Name: Silent Hill 3
Format: PlayStation 2 (tested) / PC
Genre: Survival Horror
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 2003
What do teenage girls like to do more than going to a shopping mall and taking naps in random restaurants? Umm Well, probably shopping at them instead… but that’s not the case for Silent Hill 3’s protagonist Heather Mason! After a terrible nightmare, she wakes up at a diner inside of the mall just as it’s about to close. She strolls through the commercial-consumer haven as an old man wearing a trench coat and boxer briefs stalks her and calls her name, simply “wanting to talk”. Oddly enough, Heather runs away from this creeper. In all fairness, he’s only in boxers if you enter the Konami Code but let’s not get too technical with the details here. Her dad would be proud of what he taught her regardless. Except sadly, daddy didn’t teach her how to fight off random hordes of monstrous entities quite literally out of her nightmares.
Silent Hill 3’s story is a sequel to the original game in the series, which released on the PlayStation 1, set seventeen years after Harry Mason’s holiday from hell. A playthrough of the first game isn’t entirely necessary to grasp the contents of this story though, but I definitely feel like it would have added more depth to it if I did. Who knew sequels worked in such ways? Regardless, I found the story to be a little lacking in excitement and a tad slow in pace. It deals with more religious subtext than I’ve seen in a game since Quintet developed for the SNES. Easy parallels could be made with Silent Hill 3’s religious themes and organizations to that of Judaism and the various religions that branched out from it. Usually I’d find this kind of subject to be intriguing but it almost felt too “by the book” (pun intended) regarding religion and didn’t flesh out enough original ideas in my opinion. The cast of characters are few and far between but you can easily grasp who they are and what role they serve in the story the more they appear.
The majority of gameplay revolves around guiding Heather through a certain location, checking every door you run across down narrow corridors in hope that it’s not locked or broken. The levels themselves are several stories tall and feature a slew of doors to check, which can be pretty daunting if you haven’t managed to find yourself a map yet. This game of “check the door” gets pretty intense when the hallway is filled with monsters chasing you. You will be tasked with finding items and solving puzzles in order to proceed further. The puzzles and combat both have separate difficulty levels that you can choose from at the beginning.
Combat in the game isn’t the best, but it isn’t meant to be. You’re playing as a teenager with no combat experience after all. I found it rewarding when presented with the choice of fight or flight (sometimes I had no choice due to low health) or whether I wanted to beat something’s face in or shoot it off before stomping it like a bug while it’s down. There are two control types in the game: 3D and 2D. 3D is a more standard tank-like control for the genre but controls better than the likes of Resident Evil. I however opted to use the 2D controls mostly, as it moved your character in whichever direction you pressed the D-Pad or analogue. The game features static camera angles at times to disorient the player and build tension, and sometimes the 2D control type will make these transitions a pain as you’ll quickly have to change your direction when you least expect it. Overall I found this control type much nicer though.
The items you collect in Silent Hill 3 are varied; from health replenishments, melee weapons, and guns to enemy detecting walkie talkies and beef jerky to feed cute puppies. Okay, so maybe they’re not exactly cute… and maybe you’re feeding them because you want to distract them from eating your innards instead… because maybe you’re out of ammo or health items and need to book it instead of fighting. And this is bound to happen during your first playthrough. Thankfully there are save rooms scattered throughout the maps. And you don’t need pesky ink ribbons for them either, eat that Resident Evil! The rooms contain a glowing red cult symbol and actually incorporates plot into the mechanic of saving. Sometimes these rooms can be too far apart during the course of the game if you need to stop playing suddenly, which can be a bit of a pain. Thankfully the game makes up for this by allowing a “continue” option should you die. If you die during the course of exploring you’ll be placed back at your last save point and even better if you die during a boss fight you’ll simply restart during that struggle.
Bosses in the game are cleverly designed and overall rather fun. They almost have a retro appeal to them in terms of design and gimmicks (water fight, fight in the dark, etc). Most of them can be beaten either the first time or after a couple tries, but I felt the game got a random difficulty spike on the second to lass boss. Maybe it was because I was low on ammo and health but it felt like the game spiked dramatically once this boss fight took place and stayed with the game until the final moments. The bosses are all very different in appearance and the same can be said with the regular enemies in the game. Different foes will of course have their own strengths, weaknesses, and course of action to manoeuvre around. The variety of enemies is slowly introduced as you played but once you get towards the end of the game it seems they stay mostly the same. The designers even got a little lazy and decided to make a boss design into a regular enemy, albeit weaker, during the final level.
