done, Konami.