The standout game of the pair here is arguably Silent Hill 2. Following the story of James, a man who's only recently recovered from the loss of Mary, his late wife, the game opens with James having received a letter that claims to have been written by his partner, and asks him to come to a town called Silent Hill. "In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised me you'd take me there again someday, but you never did. Well, I'm alone there now. In our "special place". Waiting for you..." Obviously confused by the letter, yet desperate to believe that it's real, James sets out to Silent Hill - a mysterious, and seemingly abandoned town, shrouded in mist and secrets. In fact, the trailer sets the tone for the game a lot better than we ever could, including the haunting guitar tones of Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack.
A world away from most games now, Silent Hill 2 doesn't revolve entirely around combat. In fact, it arguably takes a back seat to the story, and the puzzles, with the game giving you plenty of leeway for playing exactly how you want to. Before you even begin, you get the option to not only choose the difficulty of the game, but also choose a separate difficulty for the puzzles. Letting you play with enemies that take only roughly a single hit, with mind bending puzzles, or vice versa, Silent Hill 2 lets you tune the game to your tastes - something many games now could do with learning from.
Playing as the lovestruck, confused, and somewhat unstable James, you wander around the titular town, as you hunt for Mary, trying to think where she could be referring to when she talks about your "special place". You're not the only one looking for answers in Silent Hill, though, and along the way you'll meet Eddie, a social outcast on the run from something he's not willing to share; Angela, a psychologically tormented teen who's looking for her mother, and Laura, a young girl who claims to have seen Mary. Each has their own reason for being drawn to Silent Hill, and their stories all intertwine with yours, as you start to uncover the truth behind the letter, and the secrets of Silent Hill.
Things get a little bit more complicated when you meet Maria, a spitting image of James' dead wife Mary, who's slightly more sexed-up. Messing with James' mind, he can't get over quite how much Maria resembles Mary - and from there on in, things just keep getting weirder. We really don't want to say too much more, as it'd be taking away a lot of Silent Hill 2's charm, but needless to say, the more you look, the more you'll see, with clues as to what's really going on, and metaphors at least dropping hints if you take the time to notice them. Needless to say, it's the story that'll keep you playing, as you draw closer and closer to the truth behind the mysterious letter, and the rest of Silent Hill's odd cast.
The puzzles in Silent Hill 2 vary from the fairly straightforward to the incredibly complex, depending on what difficulty you're playing the game on. Like a point and click game, the puzzles are far from just a side show, and are actually essential to your progression through the game, whether it's collecting medallions, and then following a "I'm not near X, but I'm two down from Y" style puzzle to figure out where to place them, or simply cracking a code on a door. With a penchant for riddles and logic, as you increase the puzzle difficulty, the riddles get increasingly vague, whilst the logic gets increasingly more challenging, with the hardest difficulty being so tricky you'll be lying awake at night trying to figure them out. Think of it kind of like a spookier (and much trickier) version of Professor Layton, and you'll be on the right sort of track.
What's more interesting is that how you play Silent Hill 2 will determine the ending you get. And we don't mean fairly simple things like "you need to find object X to unlock this ending" - instead, the ending, and answer to the story you get depends on a number of variables, including the actions you've taken in the game. One of the endings, you only get if you act suicidal in the game - by running around with next to no health, and taking on huge monsters with no weapons, for example - while another can only be earnt if you for act like you want to find Mary, and always head to where you're meant to be going, without straying from the beaten path. It's a really interesting idea, and one that encourages multiple playthroughs - which is good, for a game that can be finished in four or five hours.
Silent Hill 3, meanwhile, is mostly more of the same. This time, though, the story's a little bit more convoluted, a little bit more fantastical, a little bit less interesting, and actually follows on from the first game. The plot revolves around a teenage girl named Heather, who, at the beginning of the game, is approached by a personal investigator in a shopping mall, and turns a corner, only to find herself in a version of the shopping centre that's gone to hell; rotting, decaying, and over run with monsters. To sum a long story up, it turns out a bizarre cult are looking for Heather, as she's meant to be some sort of cult God. It's all very confusing, but as you may imagine, all signs eventually end up pointing to Silent Hill, and the weird things that happen there.
With more of a focus on combat than Silent Hill 2, the third game in the series doesn't seem quite as good. Combat's much more of a necessity rather than an option, and the monsters you face range from the tiny to the screen filling giants, which seem to have a thing for stamping on you. Luckily, you can still set the difficulty, and the puzzle level independently, but the combat feels a lot trickier in this game, making it the less accessible of the two. One of the puzzles right at the start of the game, meanwhile, requires knowledge of Shakespearean plays - so if you're not too hot on your Macbeth, you may want to get brushing up.
In all, the Silent Hill HD Collection is a bundle that comes highly recommended. With one brilliant game, and one slightly less brilliant game, there's plenty to like here, especially if you missed out on these two the first time around - and with more of an emphasis on mystery and suspense than cheap frights and gory combat (not that it doesn't have any gory combat - just that there's a lot less of it than we're used to), Silent Hill 2 is undoubtedly the stand out game of the package. If it's a good mystery you're after, in the vein of Steven King, you ought to have a think about picking this up. There's a lot more modern games could learn from these two.
- Haunting storylines.
- Haunting soundtrack.
- Haunting puzzles that'll keep you up at night trying to figure them out.
- Silent Hill 3's more combat based than 2.
- Could really use a health bar.
- Wish the original Silent Hill was included too.