Did you play Silent Hill back in the day? This is the key question that divides players of this newest addition to the ever-expanding HD remake genre. Those who are on Team “Silent Hill is the best survival horror- nay, the BEST GAME EVER” are likely to be impressed and disappointed in equal measure, but will probably not find much to justify yet another outlay. Those of the “Silent what? Has it got snipers?” camp are probably never going to be persuaded by a retro nostalgia trip like this anyway. So this latest remake pretty much falls between two markets and may not do too well.
I overheard a heated discussion by two such chaps in a bar the other day (neither of them resemble me in any way). It went something like this:
Charles: Ah, the days of yore, when games were properly character-driven and full of atmosphere. Silent Hill is one such masterpiece. When it first came out this game had me entranced for three whole days, completely immersed in its world. All the gameplay is designed towards producing one emotion: Horror, and it works beautifully. So I was very happy when I heard of the HD remake, as it gives us the chance to enjoy the this glorious beast on a new generation.
Chaz: Yeah.... Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love horror games, right? I mean, Resident Evil 4 was great, and Dead Space was awesome, and I thought Silent Hill was supposed to be a spiritual predecessor to them. But I gotta say it left me wanting more.... I just found the design and especially the gameplay really dated. I mean, I get that you’re supposed to not have much control, but seriously, the camera was the biggest enemy. I couldn’t stand the tank controls (thank god for the new optional direct control system), and when I could get to take on one of those creepy zombie things it was so damn slow to swing the plank.... the targeting was off and it just felt like it didn’t work. I get that Silent Hill was all that when it came out, but you can see that there’s been a couple of decades of development in game design since then.
Charles: Well, you’re applying the standards of today’s game culture to something which really doesn’t fit them. This was a time when environmental design was in its infancy, when developers hadn’t properly adapted the techniques of film making to camera work in games, and when game narrative had hardly moved beyond “Yellow circle eats colourful ghosts”. It’s like watching Alien and expecting Final Destination. You’ve got to be a bit more forgiving, and look at the deeper elements of the game design, and recognise that this was a time when horror games had a slow burn, and yes, you do have to look in every door down a long corridor, but that’s what helps build the tension.
Chaz: Not true about narrative, you have the whole Final Fantasy series, and plenty of –
Charles: Yeah, OK, maybe I meant horror narrative....
Chaz: OK, I get that, I guess it’s a bit before my time, I just couldn’t get into it...
Charles: Well I loved it. Mostly the improvements made for the HD version were great: the inclusion of new voice actors was desperately needed, and they mostly didn’t fix anything that wasn’t broken. The improved visuals mean that you can see the enemies much more clearly, which reduces the effect of bewildered terror somewhat but it’s fine. The iconic fog has retreated a little and everything is a bit clearer, which seems like a bit of a copout and sometimes leads to some unforgivable problems with textures and rendering, but it’s easy to forgive that. Basically the games are still the same great games, just made available on the new-generation consoles. As for Silent Hill 3 –
Chaz: Oh yeah, well that was much better. My action-game tragic self was happier then.... the whole game was a lot more dynamic, there was more to do and more battles to be fought. It was still scary, but it just felt a bit more modern and playable. Oh, except the frame rate drops, especially when you get into a decent battle with a few enemies around, then it’s stuffed.
Charles: Yes, well there’s limitation of the technology right there, but you would hope that it’s something they would have fixed for the HD version. Anyway, most people agree that SH2 is by far the best title of the series: Number 3 is the first step in the dumbing-down of the whole genre of survival horror. I mean it’s fine, it just doesn’t have the sterling qualities of SH2. All up I thought that if you really loved these games back then, there’s no harm in reliving them on the current generation, but you’re probably just as well off firing up your old system and playing them the way they were meant to be played. Four stars.
Chaz: Yeah well I guess I can see what you mean, but I gotta say, that even with the graphics being OK it still felt a bit old, I’d probably give it a miss. Two stars.
Charles: Ah, go back to COD.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.