Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Silent Hill HD Collection

Merely one week after the release of Silent Hill: Downpour, Konami released Silent Hill HD Collection, which collected Silent Hill 2 (SH2) and Silent Hill 3 (SH3) for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Upon its release, however, it proved divisive among fans and critics, mainly for the numerous technical issues that plagued both versions of the game at launch. Although Hijinx Studios handled the port, the issues arose from Konami having lost the original source code and providing the developers with incomplete beta builds of SH2 and SH3, which the team had to work around. Fortunately, a patch would later come out and largely fix the issues, but only for the PS3 version, as the 360 patch was cancelled.

Knowing all of this, I still decided that a deep dive of the Silent Hill series wouldn’t be complete without experiencing HD Collection for myself (though admittedly I originally bought it out of desperation to play SH3 on a budget). As it stands now, is the game still filled with issues worth the negative outlook? Yes. Did the patch make the PS3 version worth seeking out? Kind of.

Before I begin, I’ll simply mention that the story for both games is exactly the same in this collection as they were in the original release. As such, I’ll only be covering the more noticeable differences when it comes to the overall experience. Also keep in mind that my experience was based on playing HD Collection post-Patch 1.02, so I didn’t run into most of the documented issues.

When SH2 originally came out for sixth generation hardware, it actually had two versions, the original PS2 release and the Xbox port, the latter of which contained an extra ending and the Born From A Wish scenario. The Xbox version would later have its content introduced in the Greatest Hits rerelease on the PS2. Fortunately, the HD Collection release got off to a good start by representing the second version of the game, though for some reason the options to Load and Continue take a couple seconds to load in instead of simply appearing, as was my experience with the original Xbox port. When this happened to me the first time, I thought that somehow the game didn’t track my progress and would make me start over, so it’s something to keep in mind.

I’ll also mention that while the story is still as good as it was when I originally played it, I didn’t feel the same emotional highs this time around, though only because this was my sixth playthrough of SH2 in close proximity and third time paying attention to the story.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, there weren’t any major changes or improvements, so combat felt just as clunky as before and the puzzles just as mind-bending at times, at least if you’re not using a walkthrough. However, while the menus felt generally snappier, I quickly noticed that the black screens from exiting menus and maps hang on the screen for a couple seconds longer than they should. Since the player can move James during this extra window of time, it can easily present an issue on higher difficulties, since James can potentially go in the wrong direction depending on your movement scheme and enemies also have an opportunity to attack James before he has a chance to actually defend himself. My solution for this was using the map system sparingly, though this isn’t as convenient for those playing the game for the first time.

Much like other PS3 releases of multi-platform games, however, the in-game save system isn’t present in favor of the console’s built-in save system. While this may seem like a minor thing to mention, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking for an experience just a little closer to the original, in which case you might want the Xbox 360 version, provided you can deal with the lack of a patch.

With Patch 1.02, the fog density in SH2 looks close enough to the original that the titular town felt just as eerie as one would expect. However, other technical issues still rear their ugly head, even if the patch, at least to my knowledge, mitigated some of the worst offenders. While the framerate looks smooth a lot of the time, there are minor but noticeable dips while exploring the outside and while the flashlight is on indoors. Pre-rendered cutscenes also suffer from some blur effects not present in the original, which can make some motions harder to read.

Where the original release presented itself in fullscreen during regular gameplay, the HD version is entirely in widescreen, with a slightly increased letterboxing effect during cutscenes. While this would look better on an HD screen, it looked odd on a CRT, especially since the camera is also pulled back for most of the game compared to the original. That’s also not getting into the murkier color palette that makes everything look darker, the presence of some unfinished textures (ex. the water visible during the late-game boat ride due to a lower fog density) and the occasional visual glitches like the game struggling to draw a dead enemy for a couple seconds. For whatever reason, the results screen also has a much brighter gray background compared to the black of the original. There’s also, of course, a sign written in Comic Sans where it wasn’t in the original release.


HD Collection

The most divisive aspect of the SH2 remaster, however, is the voice acting. At release, players could only play with rerecorded voices, but Guy Cihi, who originally played James Sunderland, raised a big enough stink about it that an arrangement was made to allow the option for the original voice recordings as of Patch 1.02. This option comes at the HD Collection’s title screen when you select Silent Hill 2, which lets you choose between New Voices and Original Voices. Since I had already played the Xbox version five times with the original voices, I opted to play the HD version with the new voices to form my own opinion on them.

