maanantai 10. kesäkuuta 2013

REVIEW - Silent Hill HD Collection | PS3 | 2012

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror / Compilation
RELEASED: March 20, 2012
DEVELOPER(S): Team Silent, Hijinx Studios

In 1996, Shinji Mikami's Resident Evil laid down the foundations for the true rise of the survival horror genre. It wasn't before 1999 that Resident Evil was truly challenged for the mantle of the best in survival horror, by Keiichiro Toyama's Silent Hill. This truly sick, twisted game starred a man in desperate search of his beloved daughter in a seemingly ordinary small town, where something had gone horribly wrong and where the laws of reality no longer applied. Among other things, Silent Hill became known for its thick atmosphere, full 3D exploration, Akira Yamaoka's legendary music and sound design, hard puzzles and a very different lead character for a genre game - a geeky writer instead of any sort of combat specialist. It was Silent Hill 2, originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2001, that hit the ultimate jackpot. Although initial reception to the game was a bit mixed, the game has since become a milestone in survival horror, and a standard in the psychological side of it - everything that was ever exclusively great about this franchise manifests within that game. Silent Hill 3 was a great game, as well, although it took a more graphic approach to horror, and was a direct sequel to the first game - thus remaining the only direct sequel in the whole series, kind of a letdown to people who missed the original. As many people - including me - are concerned, that's pretty much where the magic of Silent Hill ended. The fourth game was OK - at the most - but after that, Team Silent quit development, bringing upon the gradual commercial downfall of the franchise and also, the gradual disappearance of elements which people used to recognize it from. In the wake of tens of high-definition re-releases of tens of quality games from yesterday, one always hoped that Silent Hill would get some sort of HD treatment. In early 2012, it happened. And suddenly I wish it hadn't.

That's it, I'm whipping out the PS2

Troy Baker : James Sunderland
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn : Mary Shepherd-Sunderland / Maria
Liam O'Brien : Eddie Dombrowski
Laura Bailey : Angela Orosco
Travis Willingham : Ernest Baldwin
Kirk Thornton : Game Show Host
Amanda Winn-Lee : Heather Mason
Laura Bailey : Claudia Wolf
Yuri Lowenthal : Vincent
Kirk Thornton : Douglas Cartland

In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland travels to the resort town of Silent Hill to search for his wife Mary, from whom he has received a letter, inviting him to meet her at their "special place". What sounds like a romantic gesture is actually quite frightening, as Mary has been dead and buried for three years. In Silent Hill 3, 17-year old Heather finds herself prey to creatures from another world, led by a religious fanatic who seems to believe this young girl is the one and only key to eternal paradise.

It's been a while since I reviewed these games separately (9.1 for Silent Hill 2 and 8.6 for Silent Hill 3), so I might as well briefly recap my history with Silent Hill, especially these two games. Silent Hill 2 (The Director's Cut - much more common in Europe than the original, it would seem, and the one included here) was one of the first games I got for my then brand new PS2 back in 2003, around the time Silent Hill 3 had just been released. I had played the first game very little - but I did remember its name quite well. As a matter of fact, I (semi-)advertently severed ties with a friend of mine who had the game when I went to business college, and I spent a year and a half looking for the game everywhere. I had no idea how webstores or Internet auctions worked back then - if I didn't find something in the here and now, I gave up on it. The first game indeed was kind of a rare find if you lived in a small town; I went shopping in bigger cities at least once a year, but either this particular game never turned up, or I had just enough money to round out my record collection instead - something that was way more important to me than games back then.

