theuselessgod's Silent Hill HD Collection (Xbox 360) review

Newcomers: Dig in. Old timers: Pause before purchasing.

The Short

Pros

- Two of the best horror games ever made repackaged for a current generation

- Despite being quite old, both games still animate fluidly and have fantastic art direction

- For a new player, both these collections look great, play great, and still are downright horrifying

- Installed, there is virtually no load times in both games, keeping the game flow consistant

- Has a pretty awesome box

Silent Hill 2 Specific

- Silent Hill 2 still has one of the best crafted and told stories in video games, and it shines

- New voices for Silent Hill 2 are leagues better than the original, but the option for original voices is still here

- Includes bonus "Born from a Wish" scenario previously exclusive to the Xbox and PC versions of Silent Hill 2

- Indoor areas look downright stunning, maintaining the original game quality with improved visuals

- Enemies are well-rendered in HD, with that same otherwordly movement mixed with the "sheen" effect

- This is still one of the greatest games ever made

Silent Hill 3 Specific

- Silent Hill 3 dramatically benefits from the HD upgrade, making the game both scarier and funner to play

- Monsters look quite good and being able to see them and where you are going makes the game easier and less frustrating

- A few audio tweaks (footsteps, etc) make the game scarier and less annoying

Cons

- Both games suffer from being more washed out look and a less dramatic color pallet (blacks aren't as black, lights aren't as light, etc.)

- I played the 360 version, but the PS3 version apparently has some serious problems in crashing, framerate, and audio synch

- Radio in both has been altered to "hiccup" or "pulse" rather than give a steady horrifying screech when enemies are near, which is way more annoying (it's way worse in Silent Hill 3, though)

- Whenever you get an achievement the game drops to a massive slowdown crawl. I have no idea why this is but it is really great at kill the mood for first time players

- Sound glitches seem to happen every time you save (worse for Silent Hill 3)

- Complete omission of Silent Hill 4: The Room. Why not include it too?

Silent Hill 2 Specific

- Fog is toned down and more gray, but due to the fact the fog was there to hide the rendering you get a "wall of fog" effect that can look pretty bad at times

- Outdoor textures (ground, etc.) look rather bland and less ominous than the PS2/Xbox/PC originals

- Water (especially during the boat scene) looks so bad it makes me wonder if someone even playtested this

Silent Hill 3 Specific

- Frequent audio issues abound

- Right channel sounds come out of the left speaker, and vice versa. How do you screw that up?

- Many audio loops (including music, persistant sound effects) don't have a smooth looping transition, meaning music cuts out before restarting. That's just sad.

- Any large burst of sound (using the Unlimited Submachine Gun, etc.) will cause the game to spew massive amounts of sound static and essentially break the sound for a few seconds

- Audio synching of cutscenes gets off during the latter 1/3 of the game. It isn't horrible, but you will notice it during the final few cutscenes

- A few of the dirtier, uglier environments are slightly more washed out than the originals

- Shadows/lighting has somehow downgraded from the original

- New voice actors are not as good. Douglas is better, but new Heather is downright awful compared to the flawless original

Is this collection worth the return to the horror?

Note: My copy of this game is the Xbox 360 version. From what I understand, the PS3 version has all the same problems only to a greater degree. Konami released a patch that apparently did not fix these issues, so buyer beware.

The Long

It should be known that I absolutely love Silent Hill 1-3 (and sort of like 4, even if it is hard to love). I consider them to be the finest and scariest horror games ever made, and absolutely necessary for anyone who wishes to write, design, or just has an affinity for horror. These games are absolutely fantastic, and should be played by everybody at least once (at least Silent Hill 2) anyway.

I reviewed the games in this collection already, so I'll refrain from gushing too much about them and save that for their respective reviews (Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3). I will say this though: After playing both games back-to-back, my opinion on what my favorite Silent Hill game is has changed. Originally I said Silent Hill 3 was my favorite (probably because I played it first and it was the first game I ever played to give me nightmares), but after experiencing Silent Hill 2 from beginning to end for the first time in about six years, I must say it is by far the better game, and solidifies itself as my favorite. While Silent Hill 3's story ties in with the first game (and because of that gets kind of bananas), Silent Hill 2's narrative (aided by the improved voice actors) remains strong from beginning to end, giving you just enough to go off of without spoon-feeding you information. It's sort of a beautiful catastrophe, a depressing experience that requires you to think and continue to dig deep to fully understand exactly what is going on in James' head.

As a blend of atmosphere, narrative, and psychological horror, I have yet to find a game equal to it. And I said I wouldn't gush, so that's it.

I still love you, Silent Hill 3, but you really don't compare.

