Much ado has already been made about the re-recorded dialogue that is to be used in the Silent Hill HD Collection. Critics like myself have already been accused of being "haters" and "unwilling to accept change". Fortunately (or is it unfortunately?), Konami has given "haters" like me plenty of reason to hate the Silent Hill HD Collection.
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Everything sounds wrong
We all knew that the audio department for this game was going to be problematic, since we have all been long aware that new dialogue was going to be recorded. But the new voice work isn’t the only source of audio trouble.
Who are these people?
I’ll start with the voice work though, since that’s the issue that most people are already aware of. Frankly, it sucks.
In addition to most of the voices sounding drastically different, none of them is particularly distinctive. They all sound bland and indistinguishable from one another and from the voice work in any other video game. One of the charms of Silent Hill’s original voice work is that Team Silent (KCET) almost always used unique voice/motion capture actors. You won’t hear those original voices in any other games! These new voices lack that uniqueness. Heck, you could play a clip of Vincent saying something, and then of Eddie saying something, and I wouldn’t be able to tell which is which!
The only voices that I didn’t really have much of a problem with were Laura and Claudia. Leonard’s voice was also pretty cool. In fact, his might even have been a mild improvement over the original. Heather’s new voice actor showed some bright spots, particularly when she cries, but she fluctuated too much between sounding like she was trying to emulate the squeekiness of a teenage girl and just talking in her normal voice, so Heather’s voice doesn’t even sound consistent from scene to scene.
Douglas is probably the worst voice in the whole package in terms of just sounding bad. The original voice actor has this comforting "grandfatherly" charm to his voice that made it easier for me, at least, to sympathize and like him, even though he gets off on the wrong foot by acting like a creepy old pervert in the game’s opening scene. This new voice actor just sounds like a grumpy old man through the entirety of the game, and so the character never loses that "creepy old pervert" first impression. I found myself hoping that Heather would just throw a Werther’s hard candy into the lake to make Douglas go away.
[LEFT] (skip to 1:21) original (PS2) version with original voices, in which Douglas has a comforting "grandfatherly" quality to his voice.
[RIGHT] (skip to 9:42) HD Collection version with new voices, in which Douglas' voice sounds abrasive and hostile.
Also notice that in the original (PS2) version, the characters have self-shading enabled (i.e. their own bodies cast shadows on themselves). This is something that the original PC port removed, and the PC version seems to be the basis for the HD Collection port. Thus, the HD Collection does not include self-shading.
Silent Hill 2’s voice work isn’t any better. Every character’s voice is in far too deep a register, even the female characters. They all sound like they have stuffy noses or sore throats. Eddie is the stand-out horrible voice in this game. "Killin' a person ain't no big deal" just doesn't sound half as creepy with the new guy as it did with the original. But at least he doesn't really change the way we look at Eddie.
Angela's new voice actor also does a horrible job and changes the personality and meaning of the character. New Angela sounds like an air-headed, angry slut rather than an emotionally-disturbed and shut-off victim. The fact that her line delivery is not as awkward as the original just makes Angela and James' interactions clash even more. Now, the player may have a hard time understanding why James reacts to her the way he does. Why does he seem so distant, unsympathetic, and unwilling to get close to her? The original vocal performance made Angela seem immediately crazy and unpleasant to talk to regardless of the words that she is actually saying. Now she sounds pretty normal (I guess), and the only sign we have that there is something wrong with her is from her behavior and what she actually says - rather than how she says it.
As if the new voices weren’t bad enough, we get the additional double insult of both changes in the delivery of lines, as well as changes to some of the dialogue itself! Heather drops a few more "bitch" bombs on Claudia, among other changes. Plus, as a reminder that dialogue has been changed, Hijinx didn’t even bother to update the subtitles with the new dialogue! So if you play with subtitles on, you’ll be able to see where changes have been made (after the first patch for PS3, the subtitles may have been updated).
Out of sync
Staying on the audio department, there are also numerous audio synch issues and glitches. What you hear doesn’t always line up with what you see on-screen. The synch can sometimes be a whole second or two off, which is pretty bad, and jarring to watch in cutscenes containing lots of dialogue.
Sound effects can sometimes be delayed or skipped entirely as well. Sometimes, the sound of your character’s footsteps won’t start playing until after you’ve taken a few steps, audio feedback for pressing buttons on door keypads don’t sound, the sound of a door opening will be delayed or skipped entirely, and combat noises may also be skipped, making it sometimes hard to tell if you’ve actually hit a monster or not (especially if you’re attacking an off-screen enemy with a firearm). I also noticed that when descending the ramp from the Historical Society into the prison, the creepy background horn-like sound effects (music?) never even played at all. I had to walk down that ramp with nothing but the sound of James’ footsteps – which is also creepy, but nowhere near as creepy as those sound effects! This is one of my favorite sound effects in the game, so I was very disappointed to see it go. This, by itself, is a deal-breaker for me.