An iconic horror game at some of its most
When I found Silent Hill 2 in a local supermarket, having just acquired a PS2, I was fuckin' ecstatic - if this game was anywhere near the positive chills I got from my very brief time with the first game, it was bound to be a winner. It wasn't a direct sequel, either - I couldn't even remember the plot outline of the first game too well, just that there was some guy named Harry looking for his daughter in a misty ghost town full of some grotesque monsters, and that there was a school with a fiendish piano puzzle somehow linked to birds. Silent Hill 2 had a totally different story in a redesigned version of the very same setting - a misty ghost town called Silent Hill - and judging by what I read, this game was supposed to be a little more psychological than the first one, heavily influenced by David Lynch's works. As just about everyone knows, I'm a Lynch fan without any close peers - I've worshipped the man and revered him as a demigod for years, while just about everyone around me have had no idea who he was before I've told them, and even then very few have shown any interest in the guy's works beyond Twin Peaks. Silent Hill 2 had all the keys to blow me away, but it didn't. I found the game boring and let it sit for over six months.

If my memory serves me right, I bought Silent Hill 3 after reading a positive review which also led me to believe that it was somewhat different than the previous game, different enough for me to give the game another chance. Well, Silent Hill 3 disappointed me in a few ways - like being a direct sequel to the first game which was kind of an enigma for me back then - but it definitely worked for me in a lot more ways. It was violent, exciting, and simply sick. After beating the game, I gave Silent Hill 2 another go without any hesitation, and having better sense of how the game worked than I had months before, I found one of my favourite games of all time - which ultimately left me disappointed with Silent Hill 3. Ironic. And just a tad confusing, I know. In a nutshell, Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece in survival horror, with more replay value than many other genre games. Silent Hill 3 - not so much replay value, a weaker story, but enough playability and mindbending audiovisual effects, meaning some truly horrifying moments, to qualify for a great addition to the series.

Let's start from the bang this disc offers for your buck. There's absolutely no question in my mind: Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 are the best games you could hope to find from a high-definition compilation, since totally remaking a PS1 game is always off limits, too much of an effort. Let's take the Metal Gear Solid collection for an example: how hard would've it been to secure the rights to butter up and re-release GameCube's critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes? Indeed, they already had a remake of Metal Gear Solid under their belts, and they still didn't use it to their advantage (and apparently, it's not on the upcoming Legacy collection either, although that one's supposed to be "complete"). Still, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection hardly left one cold, since there were a total of five games on that disc - two of the best ever made, at that. Also, despite the fact that the conversion of Metal Gear Solid 3 was based on the arguably needless Subsistence version of the game, the compilation was a hearty, stylish, moreover full-powered effort, definitely worth your money - especially if you had never played these games before. Silent Hill HD Collection just has these two games. I'm not saying there's anything I'm personally missing, but I'm guessing there are a lot of die-hard fans who think Silent Hill: 0rigins, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and especially the numerical entry Silent Hill 4: The Room should've been included. Well, this bundle's initial value is the least of your worries, I'm afraid.

First off, if you're an Xbox 360 owner... I'm sorry. Both versions of the software were full of glitches upon arrival, and for some reason, the Xbox 360 version of the game was never patched. They actually offered automatic refunds for the Xbox 360 game at some point - how about that, really? "No, we won't patch the game. Here's your money back. We're smart. That's S-M-R-T." I'm not sure what the nature of these glitches are, but I've heard some people claim they're so dramatic that they actually prevent you from beating at least one of the games on the disc. It's not that they're totally gone from the PS3 version after the huge update, either. In a nutshell, it seems like Silent Hill 2 is the only game with some technical effort put into it. Silent Hill 3 is teeming with technical problems - the high-definition graphics look like ass (and we're talking about one of the best-looking PS2 games here!), the a/v sync is totally off (not to mention the new voiceovers) and the game seems to freeze for a second or two every time an enemy appears or just something out of the ordinary happens - I remember it freezing just before one of the many unexpected sound effects that were originally squeezed in to make the player shit his/her pants. It's like a warning. Silent Hill 3 used to be one of the most frightening games I've ever played. I guess the original release still is. While Silent Hill 2 is quite fun to clash through - there are just a few similar problems, AND I've got to admit that seeing the game through for the 11th time doesn't quite feel the same anymore - Silent Hill 3 is a pain in the ass. If you want to experience the game as it was meant to be, in its (one and only) true form, get yourself a PS2. Seriously. I couldn't even see it to the end, I just couldn't handle all the shittiness... or the final boss.

