Atmosphere and immersion are two aspects of gaming that go hand in hand and, when done properly, can propel a game to astounding levels of success, both in terms of sales and as an artistic masterpiece in the medium of digital entertainment.
For many years, it has been said that the first few Silent Hill games were the masters of blending the two in a way that created the ultimate horror experience.
Released in the first quarter of 2012, the Silent Hill HD collection aims to bring back the horror with Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, arguably the best games in the series so far. However, does the experience from these two games (released 2001 and 2003, respectively) carry over to today?
PLATFORM: PS3/Xbox 360 (Game reviewed on PS3)
AGE RESTRICTION: M (Mature)
The Silent Hill series started in 1999, with the original Silent Hill releasing on the PS1, which featured a fictional town in America, the games namesake that has a tendency to shift into alternate, darker versions of itself. It was received with critical acclaim and was naturally followed by a string of sequels. Silent Hill 2,3 and 4 were developed by an internal division of Konami Entertainment, known as Team Silent, but after Silent Hill 4, it was handed to several external developers. Many fans believe that this was the turning point at which the series lost what made it special, but Konami has not stopped churning out games for this series, with 8 Silent Hill titles currently available, excluding the HD collection. It would be obvious that doing an HD collection of the so-called ”Silent Hill glory days” would lead to instant success, right? Well, as is the theme of this series, things are not always as they seem…
Both Silent Hill 2 and 3 were developed for the PS2 in the early 2000’s and, naturally, cannot compare to the graphics we see in modern games even with the HD makeover. The difference, when played alongside the originals is noticeable but as with most HD remakes, it may seem underwhelming to some.
Silent Hill 2 has a very grainy look to it coupled with jagged pixilated edges on objects. The fog effect in the game has been toned down from the original leaving the fog looking thinner. The facial expressions on characters are also not done as well as could be judging by the standard of other games that were released alongside Silent Hill 2. What the game excels in though is the artistic direction. The areas you explore and the monsters you encounter may not look amazing in terms of today’s graphics, but the design behind it is astounding. The environment conveys the tone of the situations you are in perfectly. Most of the areas are dark and gloomy and, when the world shifts to its darker self, turns even darker and creepier. The world is designed to make the player feel utterly and crushingly alone and without saying a single narrative word about the emptiness of the world, you can feel it by observing that which is around you. The visuals in the game narrate the game for you, telling you the story and setting the mood. As the locations you encounter set the tone and the atmosphere, so do the monsters you encounter who all look incredibly sinister and disturbing (though, I will get back to the monsters in a while). The game’s use of visual aesthetics and symbolism are marvelous, but is hindered today by the quality of the graphics when compared to the games released today.
Silent Hill 3, on the other hand, looks a lot better than Silent Hill 2. The character models look better, the textures are sharper and the animations are smoother. Considering when the game was released, the visuals are astounding. The darker, alternate Silent Hill looks a lot more evil and less conspicuous than in SH2 and this is neither a bad thing, nor a good thing. Blood oozes from walls and the places turn to a wasteland of decay. It certainly sets the mood and a jarring sense of unease. However, one of the biggest problems with SH3 in the HD collection is that there are sporadic occasions of bad visual lag. In larger parts there is some slowdown that borderlines between annoying and actually hindering. There are also momentary pauses as you traverse larger areas. These problems are just two of the many reported graphical glitches in the HD collection and may ruin the experience to some. The overall impression then is that the visuals in SH3 are really good, but also marred by their execution.
Overall, the graphics deserve a 3/5
Sound and music:
The audio for both these games contribute greatly to the immersion and atmosphere. “Bad, scary game” throw monsters in your face and play loud, explosive sound effects to startle you, but the Silent Hill series knows better. Instead of presenting monsters in the open, the audio in the game gets you to believe the monsters are lurking around you, where you cannot see them, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. This proves to be highly effective during both of the games.
Your characters carry around a radio in their inventory which emits static when monsters are nearby. The rising levels of static upon entering a room, followed by the bloodcurdling sound of a monster you cannot see, followed even further by the loud and steady footsteps growing louder as you wait… it all makes for some highly charged atmospheric moments.
Unfortunately, some sound effects appear to be a lot louder than they should, especially the sound of bullet shells falling after reloading a gun, which often glitches on its own, causing a load rattling sound, which is not desired. There are also some moments in Silent Hill 3 where the audio loses sync with the video during cut scenes, with sounds playing about half a second after they should. These glitches unfortunately detract a bit from the experience.
The voice acting for the two games are decent, with Silent Hill 2 giving you the option of using new voice actors or the original ones. Having listened to a bit of both, the new voice actors do sound quite a bit better and are more convincing. Silent Hill 3’s voice acting is also pretty solid, but nothing to write home about.
The music in both the games is mainly ambient music on a short loop. Though there is nothing wrong with this, at certain parts in the game, the loop becomes a bit too obvious, ruining the effect somewhat. This is only audible if the player is really focused on the music though.
In terms of what the audio needs to do in a game like this, the sound and music deliver very well in both games. They add immensely to the emotional situations portrayed in the game and hurl the player even deeper into the miasma of paranoia and fear, but it could have been better if the bumps were ironed out of the system a bit more.
