Konami recently released a new promotional video that supposedly showcases the improved visual quality of the HD remakes of Silent Hill 2 and 3 (full review here).
New comparison video of the original versions of Silent Hill 2 and 3 versus the new HD Collection.
It looks bad!
Does the video make the HD versions look considerably clearer than the PS2 counterparts? I wouldn't blame you for saying "yes". But to the trained eye (and to experienced Silent Hill players), this video is a blatantly disingenuous attempt to make the PS2 versions look bad.
Lack of film grain puts comparisons on unequal footing
First of all, all the HD clips are shown with the film grain effects turned off and some of the fog effects disabled as well. This is a cheap trick on Konami's part, as these settings can be turned off in the original game, and doing so clears up the images considerably. The fact that Konami didn't even bother to compare the shots on an equal footing goes to show how far out of their way they are willing to go to make the original games look worse than they actually are.
But, disregarding this cheap manipulation by Konami, the HD footage also fails to impress for a multitude of other reasons.
The images in the HD shots do look noticeably smoother (although the SH3 footage is still no better than the original PC game on high resolution). But at the same time, the images tend to look "stretched" - particularly the cutscenes from Silent Hill 2. This makes the character models look unusually chunky. Poor Eddie isn't going to like this...
The HD cutscenes appear to be just stretched versions of the original 4:3 cutscenes (with new voice-acting).
But this is kind of to be expected when it comes to cutscenes, so I'm not going to complain too much. They new developers probably just took the original CGI and stretched it to fit an HD display. The actual in-game shots don't look as bad; since everything was remodeled, the extra screen space can be filled in by widening the field of view of the camera. So no stretching of the in-game images is necessary.
The most noticeably pathetic part of this comparison video, however, is how muted and washed out the colors in the HD port look in direct comparison with the original PS2 counterparts.
These composite images from the trailer showcase a lot of the problems with the HD Collection's lackluster visuals. Lighting appears less dynamic, colors are washed out, and everything just looks bland.
Every screen looks much more gray than in the original footage. James jacket is noticeably less green, and the backgrounds in Silent Hill 3 footage lacks the strong red and brown tones that the original had. All the ambient rust and blood coloration has been subdued and looks like shades of pale gray. This makes the backgrounds just look horribly bland.
Colors look washed out and many details just can't be seen.
Has the film grain and fog been completely removed from the HD ports?
So, after watching all the videos of the HD collection that have been released so far, I really have to wonder if the developer actually removed all the film grain effects and fog effects. When watching the Silent Hill 3 comparisons, I notice that the fog effects that are present in the edges of the original footage are completely absent from the HD footage. This allows the player to see the solid black backgrounds behind the tops of some of the buildings in the amusement park. This makes the environment look very fake. Like a cardboard Hollywood movie set. It's bad. Really bad.
In addition to the colors looking washed out, textures have been completely changes and the rusty, bloody red tones have been completely subdued with pale browns and grays. The fog has been completely removed.
The pervasive fog effects and general graininess of the images in the original game were also a strong part of the games' visual appeal. They helped to obscure a lot of the things present in the environment, creating a sense of mystery and uneasiness in that the player can't really tell exactly what he or she is looking at. It leaves things up to the player's imaginations to fill in the unknown, and the original developers knew that with a proper nudge, the things that your imagination can come up with are far worse than anything that they could have come up with. That aspect of the visuals has been completely eliminated from the footage we're seeing. It makes the creatures and environments look less believable and less frightening.
Being able to clearly see too many details of the monsters leaves little to the player's imaginations, makes the monster look less real, and thus, less threatening.
Have these fog effects been removed completely? Or is it just being turned off for the sake of demo purposes to make the images look cleaner? If so, this was a bad move by Konami. This new footage completely lacks the grittiness that was almost overwhelmingly present in the original versions of these games. If these effects have been removed without an option to turn them back on, then these HD ports are doing a huge disservice to the original games, as a primary contributor to the atmosphere of the environments is going to be lost in the port.
What really confuses me, though, is that in an earlier demo by GamesRadar, Tomm Hulett showed a clip from Silent Hill 3 HD, and it looked much, much better than what was just released. Textures didn't look as washed-out and still preserved a great deal of the original game's detail. The fog was still present; although, it was minimized to the point where I could still make out the black background behind the buildings, giving the amusement park the Hollywood cardboard set feel that I mentioned above.
An earlier demo version of the game from GamesRadar that showed better textures and a reduced (but still present) fog effect. What happened?
So what happened?
This past demo that I saw on GamesRadar had the original textures and fog (mostly) intact.
Did Konami delay the game so that they could remove detail? Why does this newest comparison video look so much worse than previous demos that have been shown?
What is Konami thinking with these games?
Konami is ruining these great games just so they can make a quick buck. As if the re-recorded voice work weren't bad enough, they are also taking a lot of the visual flavor of the games away. Sure the images look sharper, but they lack the atmospheric attitude that helped make the original games' visuals so distinct and effective. The HD ports just look bland and washed-out by comparison. It looks like complete and utter garbage.
The only thing scary about these remakes is that people are going to play them and think they are representative of the original product. So sad.