Despite suffering from severe graphical issues and a bit bulky controls, Silent Hill 2 indeed does have some spunk left in it, and some whole new spunk shot into it - not deliberately, though. Due to a legal dispute with the good old monotonic and/or overacting voiceover cast of the original, they went and re-recorded the voiceovers with a whole new cast, directed by voice actress and singer Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who's of course a veteran of the Silent Hill series, and who provides the voices of Mary and Maria herself. Troy Baker's fast becoming one of the most prolific voice actors, just recently securing Mark Hamill's legacy as Joker in the upcoming Arkham game - and he's voicing James, so you can just imagine how much more vivid this version of the game sounds than the original. Ironic, too - you see, you have the option of turning on the old voiceovers for Silent Hill 2. There's no such option for Silent Hill 3 - and what's ironic about it, is that the new voiceovers for Silent Hill 3 sound like ass compared to the original. They're totally out of context about 80% of the time, and there's absolutely no emotion involved. The only semblance of emotion comes from Laura Bailey, who seems to know at least something about the games and the characters she's doing. She replaces Donna Burke's characters in both games (Angela and Claudia), and I must say that even if I was annoyed with Burke's overacting, her lines weren't any better than her acting - a better, more experienced actress makes it quite clear.

Silent Hill 2's "severe graphical issues" - Hijinx Studios did absolutely NOTHING besides change the resolution. To put it the most simply I possibly can: the fog isn't as thick as it originally was, and the thinning reveals some nasty errors, such as Toluca Lake cut in half before your very eyes, just a few feet off the shore, with nothing beyond but total emptiness. Ever wondered how a full 3D game worked so smooth despite having such nice graphics and framerate at the time? There's your reason - there's nothing in the mist. One undefined surrounding area is loaded at a time, and since you don't visit the lake until the boat level in which movement is very limited, the lake is "useless" in the eye of the developer. The eye of the gamer is very sharp, however. Well, let this be a warning, and I'll let 'em off with a warning, 'cause Silent Hill 2 is still a hoot. Especially the melee and camera controls are a little dated and clumsy, the boss fights are dumb, the Born from a Wish subscenario is cool but even more unreplayable than I remembered, and the game is riddled with ill logic - outright stupidity at times - but the story and atmosphere still represent the all-time best in survival horror, and I sincerely think it's still a great entry point. If it wasn't for the better voiceovers and the Trophies, though, I would not hesitate to direct newbies to the original Director's Cut, preferrably on the PS2. Hacking through Born from a Wish, I birthed a wish to be done with it already halfway through it, especially so that I could take on Silent Hill 3 after such a long break. I had no idea what I was in for.

Despite its minor flaws, Silent Hill 2 was indeed pretty much the same game as ever. I wouldn't say better, but the new voiceovers alone proved that this game was handled with some semblance of emotion. So what happened then? Silent Hill 3 is the polar opposite. At least some of the voice actors are experienced folk, but the voiceover work is much worse than it was in the original - in which most of the cast were unknown house talent. They're just reading their lines over a cup of coffee, it seems. It's like the actors that appear in both games spent the whole day re-recording Silent Hill 2 and did this game as a late shift bonus, all tired and out of bullets. All the grainy details that marked the game as one of the finest-looking games on the PS2 are either blurred or gone altogether with the change in resolution, and it's FULL of glitches, that at their worst take all the horror away - like I said, there's usually a brief freeze leading into anything unusual happening on the screen. Just a change in camera angle may freeze the video, but the audio goes on. Just imagine how the cutscenes look and sound. If you've played this game before, you might want to skip 'em. Fun, isn't it?