Overall, the audio deserves a 4/5
Silent Hill 2 stars James Sunderland, a young man who received a letter from his wife, telling him that she is in Silent Hill. He is confused, however, as she died 3 years prior to him receiving the message. He goes to Silent Hill in search of her and the truth. What becomes apparent as you progress through the game is that there are some secrets about James and his dark history, which are unveiled in a rather intriguing way. James meets a few humans along his way, but oddly enough, they seem slightly disconnected and strange, adding to the feeling of oppressive loneliness but also hinting at the fact that the nightmare you are seeing is only manifesting in James’ mind, fueled by his own guilt and feelings. The story is one of painful realization, a tragic story about a man dealing with the death of his wife, his own guilt and his personal growth. Something I loved about the game was the symbolism in the monsters, with many monstrous effeminate designs, signaling James’ own sexual frustration after the death of his wife. This is further aided in scenes with the ominous Pyramid Head. Overall, the story in Silent Hill 2 is very well done. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions that tells its story through images, sounds and sensation rather than words. It must be noted that the visual and audio aids immensely in this undertaking.
Silent Hill 3, on the other hand, focuses less on just the tragedies of one person (though, that it still present), but focuses instead on the continuation of the plot from Silent Hill 1, which revolves around a cult in Silent Hill. The main character this time around is Heather, a spunky young girl who also has a dark past that she will soon learn more about. She finds herself drawn into the alternate dark world of Silent Hill and is haunted by freakish dreams. Her story is less focused on herself (in comparison to that of James), but fixes more on the cult in question, thus the deep symbolism from Silent Hill 2 is no longer present in this one. Despite this, the story in Silent Hill 3 is still very interesting and masterfully told. It is entirely possible, however, that the inclusion of the cult elements reduce the overhanging fear from the happenings in Silent Hill. Putting a face on something scary has never made it scarier and I found it to do just this in Silent Hill 3.
Whether your prefer the introspective tragedy of Silent Hill 2, or the action-driven horror of Silent Hill 3 will depend on personal taste. Personally, I preferred the more subtle, terrifying self-reflection that James undergoes in Silent Hill 2.
Overall, both the games stories deserve nothing less than a 4.5/5
Both Silent Hill 2 and 3 play pretty much the same way and are heavily reminiscent of the older 3rd person survival horror games, with fixed camera positions. Gameplay can be divided into three sections: Combat, exploring and puzzle solving. The combat in both games feels a bit messy. This can somewhat be attributed to the fact that you are not playing the usual military trained powerhouse as in many games is this genre, so combat should not come easy to your character. However, it doesn’t mean that the stiff and unnatural combat will not be a problem for some gamers. Melee combat is awkward to get used to and gun combat is pretty boring. Silent Hill 3 made some advancements with the melee combat, but it still feels like a chore more than it feels like fun.
Exploring in both games is a lot better, but both this and the combat have the camera being a nuisance. Though you have no direct control of the camera, you can manipulate it (in open areas) by the way you walk, but doing this is a nightmare, leaving way too many times where you run towards the camera, unable to see where you are going. During exploration it is quite unpleasant, and during action scenes it becomes frustrating. Otherwise, the exploration is only marred by the items which are way too small (to people who are used to modern games where items are large, hinted at and usually have a bit of a glisten to them so you do not miss them) to notice. If you are not used to what the items look like in these games, chances are you will run straight past them. This holds true for keys and other items you require for puzzles, which forces the player to be a lot more observant and thorough when exploring. The maps and areas are very big and give lots of interesting places for you to explore. Once your eye is set in on the small items, you will find that exploring rewards you with good scares, plenty of supplies and additional back-story. The puzzles in the game are usually quite simple, though the games give the option before you start on which difficulty level you would like the riddles. Usually the puzzles revolve around getting certain items to open some kind of a door and in some cases these items only make sense if you are following a walkthrough.
So, from a critical point of view, the gameplay in these games is not amazing, though the two games are saved by their other virtues. However, it needs to be said that some will be immediately put off by the awkward, lackluster combat and the drunken camera angles.
Gameplay scores a 3/5
Both of the Silent Hill games will take about 10 hours to finish, but this depends drastically on how well you know the game and whether or not you are using a guide. If you blitz through the games, it can take you about 3-4 hours each. So the games aren’t too long. However, Silent Hill 2 boasts 5 different endings, 3 of which are ”normal” endings, the 4th being a secret ending, not available during the first playthrough and a 5th, hilarious, ending, only available after the 4th ending or after the three ”normal endings”. Silent Hill 3 has three different, one good, one bad and one funny ending.
Aside from viewing all of these endings, the games do not offer much more in terms of “replayability”.
Replay value, thus, scores a 3/5
What makes the Silent Hill HD Collection fun to play, despite the painful combat, is the atmosphere that these games invoke. As mentioned earlier, the visuals and the sounds add a lot to the thick layer of tension during the games and this is, more than anything, what make the games fun to play. The pacing in these games, the buildup towards the end, the use of subtle audio and visual cues and the (sometimes lack of) monsters all create a gameplay experience of immersion and ambiance that other games in this genre could only dream of having. This, however, is not what every gamer would consider ‘fun’. The fun in this game is the antithesis of the relentless powerful combat in games such as God of War. Players who value intuitive gameplay and tight combat may not be pleased by this game. The players who love to be sucked into a world, have their emotions toyed with, get drenched in fear and paranoia will fall in love with this game, granted that they can live with painful combat, graphics pulled from a few years back and some annoying glitches.
Without the glitches, I would rate the Silent Hill collection a 4/5, but the glitches (which are mainly present in Silent Hill 3) bring it down to a 3.5/5. The game is not perfect, the combat and gameplay are flawed and will chase away many newcomers to the series and the glitches are frustrating. But those who can live with those issues are in for one hell of a ride.
Final Score: 3.5/5
- Amazing storytelling
- Fantastic atmosphere
- Scares like no other game out there
- Core gameplay elements could be improved a lot