This review is going to mostly be for those who have played the PS2 originals (or on Xbox/PC) and are looking to buy this collection out of nostalgia. So if you haven't played these games and aren't interested in reading about me pick apart the differences between the originals of these two games an this HD re-release, I'll save you a lot of time with the following blanket statement:

If you haven't played Silent Hill 2 (or 3, I guess) and own an Xbox 360, buy this collection. Despite my laundry list of complaints up in the Cons (and forthcoming), the experience is still authentic. Both games are chilling and must be played. So go pick it up, and you can come back and read this review when you are done.

The rest of you, hang on, because I have a lot to say about both games. I'm going to break it up between the two, and I'll also try to be a light as possible on spoilers if it's been a while and you want to experience the games as "fresh" as you can.

For many people, this is the game they are getting the collection for, and with good reason: it's a fantastic game. However, does it stack up to the original? After release a lot of crap went down on message boards and all over the community complaining about how they'd "changed" Silent Hill 2. Reviews were all over the place, from IGN's 9.0 to Destructoid's 3.0. What are the problems? Is this game really as bad as people say?

Well, let me start with another blanket statement: As the Silent Hill 2 experience, it still works just as well as the originals (hence why I can recommend this collection to newcomers). The game is still extremely atmospheric, claustrophobic, and gets under your skin. I played from where you first meet Maria to the end of the game in one sitting, from 8:30 am - 12:00 pm (in the morning, with all the lights on) and when I hit Toluca Prison I actually couldn't take the suspense anymore and had to take breaks (same as during the Hotel). So, as it stands, this game still completely works. Angela's final scene is downright heartwrenching, the story still stands up strong, and it's still a great game. So in that regard, it's fine.

Now...the problems (HD on left, PS2 on right)

The biggest issue people have been going about is the reduction of the fog effect. Originally the fog served two purposes: providing a claustrophobic feeling even when running down wide-open roads, and hiding the fact they were rendering stuff right in front of your face because the PS2 lacked the power to render beyond just a small distance in front of James. It worked because before the "wall of fog" (which was essentially where they were actively rendering the world) they masked it with tons of white fog before it that made it look less awkward. Some person thought it would be good to take away the white fog (or most of it) leaving the wall there to...look bad. So when you run there's like a visible wall of fog moving with you, which is sort of how the PS2 version felt, but this is more obvious.For those looking for it, it will annoy, and the lack of claustrophobia (and inability to see enemies until they are right on top of you, requiring reliance on the radio which was an important part of the PS2 original) is disappointing. It is also gray fog instead of white for whatever reason, though it makes the game feel more dreary than it did before which I actually sort of like (it looked a bit like snow in the PS2 version). However, the point is this: it isn't that bad. Do I miss the wispy tendrils of fog dancing about me and hiding tons of nasty beasties? Yes. Does it ruin the game? No.

This, however, is unforgivable.

It does, however, culminate with another factor to completely ruin a certain scene in the game. There's a part where you have to row towards a light across a lake near the end of the game. In the original, the wall wasn't obvious, so it didn't look completely awful when you were rowing towards the light. While I was fine with running around town, this scene looked horrible, and as an added bonus somehow the water got rendered completely wrong (see above...that's supposed to be water. Yeah.). I guess it looks kind of like a fever dream or something...who am I kidding, it looks like total crap. Luckily this is just one two-minute scene, but holy crap did you not playtest this?There are only a few very minor additional graphical issues I found. Outdoor sidewalks and environments are less "dirty," with the HD up-rezzing losing a lot of little marks and dirt on the sidewalks and essentially rendering it much more boring looking. It wasn't a huge deal, but while the original obviously had a lot of work put into its art design for the limited system power, this just feels really lazy.

The start of a horrifying adventure.

However, it is worth noting that aside from these issues, the rest of the game looks really, really good. Indoors looks fantastic, with all the rust and dirt and grime that permeates James' interpretation of Silent Hill showing up in exquisite detail. While Silent Hill 3 suffers from muted color pallets, Silent Hill 2 seems to mostly avoid this. Dark areas are pitch dark, shadows are long and intimidating, and overall it just looks straight up perfect. Character models are also improved, and I found they look much better. The night scene (after you leave the Hospital) and wander around Silent Hill in total darkness is still one of the scariest and tensest moments in games. It still all works.Unlike Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 2 manages to dodge almost all the audio issues the other game on this compilation seems riddled with. Sound effects are mostly as you remember them (a few monster footsteps are slightly changed, but it's fine) with one rather large exception: the radio has changed. While it still has its signature static-mixed-with-whistle sound, when enemies are just a small distance away the radio has a sort of "pulse" for some reason. It's not nearly as noticeable as in Silent Hill 3 (making me wonder if this too is actually an audio bug and not intentional), but it isn't as good. However, it still invokes that sense of tension and dread when you leave a room, think you are alone, but the radio is screaming its head off...so there you go.

