(N.B. Originally written: 12th March 2012 - submitted to a games website but was not published).
As of late, there have been increasing numbers of past games being collected into new editions, with entries from the Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill series’ being high-profile examples from 2011-12. Sony in particular has created a “Classics HD” range of games for the Playstation 3, selecting worthy past releases and, in many cases, trilogies, for shiny visual upgrades in order to highlight great entries for the Playstation brand. Top names include Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, God of War, and an ICO/Shadow of the Colossus double pack, to name but a few. This range continues across the PS3 and Xbox 360 throughout 2012 with The Jak and Daxter Trilogy, a Devil May Cry HD Collection and the Silent Hill HD Collection.
With the Silent Hill HD Collection due for release 16th March 2012 in the UK, one begins to wonder if these remakes and collections represent value for money for consumers. After all, this new collection only actually features Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, neglecting the two mainstream titles released either side of each: Silent Hill and Silent Hill 4: The Room.
European licensing issues prevented the original Silent Hill from the Playstation being released as part of the Playstation 2 Silent Hill Collection in 2006, as it was actually included in the Japanese release. Yet here we are six years later with the same set of games, now billed as a HD collection, missing the fourth game in the series from the same generation of consoles. It is perhaps a hard sell.
Undoubtedly, Konami desires to keep the Silent Hill fires burning, especially with two further games still in development: Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the freshly released Playstation Vita and Silent Hill: Downpour for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. But can a collection really justify the tag when it only includes two games?
Searching elsewhere across other entertainment media, one discovers that the answer is yes. Consumers are both demanding and fickle. The Harry Potter books and DVDs were released in varying incomplete sets: from Philosopher’s Stone to Order of the Phoenix for the books and “Years 1-6” for the DVDs, before complete sets were devised and made available. Star Wars has been released in differing box sets, splitting the two trilogies and also offering an Episode I and II double pack, which at first glance seems ludicrous. It has only been in the past year that fans have finally gotten to purchase a complete box set featuring all six films in one collection, again, some six years after the release of Episode III on DVD. Elsewhere, the first season of hit TV series LOST was released in two separate halves. Clearly, there is strong demand for apparently incomplete box sets and collections. But is this initial demand based purely on the assumption that in the unspecified future a complete collection will arrive? This does not seem the case with Silent Hill.
It would be easy to pick holes in the Silent Hill HD Collection in comparison to other franchises. Konami’s own Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, like Silent Hill, similarly features the second and third outings for Solid Snake, but also has the Sony PSP (initially exclusive) Peace Walker included in the pack, a welcome bonus, enabling home console players to try out an entry they may have missed. However, Silent Hill HD Collection does not include its PSP counterpart in the form of Silent Hill: Origins. Even Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary enables players to change between the original Xbox graphics versus the recreated HD Xbox 360 graphics at the touch of a button, at least seeming like an appeasement to past and potential players. It is then very easy to label the Silent Hill HD Collection a quick and easy cash-in for Konami.
But this appetite for the new and improved is a natural part of playing and enjoying videogames, both past and present. Graphics continually improve over the life cycle of a console, and rumours abound of the next consoles Sony and Microsoft are currently developing. The idea of the old renewed is not brand new. Who can forget that the “Super” prefix and “64” suffix played a big part in marketing Nintendo games during the 1990s? Or in the same vein, the number of botched crossovers from arcade to home console? Granted, the market was very different, but the desire to continue playing what you had already experienced was there. Consumer appetites (and console transitions) are why Half-Life 2 made an appearance on the Xbox in 2005, then was trumpeted as one piece of The Orange Box for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2007. So then why do players hanker to play the old through new consoles? Is it warm familiarity? Or a reinforcement of the prestige of certain titles over others?
Ultimately, they are considered difficult and dirty words to use, but re-releases of games contribute to videogame culture and history. They help keep franchises in the minds of consumers ready for new instalments, and create importance around older titles so that newer gamers can experience videogames worth playing but may no longer be easily accessible on obsolete hardware. What’s more, in the continued march forward, keeping older brands relevant can lead to publishers taking side-steps, as seemed to be the case with the “will they won’t they” decision over keeping the Call of Duty name on Modern Warfare 2.
Silent Hill 2 was given a 9/10 score by Eurogamer’s own Tom Bramwell over ten years ago, and arguably it is a pinnacle the rest of the series aspires to but never quite reaches. Silent Hill 3 was also awarded a 9/10 by Kristan Reed but Silent Hill 4: The Room only managed 7/10 from him. So perhaps Konami, like some Silent Hill fans, is deciding to relegate the fourth entry to a position befitting its quality (or lack thereof) in the series’ history. And there has never been a better time to consider preservation of videogame history; as mentioned above, in the next few years, rumours suggest we will see the new hardware devices from Sony and Microsoft, and the potential for past greats to be consigned to memory alone is huge as each transition happens. The British Library has recently begun archiving websites about videogames in a new partnership with the National Videogame Archive, and thankfully, mainstream media outlets are regularly writing short reviews alongside news stories that promote, rather than denigrate the medium. Continued re-releasing of past games should flag them up for archivists who may know little about what is considered a high-calibre videogame, and can introduce a new generation of gamers to a past classic. It is akin to reprinted editions of famous novels, except the lack of a common system to play the re-releases on can be a source of frustration, rather than enjoyment.
Value for money is in the eye of the beholder, and eventually everyone must accept that no re-release or collection of videogames by a publisher is motivated purely by accessibility or choice for consumers; the publisher’s eye is on profit and brand awareness. But in accepting the importance of a videogame by re-releasing it, and by critics and fans alike continually pointing out the excellent features therein, hopefully everyone can benefit from higher quality videogames being produced when publishers take time to listen.