Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Silent Hill HD Collection (PS3)

Silent Hill HD collection
The early Silent Hill games are terrible games. They just happen to be incredible experiences. The HD remake of Silent Hill 2 and 3 has just reinforced this.

The games remain terrible to control (and often play) with clunky turning, horrible aiming and stupid, obtuse puzzles. People who played these games will remember all of this naturally. It was better to avoid combat entirely and run past any enemy that wasn’t critical to kill, and of course the game itself understood this and kept the weaponry to a minimum. Unlike the Resident Evil games Silent Hill has always remained an adventure game at heart rather than an action experience, and this hasn’t changed with the remakes.

On a purely technical level Silent Hill 2 and 3 seem to have picked up some new flaws in the remakes. The frame rate is shocking. It doesn’t matter that the player’s field of vision is always restricted right down by being inside small buildings or outside in a mass of fog that only allows a field of vision of a few feet, the game still likes grinding the frame rate right down. I don’t remember that being a problem in the original Silent Hill 2 and 3, and it would be something memorable, as every time the frame rate drops players are pulled out of the game and reminded they are indeed simply pressing buttons to make stuff happen on screen. In other words, it kills the atmosphere.

Silent Hill HD Collection
And atmosphere is what has made Silent Hill 2 (and to a slightly lesser extent, Silent Hill 3) such a classic of the horror genre. In the broad sense it doesn’t matter that these games don’t play so well, because they still have the ability to drag players through an absolutely horrific and genuinely high impact experience.

There’s a few things that Silent Hill 2 and 3 get right that no other horror game series has understood. One; it’s an emotional story about people with real emotions. A man deeply missing his wife. A teenage girl going through growing pains. Silent Hill games are allegories for real human experiences and that means we as players experience them on a far more primal level than the relative silliness of zombies and alien monsters.

The games are constructed so well around those human experiences as well. The fog is metaphoric for the confusion running through the character’s head. The soundtrack is usually gentle and almost romantic, rather than being violent and dark. There’s a sadness to the horror and decay of the Silent Hill visuals that is, in a strange way, touching to behold. And there’s new voice actors for the HD remakes that are better capable, as actors, in conveying the nuance that the stories demand.

Silent Hill 2 and 3 PS3
That’s not to say Silent Hill games are not capable of producing raw horror. In fact, amongst the major horror brands, this one pushes the envelope the most. The developers behind the original Silent Hill games understood the need for eroticism in horror. Since the genre’s roots – Dracula, Frankenstein and the werewolf mythologies horror has been as much an expression of sexual fear as anything else. Silent Hill 2 and 3 embrace that when other AAA-grade horror series are content putting guns in people’s hands.

And then there’s the violence. These games have moments of utter brutality. Because the games are so restrained elsewhere, those moments have massive impact on the player; truly less is more with horror.

This is two of the best horror games in the history of gaming, and indeed are two games that have transcended being “just games”; Silent Hill 2, especially, is a work of art. It’s a difficult game to score because the control system is bad, even by horror game standards, and the HD remake doesn’t actually do these games many favours on a technical basis, but it’s still an essential collection for those who aren’t faint of heart.

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