Oh, and the new voice actor is really really good. All the new voice actors are really good, I should point that out. People sound like they are actually having conversations rather than just talking in a sound booth, and I prefer the new voices for everybody except Eddie. Eddie in the original you could feel the tension rising throughout. This one feels like he's trying too hard to be a psychopath so...alright then.

One last audio thing: the new "panting" sound James makes when recovering stamina is awful on the new voices. It's like a half-second loop playing over and over that doesn't sound natural at all. Again, a little thing, but how did they not catch this?

The film grain, grit, and grime of Silent Hill 2 are all intact.

Ultimately, I was wholly satisfied with the port of Silent Hill 2. Yes, it was maybe a bit smoother and less gritty, and that "wall of fog" thing sucks, but it still looks great, runs in HD (and widescreen), and plays exactly as you remember it. So for this fan, it passes, and I can't wait to play through it again (gotta get that "Dog" ending...)

Oh, it also has the "Born from a Wish" side-mission from the Director's Cut/Restless Dreams version of the game. This side-story is...um...actually kind of garbage. You play as Maria, only go into one unique area (a mansion, which has hardly any monsters and reminded me more of Resident Evil than anything) and then...it ends. It's about 45 minutes long at most, and adds nothing significant to the story. But hey, it's here, so that's nice I guess.

It's funny when comparing these two games, because I know Konami could have done this right. While Silent Hill 2 has graphical issues but no audio bugs, Silent Hill 3's graphics are near-perfect but the game is an audio glitchfest. Clearly they needed to swap teams or fire some people or something and that would have made everything better.

Anyway, let's get to the point here: Silent Hill 3 looks pretty good. The game was already better looking than Silent Hill 2 in terms of environments and simple graphical prowess, which I'm assuming made the HD conversion easier. It also uses a pallet of more red, yellow, and black compared to Silent Hill 2's emphasis on brown, black, and gray, which means the HD graphics are noticeably more vibrant simply due to color choice alone. Several areas (specifically the Otherworld Hospital and end-game Church) were completely indiscernable due to blurriness on the PS2 version (I'd like to think the game's art design bit off more than they could chew), and they look much better here. The improvement is substantial because it effects both gameplay and graphics; before I had no idea what was a door amongst the pulsating wall of gooey blood and flesh, but now I can sort of tell! So good on that one.

The monster design isn't as consistant as Silent Hill 2, but it works. Except the dogs. I'm never afraid of dogs in horror games.

The is one rather massive, glaring oversight that people who played the original will notice right off the bat: the game's contrast has been significantly muted. In the original Silent Hill 3, the game got super dark. Many areas were completely pitch black, with the only thing you could see being the very bright light of your flashlight beam. This contrast made the game horrifying, because you could literally only see what was directly in front of you for many parts of the game (it also made it disorienting, which is kind of a minus, but whatever). In the HD version, the brights have been toned down and the darks have been lit up, making the whole thing more uniform but also less stark. Which kind of kills some parts of the horror.

Now it isn't all gone. There are still many areas that are pitch dark (much like Silent Hill 2, which somehow this didn't get messed up on) and evoke the same feeling...but why only some parts? It's like one team did some areas and other teams the others...I don't get it.

Luckily I really only noticed this for a few parts of the game. Since the game was so dark already, it still is super creepy in the later areas (though the Amusement Park, my favorite Silent Hill location, is a bit muted too).

It's easy to see the difference here. Granted, the light isn't on, but still...

But the absolute biggest problem in Silent Hill 3 (and, on that note, probably the worst problem in this HD compilation) is the persistant audio glitches and problems. There's really too many for me to list in any detail, so here's just a quick wrap-up.- Audio cutting out randomly (only happened twice and restarted when leaving the room)

- Transitions between repeating tracks not being smooth, same with several repeating sound effects

- Audio channels switched (left/right) which breaks the part of the game where you rely on monster sounds to avoid them

- Radio is similar to Silent Hill 2 only much worse and much more annoying

- Glitchy gargled static mess when saving, every single time (only happened once in Silent Hill 2)

- Audio voices going off-sync during cutscenes (only happened badly during the last 1/3)

- Sound effects (gunshots, etc.) just not happening

- Footsteps disappearing or being really quiet on one terrain and much louder on another

- Using any secret weapon causes the audio to glitch so badly it's a horrible sounding mess

These won't ruin the game for you, but considering how much of Silent Hill games rely on their audio to freak you out, it's a stupid oversight. Again, it just makes the people who ported this look stupidly lazy. It's not like they did this on purpose, but it is like they didn't care.