UPDATE (March 12, 2012, 3:19 PDT): clarifications on my "hate" regarding the Silent Hill HD Collection
I fully recognize that the footage presented was tweaked to upsell the point that the port makes the images smoother. I realize that the brightness was turned up and contrast settings were tweaked, and that therefore, these images are not representative of the final product. But here is where I guess I differ from other people: to me, the whole point of a preview or a demo is to show potential customers what they can expect when the final product is released. I know that previews and demos will not be fully representative of the final product and are subject to change. But so far, everything that I have seen regarding the HD ports has been flawed in some way, whether it be a lack of detail in the visuals, manipulation of the final images by Konami, or the altered voice-acting (still haven't heard what Silent Hill 3 HD is going to sound like). Are all of these previews modified by Konami? If so, then why are they going so far out of their way to avoid showing us what the actual game looks like? If none of the previews that I see look good, then I'm not going to just buy the game on the faith that the final product will be better than what has been advertised. I've made that mistake before.
I love the original 3 Silent Hill games (and I like the fourth one too). Part of loving something is being able to recognize its faults but still accepting it for what it is. Silent Hill 1 is a horribly dated game. When I recommend it to my friends, I don't make any excuses for this. I tell them flat-out that the controls are going to be clumsy and uncomfortable, the cutscenes are going to be static and boring to watch, and the plot is going to be highly obfuscated (especially compared to modern games that hold the player's hand throughout the whole experience). But I still recommend the game because if they press on, then the things it does well will far outweigh the things it does poorly.
Silent Hill 2 and 3 still hold up well to this day. They have their problems, and they are starting to show their age, but those problems are almost trivial in context of the effect they have on the overall gameplay experience. These games did not need to be remade. At least not yet. I'm not just "hating" Konami for the sake of hating Konami. I love Konami. Konami has offered me some of my most cherished and precious gaming memories in the form of games like Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, and Contra. I'm just disappointed that Konami has fallen into the trap that the whole industry is falling into. The trap of being subject to the business desire to make the most amount of money possible with the least amount of work possible. What better way to do that than take games that people love (like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill) polish them up a little, and re-release them knowing that hard-core fanboys are going to just buy them regardless of how the final product turns out?
While Konami owns the rights to these games and can do whatever they want with them, we, the fans, do not have to stand by and let them potentially tarnish these cherished titles. Just because a game can be remade in HD resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio doesn't mean that it should. We have to keep in mind that the games were designed with the limitations of the technology in mind. Team Silent did not make these games with the foreknowledge that TVs would get bigger and support higher resolutions, nor did they design the games such that they should support them. They were made to conform to 4:3, standard definition presentation. Choices in the games' design were made with these restrictions in mind, and in some cases, exploit these restrictions for added effect.
Maybe the designers don't want the game to be displayed in 16:9. Maybe they don't want the player to have a wider frame of view. It's pretty well-established within the Silent Hill fan community that the developers went out of their way in many areas to intentionally obscure certain details of the games and the environments and objects depicted therein. Just like a scene in a classic black-and-white movie could be shot specifically to take advantage of the unique lighting and contrast effects of a black-and-white format (an effect that would be lost if converted to color); the camera, controls, environments, and creatures of Silent Hill could have been (and evidence suggests that the were) constructed to take advantage of the "limitations" of the media for added effect. By expanding the game to a larger aspect ratio and clearing up the visuals, we risk losing the impact that some of the scenes, camera angles, and events might have on the player. All those instances in which something creepy happens just outside of the camera's field of vision, or in which an event itself is obscured by fog, limited draw distance, or simple camera blur, could be spoiled by increasing the camera's field of vision and clearing up the images.
If I can't trust the developers of the port to keep the original textures intact and maintain the fog effects of the original games, and if I know that Konami couldn't even manage to get the original voice talents for one of the games, then how can I trust that they won't ruin scenes or events in the games by showing something that wasn't meant to be seen or by delivering a line of dialogue in a way that changes its meaning or purpose?
If you want to buy the game, then go right ahead. If you want to be excited about the game, then go right ahead. I don't want to take that away from you. If you're confident that it will be equal in quality to the originals, then I can't tell you not to buy it, and I fully respect your right to do so. And if it ends up being every bit as good as the originals, then, heck, I'll buy it too!
But remember that once you buy the game, Konami doesn't care whether you "like it" or not. They got your money. If you're going to ignore warning signs presented in preview videos, and reserve judgement for the final product that you're going to buy anyway, then your judgement is moot. Once you buy the game, as far as Konami is concerned, the product has your 100% satisfaction. At that point, the best you can do is tell other friends not to buy it. But if every fanboy goes out and buys the game on day-one and ends up hating it, then Konami got everything they wanted/needed out of making the game, and they will continue to think that they can get away with releasing sub-par products.
But I've seen too many red flags regarding this product, as well as Downpour, so I'm not going to give these games the benefit of the doubt. I've done that in the past and been burnt. I pre-ordered Star Trek: Online along with the $280-something lifetime membership based on my Star Trek fanboyism and all the pre-release hype, despite the fact that none of the pre-release previews really looked that impressive to me. I played that game for a week before getting bored to death of it. That was an expensive week. I vowed that I would never let another company take advantage of my fanboyism like that again to swindle me out of money. But, low and behold, Firaxis did the same thing to me with Civilization V a year later, which was horrible on release-day and took almost 5 months of patches to reach a level of playable respectability.
...Fool me twice...
And I don't want other fans to fall into this same trap.