[LEFT] (skip to 0:07) original (PS2) version of Historical Society descent with horn sounds.
[RIGHT] (skip to 8:49) HD Collection version of Historical Society descent without horn sounds.
Guns also sometimes make an annoying ringing sound in Silent Hill 2. I think the sound of the bullet casing hitting the ground is being repeated, as if a single shot discharges 10 casings that all hit the ground in quick succession. Other sounds can sometimes get stuck on indefinitely repeating loops as well, such as enemy noises and background effects.
Audio balancing is also a bit off, with background and ambient effects sometimes overriding foreground effects entirely, as well as making the presence of music and ambient loops painfully obvious. Stuff that used to be a barely-noticeable background effect is now a blaring attention-grabber. The guns can also be obscenely loud compared to other effects. If you have young children, or roommates, or parents who are sleeping when you play this game, you’ll want to get a good pair of headphones so that you can hear everything without waking anybody up with loud noises.
So even if you play Silent Hill 2 with the original voices (Silent Hill 3 has no such option), you’ll still have to deal with overall poor sound quality.
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And it doesn't look or play any better than it sounds
The problems with this package go well beyond just audio issues. The game looks and plays poorly too. Individual screenshots might look nice in the 16:9 aspect ratio and upscaled textures (and probably sold a lot of copies of this steaming pile), but in motion, the game looks like crap. Performance is plagued with framerate and other issues.
The only thing scary about this game is the framerate
The framerate is the most noticeable and severe problem with the game, as it not only looks bad, but also hinders playability.
Silent Hill 2 mostly performs pretty well, suffering from only occasional hiccups and stutters, particularly in the outdoor areas. But I did notice a lot of consistent slowdown while running through Otherworld Silent Hill from Brookhaven to the Historical Society, but that was the only place where it was consistently laggy.
Silent Hill 3, on the other hand, runs at an almost constant 15 to 20 frames per second. Which is bad.
It's not noticeable in a still screenshot, but the framerate in areas like this is atrocious.
The framerate drops mostly seem to be caused by the presence of monsters. A single monster in the same area as Heather is enough to cut the framerate almost in half. Even if the monster is dead! But even when there aren’t monsters, the framerate still stumbles along in some areas. Eventually, I started getting used to seeing Heather run in slow motion, such that on the off chance that the game ran at full speed, she seemed to be turbo-charged.
The Born From a Wish scenario included in Silent Hill 2 performs almost as badly as Silent Hill 3. It’s obvious that Hijinx was instructed to polish up the SH2 main scenario first (being the fan favorite), but just didn’t have the time to give the other games the attention they deserved as well.
I also ran into a few total system freezes, forcing me to hard reset my PS3.
It’s also worth noting that I found both SH2 and SH3 felt considerably more difficult than the original PS2 versions. Monsters seemed to both deal and take more damage, even on the normal difficulty setting. I had a harder time actually hitting enemies; the framerate issues certainly didn’t help with timing my attacks. And the roaches in SH2 (particularly in the Born From a Wish scenario) were virtually impossible to step on - I had to burn three first aid kits in the tunnel going between the Baldwin Mansion and the apartment building because of fucking roaches!
Wider camera, less ambiance
Another thing that concerned me prior to release was the change to a 16:9 aspect ratio. I worried that the wider field of vision may spoil some of the creepy ambient effects, and expose the limitations of the environment. These fears were also partially justified. I didn’t notice any instances in which a particular scare was spoiled by the wider camera – which was good. I was particularly looking at the decapitated mannequin scene in the Silent Hill 3 office building, but fortunately, the mannequin was obscured, even though it was within the camera’s field of vision.
Fortunately, scenes like this weren't spoiled by the expanded field of view.
The wider field of vision does let us see some areas that were previously never visible. One of the most interesting of these (in a positive way) being the peripheral amusement park while walking on the roller coaster tracks in SH3. The downside is that expanded visibility and sharper image make the two-dimensional matte images used for background skyboxes more plainly noticeable in many areas (such as the orange sky in the alleyway outside the mall in the beginning of SH3, and the trees outside the windows of the Baldwin Mansion in Born From a Wish). It’s painfully easy to see that these backgrounds are 2-D backdrops rather than 3-D environments. But even worse is that there are some areas where the edges of the environments are clearly visible. The most noticeable offender is the Rosewater Park cutscene in which James first meets Maria. In the panned-out shots, the edge of the beach surface is plainly visible in the corner of the screen, and the ropes suspended to the docks noticeably vanish into thin air. The edge of the rendered environment is also painfully visible during the boat sequence in Silent Hill 2, and in a few other areas of both games. Absolutely inexcuseable!
