I found the Silent Hill HD Collection to be a big disappointment. It is broken, lacks serious polish, and is not the upgrade we were promised. Instead Collection is a major downgrade.
Now I should tell you I’ve only completely played half of this collection. After running through Silent Hill 2 I was quite upset over its HD upgrade; that coupled with reading reports of how bad Silent Hill 3 peformed (missing textures, missing audio, lighting, and shadows) by other fans meant I just didn’t have to heart to continue playing. So this review will focus on my underwhelming experience with Silent Hill 2.
Before I get completely negative I would like to say I did find some positives in collection like the great texture upgrades that allowed for sharp clarity on a home console. I’ve never played the PC version so seeing everything from James’ jacket, store signs, and paintings in such high detail was a real treat for me. I’ve mentioned before, in my hands on preview, how impressed I was that so many hidden details are more prominent in the HD Collection now and I really think the game shines in that regard. It was exciting to see in game that James has replaced the corpse in the prison cafeteria painting or that there’s a staff photo hanging the the Silent Hill Historical Society without having to dig through ripped PC texture files for a closer look.
I was also quite fond of some of the new voice work. I know many fans are unhappy with the choice to recast the voices in Silent Hill 2 and 3 but I actually found myself liking some of the re-recorded lines more than the original. I felt that James’ later scenes in Silent Hill 2 were better acted and I really digged the raw emotion I could hear in Troy Baker’s performance. I was also quite fond of Angela’s new voice; she sounded like a troubled teen instead of a woman in her forties. That being said, I was not overly-wowed by everyone: Laura had the obvious sound of an older woman playing a child and as I’ve mentioned in the past I’m not fond of Mary Elizabeth’s deep voice for Mary Sunderland.
Unfortunately, the improved clarity of environment and a few better acted lines were are only small consolations given everything that is just so wrong with the collection.
Let’s start at the beginning, as you leave the rest stop by the Toluca Lake it’s immediately apparent something is off. It’s the main road; it is way too clean. This glaring change was pointed out before the HD Collection’s release by fans who had viewed the Gamespot comparison videos. Before the release I held out hope that Gamespot had a slightly older build and that once I played Collection in person maybe the texture difference would not be that off but, unfortunately, the reality is that the road sticks out like a sore thumb. It has very little texture and given the overall low contrast in Collection it looks more like a freshly paved road than the grungy and cracked road one would expect in such a run down town. Granted, a poorly rendered road texture isn’t a huge deal, but this lack of attention to basic detail is indicative of a larger pattern that repeats throughout the rest of the game.
Original Versus HD Collection
Fairly quickly in the game, you pick up a radio; this radio is a core element of the game since it alerts you to the presence of monsters by the increasing and decreasing levels of static. It’s an established staple of the Silent Hill games so I was shocked that its implementation in Collection was handled so poorly. There’s now a discernible pause between the static sound-effect loop which makes the sound of the radio distracting and intrusive instead of what it should be: a steady white noise in the background that alerts you to danger without drawing you out of the game’s action. It was so annoying and grating for me personally that I ended up turning it off in my own play through. If I was playing the game for the first time this would have put me at a severe disadvantage. You don’t need to be familiar with the game to be annoyed by the sound of the radio so I can see people turning it off like I did before realizing it’s supposed to be of aid to the player.
Collection Radio versus Radio in Original
The next jarring sound is when James runs for awhile and stops to catch his breath. Really, the first time this happened I thought he was going to die: James didn’t sound human; he sounded mechanical! It was like they took audio of one quick breath and only looped that one sound. It’s hard to describe – you will have to listen to it yourself in the video below but this particular audio change was not for the better.
These weird audio problems continue to crop up throughout the rest of the game. Monster walking-sounds are extremely loud – to the point where I was confused: not only could I not identify it, I couldn’t figure out where “this loud clacking noise” was coming from. I had just left Brookhaven Hospital and thought there was something wrong with my game for a second because I only saw one monster near me on the street and it wasn’t moving, but I was hearing non-stop movement all around me. After running around for a bit I finally discerned that there was another monster several frames behind me, but there had been no variation in the sound to indicate distance: regardless of whether the monster was ready to attack or still 3 blocks away, the sound was equally loud. So again, we see one of the battle elements of the game that a new player might depend on being poorly executed in Collection. I found that the loud footsteps were not limited to the general enemies either because it cropped up again in a boss fight later. It’s almost comical how unbalanced the Collection’s audio is.
Speaking of audio volumes: there were times when it wasn’t even there at all! Key sound effects are either very muffled – like the scream in the apartment complex – or are completely removed like the fog horn in the Silent Hill Historical Society. The scream, for example, is supposed to direct your attention down a hallway to your first encounter with Pyramid Head, outside an apartment with a bloody corpse inside. In the original game, this scream is loud so it’s obvious why James is so surprised and wants to investigate its source, but in Collection it’s extremely weird seeing James’ jump and indicate there was a scream in subtitles when you can barely hear it in the game.