Overall, though, the game looks much better graphically.

The new voices are worth mentioning. Rumor has it they couldn't find the original voice actor for Heather anywhere to confirm the renewal of rights (and therefore give her the cut for her work on this re-release), so they re-recorded all the voice. The script is still as bananas as ever, but unlike the Silent Hill 2 voices I fell this batch is much worse. Douglas is a bit better, as is Vincent, and I guess Claudia is...sort of? But what straight up sucks is the new Heather. The original's voice actor was spot on, conveying the sarcasm, worry, and genuine annoyance a teenager would have in this situation. It wasn't the best voice acting ever, but it was surprisingly endearing. This new voice actor just sucks, like she's trying to sound like a teenaged girl and totally failing. Really lame.Also, they rewrote a few lines of script but didn't bother changing the subtitles, resulting in a weird dissonance if you have both going. Usually it's just one or two words (and all for the better) but come on...you couldn't even change the subtitles? Seriously?

The lighting is also a bit weaker, with duller shadows, but I might blame that on the pallet color-muting.

While still totally playable and still evoking the same sense of claustrophobia, dread, and fear that the original release did, Silent Hill 3 really took a bad hit in the audio department. Here's hoping, since these are technically really minor issues, that a patch is released that can fix most of these problems. As it stands, the game is still fine, it just feels cheaply done, much worse than Silent Hill 2. Which is too bad, because this game is pretty freaking creepy (despite having a really slow start).

So...what are my final comments? "RUN FROM PYRAMID HEAD" might work.

A few other problems: one of the biggest issues is the fact that whenever you earn an achievement (on the 360 version; don't know about PS3) the game goes into a massive, system-wide slowdown. Like I can't even open the Xbox menu because the slowdown is so bad. It'll resume as normal after a cutscene ends (or if it's just in-game, it'll only last about a second) but it straight-up ruins several scenes in Silent Hill 3, as it gives achievements after each boss and then fades to "boss dying" cutscene, which can take like an hour. After killing that stupid worm boss, it's 10 second dying animation took almost five minutes. I am not even kidding.Lastly, just some stupid annoyances: Why isn't Silent Hill 4: The Room in this collection? If you were going for all the PS2 games, why not include all the PS2 games? It wasn't that bad of a game, not at all! I'm guessing it's because the Xbox 360 disc is completely full (based on install size) and they didn't want to ship on two discs for that version so they abandoned it. Or they are just lazy. Also, the PS3 version should have a download code for Silent Hill 1, since Silent Hill 3 makes a crap-ton more sense after playing through the first game.

Dark and creepy. Just the way I like my Silent Hill.

As it stands, if you are a fan of the originals, it's very hard for me to say whether or not to jump on this (unless it's the PS3 version, than don't bother until a patch). I still genuinely loved my experience with both these games, and I think the ports' numerous flaws can be overlooked if you are willing to take a deep breath and just accept that this is a sub-par HD remake. I think the ultimate issue fans have is that almost every other HD re-release (Metal Gear Solid, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, etc.) have been significant improvements over the previous games, while still retaining everything that made those games classics (and worth re-releasing). This one does some things right, some things wrong, and just feels shoddy overall. Again, since the original games are so good the collection holds itself up well, but as a token of goodwill from Konami to its fans after all the awful Silent Hill crap its been putting out...this just seems more like another insult.I'll repeat what I said at first: If you own a 360 (and not a PS2) and haven't played these games, get this collection. If you do have a PS2, are a long-time fan, or are basically anybody else...I still suggest it, but only if you can swallow your anger and just roll with the games. If it's been a while you might not even notice, so in either case dive back into the horrifying world of Silent Hill and enjoy some late-night scares in the dark.

But...man. I really wanted this to be so much more.

Three out of Five Stars.

These games are like an older woman who is naturally attractive, but she pours so much makeup and other crap on herself she ends up looking like she's trying too hard. Actually, they aren't now that I think about it. ANALOGY FAIL.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

1 Comments
Posted by theuselessgod

A review follow-up: I tested the "achievement bug" mentioned for the 360 version (where the framerate hitches). Turns out all you have to do is do the requirements for an achievement EVEN IF YOU'VE ALREADY EARNED IT and the slowdown still kicks in something awful. I killed Flesh Lips in SH2 and a few others during my Silent Hill 2 "Rebirth" speed replay today, and the slowdown still happened.

So something about registering achievement qualifications, even if the achievement has already been received, causes the game to stutter something awful. I have not played the PS3 version to see if this is the same, but it's pretty damn annoying.

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