The edge of the environment model is plainly visible in the top of the screen. This is no joke! And I am mad!
This particular issue is amplified by the reduction or removal of some ambient effects. It’s something that you won’t really notice in still screenshots, but the rolling foreground fog has been completely removed from large chunks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, and the film grain is gone completely with no option to turn it back on. The lack of the foreground fog only compounds the problem of the widened camera by making edge-of-environment issues plainly visible with no fog effect to obscure them.
In the original game, fog and darkness would have obscured the gray background and created a gentle fade to black rather than the sudden cut-off. This effect implied to the player that the environment extended out indefinitely and showcased the extent of the power of the god to reform the world.
Un-upgraded materials included
There are other nagging issues as well, but they pale in comparison to the audio and framerate issues. The FMV cutscenes from Silent Hill 2 are reused and simply stretched to fit the wider aspect ratio. It causes noticeable distortion, and makes these cutscenes look considerably uglier than their PS2 counterparts.
There are also a few other areas where the occasional unupgraded texture really stands out. Almost all the environments in Silent Hill 2 are noticeably lacking in fine detail, but there are also a few areas in Silent Hill 3 where a single bad texture can make a whole scene look bad. The best example I can think of is the hoist machine that opens the sluice gate in the lower underpass area. The hoist rope has a really low-res texture that stands out like a sore thumb against the other finely-detailed textures in the background.
It doesn't look as bad in a still shot, but in motion, the low-res texture of the rope and pulley looks horrible. Trust me.
Finally, the HD Collection seems to be a port of the PC versions of the games, rather than the original PS2 versions. The PC versions were actually notorious for being glitchy and for missing details that the PS2 versions included. One example is the lack of self-shading in Silent Hill 3 (see the video comparison of Douglas near the top of the review).
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I also can’t help but feel that, in addition to butchering the quality of the original games, Konami also missed a golden opportunity to actually address the few genuine problems that exist in these games.
- Why not get rid of the annoying latency in Silent Hill 2 when coming out of load screens, the inventory, or cutscenes? Just like in the original game, the HD Collection just hangs on a black screen for a second or two, during which time, James can actually be attacked by any enemies that happen to be standing nearby. It was never a game-breaker, but it was annoying! Especially if you’re going for the high score that requires an under 3-hour completion time with 2 or fewer saves and minimal damage.
- Why not fix the camera issues in both games that cause the camera to face back towards the character instead of looking forward at where you are going? The original Silent Hill 3 had a slightly better camera for its boss battles, but the camera was a huge problem in Silent Hill 2’s boss fights!
- Why not let Heather be able to step over the dead bodies of the enemies that she just killed instead of getting stuck on them?
- Why not shorten up some of the load times so that going in and out of rooms is nearly seamless?
I don’t think even the hardest-core, purist fans would complain if any of those improvements had been implemented. I certainly wouldn't have complained. They sure as hell would’ve made a better impression on first-time players who are accustomed to playing games with all the modern conventions and design principles.
But I guess if they couldn’t even get the games up to par with the original releases, then we couldn’t expect them to have gone above and beyond.
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Avoid the Silent Hill HD Collection at all costs!
I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but: I told you so!
The HD Collection is an unmitigated disaster, and shows all the signs of being rushed onto retail shelves before it was ready. The game suffers from poor performance, numerous bugs and technical issues, overlooked or outright missing details, and is just overall an even sloppier port of what was originally a sloppy port (the PC versions). While I’m sure it is possible that the game could have turned out worse, I honestly can’t even imagine how that would be possible.
If you’re already a fan of Silent Hill, then the fact that Konami let this game see the light of day should be offensive!
If you’ve never played these games before, then I still can’t recommend this collection to you. You might just walk away wondering "How the heck did anybody like these games to begin with? Silent Hill fans are stupid." If you want to play Silent Hill, then do yourself a favor and try to find the original PS2 versions at your local Gamestop or on eBay or Amazon. Or, if you know me personally, feel free to borrow one of mine. I have extras!
Seriously! I have extras!
Among other stuff...
I didn’t buy this game fortunately (I knew better from pre-release info). I borrowed it from a friend who made the mistake of buying it. He played it for all of 10 minutes before deciding it was crap and went online to get the original PS2 versions. I borrowed the game from him, and now that I’ve finished reviewing it, I think the two of us should get together and burn it.
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