Silent Hill 2 is generally held up as the holy grail of the survival horror genre and is often referred to as one of the major pieces of evidence in the "videogames are a valid art form" argument. Now 10 years after its release, it has been polished and packaged in a new HD package with its PS2 sequel Silent Hill 3 (apparently Silent Hill 4:The Room didn't cut the mustard). So have these two survival horror gems aged well?
The first game in this collection is the above mentioned Silent Hill 2 in which you play James Sunderland; a rather stoic fellow who comes to Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife who died some years previously. As James explores the town he fights iconic monsters such as Pyramid Head and the famous nurses (both in their first appearance here), and meets some of the towns creepy inhabitants who don't seem worried that town is overrun with monsters or that the town quite frequently shifts into a darker industrial version of itself where all the surfaces are rusted and blood specked. The game stands out in terms of storytelling because the whole game is littered with clues pointing towards the stunningly dark conclusion and it maturely and sensitively tackles themes such as child abuse, forgiveness, guilt and uxoricide head on.
The other game in this collection is Silent Hill 3 which isn't quite as brilliant as Silent Hill 2 although it is definitely worth playing. The game is a direct sequel to the original with players controlling Heather, a teenage girl with a tendancy to get stuck in buildings after they close. Heather is led to Silent Hill after a series of increasingly unsettling and disturbing events take place. Monstrous creature design return but this time, they are even more gruesome. This is definitely the more gratuitous of the two in terms of full on gore and it strangely feels more westernised than the previous game.
Both games have an odd fixed camera perspective that is effective at maintaining the atmosphere of unease, plus it's hard to keep your head on straight when you are fighting faceless terrors that you can't even see. The controls are also difficult to work; movements are slow and choppy and you never feel like your character is built for fighting - presumably this is exactly what the creators aimed for. Another key factor in maintaining this constant level of fear that is felt throughout is the soundtrack composed by video game legend Akira Yamaoka. Instruments used and sounds made all feel completely out of place much like the protagonist in this horrifying town. All of these odd elements thrown together combine to make something that is more than the sum of its parts.
So far, so brilliant. However all of these features were present in the PS2 originals. "Is there anything new?" I hear you ask. Well Silent Hill 2 comes with a bonus campaign running parallel to the main story that was previously only available in the Special Edition of the game. But the main change that people have been hearing so much about is a completely rerecorded script. Admittedly the original voices did sound slightly hammy in certain points and the level of voice acting was suspect at best. But if you had an affinity for the original voiceover, you can choose whether to have the original recordings or the new ones. This would be a welcome addition if the sound wasn't such a problem. You see both games are quite poor ports and somewhere along the line, a sound issue arose that was clearly never resolved and this has led to - I kid you not - a three to five second delay during cutscenes. In other places, there are slowdowns whilst running down plain corridors. At some points, it freezes completely and needs to wait for a couple of seconds before it can continue. This completely rips you out of the carefully crafted atmosphere and it is such as shame as two games of such high quality deserve so much better. But I haven't revealed the kicker yet. All these problems arise after a compulsory 4 gigabyte installation. It's beyond belief that last generation ports would need such a whopping great big portion of hard drive space.
It really is tragic that these two games have been treated so poorly. This is still a great package as both games are still a joy to play; you just can't help but feel that this could have been a must-have title for horror fans if it left in the right hands. As it is, maybe buy this if you can't get hold of original copies.
7.5 out of 10