After a full playthrough, I have to admit that I didn’t mind the new voices as much as I thought I would. The newer voice actors, including Troy Baker, Liam O’Brien and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, are far more experienced than their original counterparts, resulting in better performances and more dramatic line reads. However, the real issue is whether or not the voices actually fit the characters and one could argue that Troy Baker sounds too gruff for James or that other characters like Mary and Eddie sound too deep. I would say to give the new voice actors a try and if you don’t like them, you can easily switch back to the originals.

That said, there are other technical issues surrounding the audio and voice acting. There are times where the voice acting is slightly out of sync with the mouth movements and others where the subtitles are mistimed to the voices (especially so during Mary’s letter reading at the end of the game). Since the new voice actors also slightly change the script at certain moments, leading to a difference in a word or two, it’s odd that the subtitles for that option don’t fully compensate for it. Of the different sound effects, I noticed that the item pickup noise sounded slightly distorted and there was at least one instance of missing sound effects (I noticed it once when Maria knocked on a door in the Born From A Wish scenario). While the music sounded like it played in the proper spots, the credits music didn’t properly fade out and instead just cut off before showing the Results screen.

In comparison to the HD version of SH2, SH3 got off better right off the bat, since the options to Load or Continue your game don’t take a couple seconds to load in. Like the original PS2 version, having SH2 save data on your system will unlock a few references to SH2 within SH3, so it felt nice to finally see them in what was my fifth overall playthrough of SH3 without spending too much money. While the experience generally felt smoother than the HD port of SH2, I did suffer one crash after skipping a certain cutscene, though thankfully it never happened again after I rebooted the game.

Outside of the game, I found it odd that the trophy Where’s Luna? says it unlocks by equipping the Transform/“Princess Heart” Costume, but only required me to obtain it through the Extra Costume menu.

As for the technical aspects of the HD port during actual gameplay, SH3 shares some issues with the SH2 port. The color palette looks darker in comparison to the original PS2 version, though not the same level of murkiness as the SH2 port, and there were some framerate hiccups during gameplay and in-engine cutscenes, especially during the few times Heather roams around outdoors. However, this port had smoother menus than the SH2 port, with no slowdowns in sight. Like the SH2 port, this version of SH3 seems intended for bigger screens, as the entire game is presented in widescreen with a wider field of view from pulling back the camera, though I had gotten used to the effect by then and the cutscenes don’t change the amount of letterboxing here.

The game does still generally look like this if you
don't mess with the in-game brightness.

Textures and particle effects are still a weakness, however. There’s a lower fog density while roaming around Silent Hill, so Heather can actually better see what’s in front of her, which can decrease the tension depending on the player. While the graphics generally looks sharper than the PS2 counterpart, there are times during cutscenes where the characters awkwardly stand out from the background, almost like a Borderlands character, due to how their outlines are rendered. Though infrequent, I still ran into instances of flickering textures, odd shadow rendering, texture loading, texture pop-in, a different texture entirely and, during a specific cutscene, a dramatic increase in the amount of blood. Ironically, one hallway near the end of the game suddenly had voluminous orange fog where there wasn’t any in the original PS2 version. Also, saving the game fades to a white screen instead of a red screen.

As with SH2, SH3 features an all-new voice cast, although there is no option to listen to the original voices as of this writing. For what its worth, I actually found the new voice cast pretty fitting, either matching the character or sounding close to the original voice actors, though Heather’s new voice actress, Amanda Winn-Lee, sounds a bit older compared to Heather Morris. Of course, there were still noticeable technical issues, including slightly de-synced audio, subtitles not quite timed to the dialogue and subtitles not accounting for the differences in line reads. I did run into an issue where the audio was wildly de-synced with its respective cutscene, but this only happened after I quit to the main menu during the cutscene and disappeared when I rebooted the game.

Other unrelated audio issues also popped up, though not to the extent where the game is unplayable. There are at times different sounds, including more nasally Pendulums, cartoony bubbling sounds and louder grates (though the game sounds louder than the PS2 version in general). There were also cutscenes that had either missing sounds, missing music or different music and the music that did play was badly looped, meaning you can hear the cutoff point before it starts again.

Even with all of the technical issues still in HD Collection after Patch 1.02, it’s far from unplayable and honestly not as bad of an experience as you might be led to believe. It’s certainly not the most optimal experience of the two games, as you’ll get the best results on the original hardware. However, if you want to experience two of the Team Silent games without paying exorbitant prices, HD Collection can still satisfy your curiosity if you can look past its flaws. Just make sure you get the patch.

No comments:

Post a Comment