The game itself looks great for a PS2 generation title. Although I wasn’t aware of this until the end of the game, in the options screen you can choose between playing with the default grainy footage or a “smooth” option that eliminates that filter. The filter rarely makes it hard to see a door that has a similarly coloured wall beside it but wasn’t a big nuisance during the game itself. The aesthetics and scenery for the majority of the game are quite pleasing to the eye. However, the consistency of level design wasn’t always present.
Location wise the opening mall level, the streets of Silent Hill, and the amusement park were all a high point for the game in terms of creativity but some levels in between felt like filler. A typical subway, sewers, and a hospital level you must play twice with a few minor differences felt rather mundane when compared to more clever and less often explored game sceneries. I remember the first save room I ran across and thought “how will I remember where this door is without always checking my map?” and it turned out the game was designed with that in mind. The bright red save symbol I mentioned earlier? Well, that room happened to be the only door in that hallway with a bright red fire alarm beside it. Sadly, these sparks of genius didn’t stick the entire game.
But if one thing did stick out the entire game and remained awesome the entire time: it was the sound design. Okay, okay, I’ll get the negative out of the way first while talking about the sound design. The voice acting is pretty mediocre. The dialogue feels slow in delivery and drags on and on. While the script itself might be to blame for this, I feel like better voice acting and line delivery would have made me more interested in the story. But the rest of the sound in the game? Oh my. From the gurgling screams of deadly creatures, to the music, to the horrifying ambience of the locations themselves make Silent Hill feel more like an organic living entity than just a location. It is truly spectacular and I’d go as far to say it might be the best sounding game of its generation from how immersive it is alone.
I did get one lingering feeling during Silent Hill 3’s lengthy story though. It felt rather formulaic. Not saying that a formula that works needs to be changed for every entry in a series, especially not in a series I’m not too familiar with… but it began to all feel a bit repetitive. New location, fight or flight, check doors, get map, get item that serves as a key, solve puzzle, fight boss, repeat. That could quite literally sum up the game in terms of how it plays. While I don’t find the particular design to be flawed, I expected more variety. What had once made my heartbeat pick up became “oh this again”. I’m usually not scared during games but this was a bit of a disappointment after hearing how terrifying this game was. Maybe I am spoiled by the psychological horror of games like Eternal Darkness, but I feel like this game could have done a lot more in terms of gameplay and scares.
Nitpicking aside, this game gives you a good reason to play it many times over again. It has an absurd amount of unlockable combat difficulties, and I found this game surprisingly challenging on Normal mode alone. Apart from difficulty though, there are a lot of end-game weapons, costumes, and different endings you can get depending on how you play or certain objectives you do. The game even has Easter eggs should you have a Silent Hill 2 save on your memory card, which I’ll be sure to go back and experience once I buy a copy of that game.
Verdict:- I’ll have to admit, before this game my experience with Silent Hill was rather minimal. I had played Silent Hill Origins on the PSP and enjoyed it, watched the original movie and thought it was one of the few good game to movie adaptations, and played Silent Hill Homecoming and… well, let’s just say I didn’t really care for that one.
So is Silent Hill 3 perfect? No. Maybe my expectations for the game were too high heading into it considering the amount of hype and nostalgia goggles people tend to view it with. Is it a good game though? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s a survival horror game that manages to do things different from its more popular counterpart of Resident Evil and manages to carve its own unique stamp into the genre. And though I think it could have benefited greatly in the scare department from more fourth wall breaking, zany, self-aware moments; it definitely isn’t a game for the easily scared. And if you’re up for a challenge? This game might just be up your alley.
Do yourself a favour: pick up a Silent Hill game and give it a go. You might find yourself having a scary good time.
Second Opinion:- Sound design makes Transbot’s audio interceptors feel tingly. But then weird monster appears and tingling sensation disappears and is replaced by rage. So I beat away the anger with a lead pipe.
I do begin to wonder though, why does this little girl not seem too effected by the fact demons are invading her everyday life? Maybe she has issues. Maybe she should beat more monsters with lead pipe to relieve issues. Many dead monsters later though and I had found myself feeling like rat in a maze, running around performing the same tricks over and over.
Enraged, I decided to beat more things with a lead pipe. Sadly, this time it was in real life. I hope the income from Transbites can pay for my bail.
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10