Some people would say that certain games should remain untouched, that they should exist in some sort of retro stasis where experience cannot be diminished. I do not subscribe to this way of thinking, I believe that the experience does not have to be diminished by a re-release or remaster and that when you match current tech with classic gaming the results can enhance experience. Unfortunately that is not what has happened with the Silent Hill HD collection.
I will not wax lyrical on Silent Hill 2 & 3 as itís a relatively moot point, the gamesí qualities are not in question hence the fiscal sense in commissioning an HD remaster. Silent Hill 2 in particular is the series at its absolute best; with an interesting story, genuine scares and puzzles that will frustrate and engage in equal measure. Silent Hill 3 carried on the tradition and while not changing the formula or innovating the gameplay to any large degree it remains a coherent chapter in the Silent Hill story. Both of these games typified what made Silent Hill great and for a franchise that was largely overshadowed by its more handsome and popular cousin Resident Evil it remained the connoisseurís choice for psychological scares. They are now a far cry from what Silent Hill has become, a series of games that can neither recapture what made the original games brilliant nor can they improve on the tried and tested formula. But what does the HD remaster bring to the table for fans and newcomers to the series? Unfortunately it brings so little that you will question what the exact point of this exercise was, the cynic in me would in fact look at this release as nothing more than a cash generating exercise. I must stress that I found most problems with Silent Hill 2, but that is not to say that the third has had great work done but merely that the improved engine for the third seems to have helped the team from failing as badly as they do with Silent Hill 2.
Firstly I must talk about performance and believe it or not the game seems to perform in many respects worse than the PS2 original. The frame rate, most notably in Silent Hill 2, is beyond sub-par with your running through the town consistently freezing for a second before restarting. Itís jarring and itís unfathomable as to why this is happening, as with a mandatory 4GB install (you read that right, 4GB) you would expect a consistent frame-rate as seen in the likes of the recent Metal Gear Solid HD update. Not here though, instead you have this unnerving feeling that your PS3 is about to collapse given the fact it canít seem to handle a game even when all you are doing is moving James Sutherland from A to B. Do not worry though itís not your PS3 about to implode but merely some remnant of poor optimization in the hard-drive asset streaming process, and I may be remembering this too fondly but I do not remember such a problem with the original on PS2.
The look of the game seems like it was also given no consideration, and even more amazing is that once again in many ways the remaster seems to have made the game look worse than it ever did. When I think of Silent Hill I immediately think of fog covered streets, feeling your way about in this miasma and panicking at the sight of a shadow in the distance. For the most part this is gone, or at least the effectiveness of the effect is. The fog originally was implemented as a way of covering up technical failings as it helped mask the short draw distances but luckily it worked and even made the fog another character in the story as it served to stifle but also to reveal things to you. Itís hard to describe exactly what the remaster has done to the fog, it is still there but it very clinical and flat and it also seems that the lo-fi film grain effect has been stripped out completely. With the film grain effect gone it exposes the technical limitations of the engines at use (again more so with Silent Hill 2), now you can see through the fog to greater distances and watch as buildings pop into existence. While the fog still remains it moves away from you at a fixed distance, it is like a solid white wall that never changes its position or rate of retreat. Itís an experience breaking problem and itís consistent, only in the confines of rooms or corridors do you escape this nuisance but even then you are not entirely safe.
Textures appear tidier and are crisp at the higher resolution but they are not improved in any noticeable way and in some instances it seems that some textures are in fact entirely absent. Itís one thing to tidy something up, but removing the grungy and gritty textures completely smacks of a lazy approach to a remaster. Special mention has to be given to the scenes around Toluca Lake as they are truly horrific; firstly you will notice the texture of the water is unmasked by the bizarre lack of fog and it looks awful and secondly the exposed draw distance has the water ending suddenly as if the flat earth society were in fact right all along. Itís not only that this approach is utterly lazy but it also does a disservice to original team who overcame such technical limitations with these inventive solutions.
When it gets to the audio things also donít fare particularly well, however there are some positives. There has been re-recorded dialogue for Silent Hill 2 and while there has been much controversy over this addition I find the newer dialogue actual serves to improve over the original. Itís pretty much down to personal choice and luckily there is the option to choose which one you would like before you play, even if you are loading up a save game which is a well thought out approach in a game were bad decisions lurk around every other foggy corner. The audio levels in general are schizophrenic at best with enemy footsteps sounding as loud from far away as they do close up, leading to a lot of unnecessary panicking and confusion. You will find yourself hastily spinning around to find the enemy you can hear only to actively go search for them amidst the terribly rendered fog. The audio level problem also swings the other way and at times you will almost miss some pivotal scares as audio becomes very low. Itís a very bizarre situation that the audio levels are so uneven and again you have to question the quality testing that this was exposed to.
There are some anomalies with other effects that are also bizarre in both their existence and their obvious lack of attention. Much like the fog In Silent Hill the radio was also like another character in that world, as it crackled and hissed you would know that something bad was close by. In the remaster however there is some oddity in the static audio that plays, originally it played out as a constant fuzzy blend of noise, constant and oppressive but for some reason now you can hear the audio cut and loop quite clearly. Iím not sure what the thought process was here but it utterly fails, also present are out of sync audio, broken music cues and missing effects. A quick search online will show that these issues are not isolated to a handful of people, they are both constant and consistent. Itís quite simply not good enough and certainly not sufficient enough to be charging full cost for such a shoddy job.
Itís extremely hard to recommend the Silent Hill HD Collection, on the one hand they are fantastic games and every gamer should experience survival horror done properly as currently it seems no one can get it right. On the other hand this remaster has been approached with a noticeable lack of care and attention, I cannot fathom how both the developers and Konami themselves signed off on this. Silent Hill deserved more care and more respect than it has been given here and truth be told, that's the real horror in all of this.
Silent Hill in HD. We don't stay silent.