Another iconic game has lost most of its
Well, it doesn't stop there. I have a feeling they did something to the bosses' endurance and patterns. For example, I've used the exact same strategy to kill the final boss for years - that strategy won't work anymore, not at all. It's funny how a faithful (term used loosely) port misguides the player in such a way. The end of the game is really hard, by far the only truly hard part of the game. The challenge extends all the way to the puzzles if you make the mistake of taking on the Hard puzzle level. It can be a pretty frustrating back and forth run, during which you're pretty much forced to use a lot of health items and waste all your ammo. Well, I've never had a problem with that - I'll gladly use up all my health items and ammo, 'cause I won't need 'em in the final boss. Ever since I figured out a sure-fire strategy, I've never had to use any ammo, and the boss hasn't been able to even touch me. I trust the game to be the very same as ever, and I head into the final confrontation - with the word "FINALLY" constantly repeating in my brain - ...and get my head bashed in 27 times in a row, desperately trying to make my old strategy work, before giving up and laying the game to eternal rest. If this port was what I expected it to be, I would bow my head in respect to the developers for making the game a bit harder than it originally was, and might even restart it, with better knowledge. Now, I have absolutely no interest for any such thing. It's so poor - with all sense of drama, truly effective noise effects and nasty surprises, and graphical appeal removed, Silent Hill 3 hasn't got much left to make a difference. It's pretty much an action game like any other - a very disfunctional one.

The Trophies/Achievements are quite dumb, but even that dumbness takes root in the fact that we have not-so-great ports of great games on our hands; if this was my first time with both games and they'd both be how they should, I would have a great time cashing in on some trinkets. Silent Hill 2 yields only a handful of Trophies on the first run - you need to unlock all the endings (including "Born from a Wish") and pretty much all the weapons just to get started with a Platinum run. I did all this on the PS2, and it was a long process, 'cause there are so many endings. Like I said - 11th time. I don't think any game in the world is worth almost ten more playthroughs. Well, Silent Hill 3 yields a few more on the first run - IF you know what you're doing. If you don't, you're lucky to end up with a half handful. It's not enough to kill the bosses to earn their Trophies, you have to kill them within a specific time, eight minutes being the most - and that, of course, is for the final boss, due to her ridiculous amount of health. As you might know, this game only has three different endings - however, all of them must be unlocked to work towards the Platinum, despite the very slight differences between the two _sensical_ endings, the less common of which is a bitch to unlock as it is. Unlocking just one ending to get a Trophy - I believe I'll never see the day I'll get a Trophy for it, since I'm going back to the PS2 for this particular game at least.

Both God of War compilations were the stuff of gods - if a die-hard fan doesn't own a PSP, the second compilation is an outright MUST. The (first) Metal Gear compilation has its flaws, but it also compensates for each minor flaw it has with its more than sufficient amount of games and value. The Resident Evil compilation is very enjoyable, due to the simple fact that Resident Evil 4 doesn't seem to age. Even the Ico compilation was enjoyable to some extent, although I'm not a huge fan of the brand - those huge fans seem to revere that one as a masterpiece. This compilation, however, misses out on everything - absolutely everything - that makes these HD "remakes" so essential. It's a simple by-product of a growing trend, a half-baked pile which might honestly bring the more recent games in the series to a more positive light, not the other way around. Once more, I strongly advise you to brush the dust off your PS2. The magic and art of early Silent Hill are more likely found there.

+ Silent Hill 2, for the most part, including:
+ The new voiceover work
+ Quite minimal glitches and errors
+ The still great story and emotional drive

- Silent Hill 3, for the most part, including:
- The new voiceover work (and this one, you cannot change to the old)
- Downtoned (or outpolished) graphical details
- A whole array of glitches and errors, sometimes resulting in downtoned horror elements
- Dumb Trophies/Achievements for both games
- ...And on top (and in addition), both games suffer from the same problems as ever; bulky digital controls and underdeveloped melee combat, totally useless analog controls, hotspots invisible to the player, and ill all-around logic

< 6.5 >

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