Silent Hill HD, or Konami's Big Remastered Mistake
In a time when HD collections are booming in production and popularity, Konami has gleefully joined the ranks. They've come forward with screenshots and video teasers, flaunting the announcement of a HD "remastered" collection of the two most well-liked Silent Hill games out there: the second and third entries in the series. Because the permanence of physical games is fleeting, modern gamers will jump at any chance to preserve a favorite in their libraries. In this case, fans should keep their feet firmly planted on hallowed ground. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 re-release of Silent Hill 2 and 3 promises a longer shelf life and more chances to replay, but it also means a big sacrifice.
Konami is confident that they know what fans want most. According to producer Tomm Hulett, Konami "really wanted to focus on the [games] we knew fans cared the most about since we needed to put in the effort to put them in HD, redo the sound, and do all these things, we didn’t want to give them something we weren’t sure they wanted 100% ... If you’re a Silent Hill fan you either love 2 or 3 the best. Here, you get both of them. Everyone’s happy."
But is everyone happy? As of this writing, the HD Collection sneak peek video, which gives gamers a sampling of the updated voice work in Silent Hill 2, has roughly 248 "likes" and 1237 "dislikes" on YouTube. Performed by new voice actors, the dialogue doesn't maintain the same inflection and power that mesmerized fans when the game first came out in 2001. In some places, it doesn't even match up to the characters speaking on-screen. This drop in quality makes you wonder how good of a job they'll do with the other changes, like the aforementioned tweaks to sound.
This upset has been so extreme that it's prompted a few of the original actors of Silent Hill 2 to sign waivers allowing Konami to reuse their voice work. According to Silenthillmemories.net, this means fans are now "one step closer to having original voiceovers in Silent Hill 2 HD rerelease as an option."
And while Silent Hill 2 and 3 are definitely two of the more popular titles in the series, dismissing how much fans like Silent Hill 4: The Room is unfair. For many, The Room is the best of the bunch. If Konami is this out of touch with what Silent Hill gamers want, you have to wonder: will any of their attempts to revitalize the series be successful?
Long-time fans are putting their hopes in the Czech studio Vatra Games, who are developing the next Silent Hill entry, set for early 2012. Downpour follows Murphy Pendleton, who gets an unexpected chance at freedom when the prison bus transporting him careens off the road and into the woods surrounding Silent Hill. While some aspects of the classic SH games will probably never be faithfully reproduced, Vatra Games seems to be more aware of the series' history than Konami or the many third-party developers who have handled the games in the past. After Homecoming and Shattered Memories hit huge roadblocks, can Vatra's plan for Downpour take the series down a different path?
In an interview with Game Informer, Brian Gomez, Design Director for Downpour, called the town of Silent Hill "the star of the show." That's a good sign—Silent Hill 2, one of the most revered survival horror games ever made, drew its success from renovating the town itself. Original developers Team Silent appreciated the bizarre energy of the locations—the hospital, the apartment buildings, the historical society—and made them a living entity that actively manifested the protagonist's mental state. Down, down, down went James Sunderland, as he fell further into the darkened recesses of his own mind.
Another indication Vatra Games has their priorities straight is that they're not focusing on the infamous cult. Murphy is as much the star of the show as the town is. Homecoming convoluted its own story with cult nonsense, partly because the movies brought it to the forefront. But Silent Hill isn't about cult activity. It was in the first and third games, but the attention should have stopped there. These games are about individual psychology and how the town morphs itself to fit the troubles of those wandering its streets. You can't do that with group psychology; it's then that a trip through Silent Hill stops being special and starts being the stuff of real-world news.
Downpour is very much going to be Murphy's game. Water plays such a big role because Pendleton is a hydrophobic. But don't expect the Otherworld sequences to be all the same—Vatra is breaking away from the uniformity of previous games, especially that of Shattered Memories, where the "Nightmare" sequences were essentially carbon copies of one another.
Positive sign number three: the camera will be both fixed and player-controlled, melding the old and new game styles. During the series' PlayStation days, the unique camera angles were what saved Silent Hill from being another Resident Evil knock-off on the market, and the viewpoints added an unforgettable feeling of unease.
Reason number four: combat isn't everything. You're here to survive. Weapons are breakable, and Murphy's swings, like those of the protagonists in older games, aren't the most precise. Sometimes it'll be more advantageous to run away than confront enemies.
Finally, players will move about via a subway system, but they won't be visiting any familiar sights. The game unfolds on the outskirts of Silent Hill (the southeast portion of the map), so overused and long dull locations like the hospital will be replaced with unexplored territory. This is perhaps the best decision Vatra Games has made to ensure that Downpour—and Silent Hill as a whole—is a new experience for fans. It could be the game we've been waiting for.
As long as Konami is busy making pointless changes to classics and publishing silly attempts at multiplayer with Book of Memories, I'll put my faith elsewhere. Here's hoping Vatra Games doesn't let us down.