As for the missing foghorn in the Silent Hill Historical Society, its omission is very odd. The sound of the foghorn is a big audio clue to the player that they are traveling beneath Lake Toluca before they enter the old prison. These missing and muffled sound effects are not a big deal in terms of gameplay but overall it takes away from the atmosphere of the environments you are exploring. It has a negative impact for established fans who wonder what the heck happened to the missing sounds, and new players will miss out on the true aesthetic potential of Silent Hill. It’s further evidence of the lack attention to detail that went into the game.
Moving on from audio to visuals, one of the most glaring differences from the original game was the treatment of the fog. Like the radio, the fog is iconic to Silent Hill and it helps define the game’s aesthetic, but in Collection the fog has been downgraded to an afterthought. Originally the fog served a dual purpose: to establish atmosphere and hide imperfections in the rendering of the game environment. But now it does neither. The fog line is incredibly stark as you are traveling outdoors and at times it looked like a large white wall of fog was racing away from James. It didn’t look natural. In fact, one of the scariest elements of the game has been turned into a cartoonish caricature. To be fair: the mechanics of the fog may act the same way in the original but, unlike Collection, there’s a whole lot of fog in that game to mask the wall. Fog completely fills the screen in the original game, making it extremely difficult to see buildings, monsters and objects not directly in front of you – but now the fog is only a minor inconvenience. Given that we were promised an HD remastering of the game, leaving out one of the core elements, a claustrophobia inducing fog, is not acceptable.
Wall ‘O Fog Versus Original
This lack of fog is glaringly obvious when James first meets Maria at Rosewater Park. In the original game the fog shrouded the horizon so the environment of the scene felt complete; however, in Collection this shroud has been lifted and the end of the world is blatantly obvious. Again, the effect is comical; it strips yet another layer from the town’s sinister environment and leaves the game looking unpolished, which is exactly what use of the fog was intended to avoid in the first place.
Meeting Maria fog comparison
This blatant disregard for visuals continues later in the game when you have to cross Lake Toluca by boat. It’s sad when games from the 8 bit era can render more realistic water than modern hi-fidelity hardware. At first it looked like James was taking a boat that was floating in the white fog but it got a lot worse when he started to cross the lake. Not only could I make out the grid that mapped the plane for the surface of the water, but the current was now made up of large bright white rings rippling over the black grid. It didn’t look like water and it certainly didn’t look that bad in the original game!
I also found it upsetting how overall desaturated the game looks. It’s just too dark and murky, and the difference in color saturation is very apparent when you compare the original and Collection side by side (as in the videos above). Again, this may not be a problem for any new players but as a long time fan it was incredibly disappointing once I realized how stark the saturation difference really was.
Less blatant (but just as annoying) was the application of a grain filter over the CGI cutscenes. The scenes were already slightly stretched and blurry to fit the new aspect ratio in Collection, but with the filter on top of that they look very low quality and nothing like an HD upgrade.
In the end, it was lucky I was playing the Xbox 360 copy of Collection as I only had to deal with what were, ultimately, aesthetic issues. On release day there were many reports that if you were unfortunate enough to play this on a Playsation 3, the game was effectively unplayble. Konami released a patch for PS3 owners the following day but there continue to be reports of technical issues with the patch. In fact, I’ve had several PS3 Collection owners comment on this site from that the patch has done nothing to fix their issues.
Even beyond that, the assumption that you can release a broken game and patch it a day later is disrespectful and unprofessional as it assumes people have the internet access and subscription services needed to download such fixes. Playstation Network maybe free now but it may not always be, and if knowingly releasing incomplete games becomes an acceptable model, it will, in a way, force players to pay for the game multiple times. You may not have to pay for the patch itself but you do have to pay for the internet access and, possibly, the subscription service you’ll use to download it. It’s worth pointing out that Xbox Live is currently a paid service which, by the way, does not seem to be getting a patch any time soon.
This is not acceptable. At all.
The advantage to owning a console has always been that when you buy a game it will be playable. We don’t have to worry about upgrading to the latest graphics card, sound card, or processors: if we have the console, the game will play. Nothing else is required. The compromise we have always accepted for that assurance is that the games may be limited by the hardware in the console until the next console upgrade. So our games may not have always been as pretty as those on PCs, but we accepted that as the price we paid for stability. I’m not liking the growing trend of companies releasing incomplete and broken games then counting on the ability to patch them later if enough people complain. A game should be fully functional once you’ve given someone money for it.
As a result, my recommendation is that no one buy this collection. Not only are there aesthetic issues that make the game a downgrade instead of the upgrade we were promised but there are technical issues that render the game unplayable for some. Buying the game will not only reinforce the message that poor development and shoddy QA are acceptable but that we are okay with buying an incomplete product which may or may not be fixed in the future.
As much as I love the series and I love the idea of being able to play older titles on my next generation console, I feel this collection does not deserve to do well in its current state. After all the delays it’s mind boggling just how bad this looks. We need to send Konami a message that this sort of shoddy “upgrade” is not okay. Already the game is under review on Amazon due to the numerous costumer complaints about Collection’s sub-par quality. I hope Konami takes notice and will not only patch this collection but also re-release a fixed version down the road. Until that happens I highly recommend playing/buying the originals over Collection if you can. But if you can’t and this collection is your only option just be forewarned that you are getting a lackluster shadow of the original game. It’s not the HD upgrade you are paying for!