Cut from a different cloth, but still incredible.
- Another excellently atmospheric, dark game adhering to the Silent Hill formula
- Direct sequel to the first Silent Hill game
- Heather, a young woman, fits well as a new protagonist for the series
- Improved graphics (particularly the backgrounds/environments) serve to make the game scarier
- "Nightmare" world seems better realized, at least for the first 2/3rds of the game
- The theme park area is my favorite area out of every Silent Hill game
- Voice acting is much improved over Silent Hill 2, and the story actually sort of makes sense...sort of
- Has both a difficulty selector for combat as well as puzzles, if you like your combat light but puzzles difficult
- Perhaps the best soundtrack in the series to date
- Story loses all the depth that came from Silent Hill 2 in an attempt to be a sequel to Silent Hill
- Can go overboard in its use of blood to try and make things "scarier"
- Ending area is either super dark or super bloody, making the game both hard to see and eliminating most scares
- Controls and combat are still poor
- Bosses are stupid and unnecessary
- While most enemies are excellent, some are stupid, and others are so convoluted you have no idea what they even are
Welcome back to Silent Hill
I'm not going to hide this: Silent Hill 3 is my favorite Silent Hill game. It was the first one I played to through completion, the first one I played on PC instead of a console, and the first to genuinely be so unnerving I had to put the game down and go to a well-lit location for a few hours. I don't know why this game got under my skin so well (and better so than Silent Hill 2, even), but something about it really freaks me out (even to this day, where I've played through the game at least a half-dozen times), and because of that it's my favorite.
I can't look at screenshots of the merry-go-round boss/nightmare version because it freaked me out so much when I first played it (and keep in mind, I was like 19 at the time, not a child) that I still have an involuntary reaction of paranoia and fear by just seeing a static picture. The soundtrack disc unnerves me and gives me chills. Seriously, this game messed me up. And that's why I absolutely love it.
This game gets in your head and won't let you go.
Silent Hill 3 doesn't stray too far from the Silent Hill formula, aside from one major difference: it doesn't start by putting you in Silent Hill. You actually start in a (surprisingly barren) shopping mall in a different town, moving from it to other various locations (including an office building that is under construction) before finally landing in the town of Silent Hill. Unlike Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2, town exploration is not a major part of this game, Silent Hill 3 instead focusing on keeping you in enclosed, tight locations where it can determine when and what you see and keeping the experience tighter overall. Part of me misses the helplessness and feeling of being completely alone that you get from wandering through the fog of Silent Hill, listening intently on your radio for static (a Silent Hill staple that indicates enemies are nearby), but another part of me welcomes this design choice. By streamlining the experience by making it more linear, it allowed the developers to plan for you in every instance, rather than having you wander off. I think Silent Hill 3 struck a good balance between set areas and city exploration, which means the pace never feels tired (like a few parts in Silent Hill 2 where I had no idea where the heck I was supposed to go).
This game wins the award for having disturbing imagery that is never too "in your face" to lose its impact
The story of Silent Hill 3 isn't worth the analysis it's predecessor's did. While Silent Hill 2 did a masterful job combining enemies and environments into the overarching theme of James' story, Silent Hill 3 is just straight horror, back to the roots. It's never really explained what nightmare world is (the altered version of the normal areas you explore) as relevant to Heather, the main character of Silent Hill 3. The enemies don't follow any particular theme (though you could argue most of them have a phallic look about them, which is the opposite of James mostly fighting enemies with feminine traits) or tie in with the story. It's pretty much just that Silent Hill is a f***ed up up place, and so expect to see awful things.
Heather is drawn into this because she's...actually that's a spoiler. Let's just say a religious cult working out of Silent Hill needs her for something, and a private investigator is helping them in trying to get her to Silent Hill. Heather needs to find out exactly what is going on and why she's being drawn into this mess, which of course means she ends up back at the foggy, demon-filled town.
Unlike Silent Hill 2, I thought the voice acting in Silent Hill 3 was actually pretty good, and the script was decent as well. Heather in particular is believable as a teenage girl, and while it certainly isn't Oscar worthy or anything, I didn't cringe or roll my eyes nearly as much. It works in service to the game and nothing further, which is all it needed.
The improved lighting and environments make even the tamest rooms seem sinister
What I think is Silent Hill 3's biggest asset is the improved environments. The places you explored in Silent Hill 2 were creepy and dark, but they weren't as densely stocked as they are in Silent Hill 3. I'm going to assume this was more of a perceived graphical limitation rather than an intended design choice, because the environments were still quite good in Silent Hill 2, but they certainly weren't detailed to the same extent. Silent Hill 3 goes overboard, being one of the best looking PS2 games I've played, with the dynamic shadows being as good as anything that's come out in the recent generation of games. I feel the art direction has also improved (for most of the game, more on that in a minute) for environments, making wandering around feel a lot creepier than it did in Silent Hill 2. The tension is elevated to near-intolerable levels in this game, even just running around the regular world, with its signature combination of "weird" and "unnatural" tipping the scales.
The places you visit are also the best in the series. An amusement park (with an entertaining "haunted house" sequence), the tried-and-true hospital, office building, church, and others. While there were a few from Silent Hill 2 I wish had made a return. I really enjoyed the locations Silent Hill 3 ushered you into. They fit a good balance between "normal" and "creepy," which is what these games work best with.
The way Silent Hill's brand of enemies twitch and convulse...it's just...urrrrrrggghhh....
If there is any major complaints to be had, it's the developer's overuse of blood. Yeah, I get it, seeing the red stuff sprayed all over can be scary, causing some sort of primal, gut reaction to our bodily fluids being splattered across walls. But in Silent Hill 3 they go completely overboard. Nightmare world this time around has a more "red" aesthetic overall (vs the more "rust/dirty" look of Silent Hill 2), maintaining the "grimy" feeling to a point, but slapping a good coat of blood over it. It actually isn't that bad at first, but by the time you reach the final stage the walls are pulsating with the stuff, and while it's still gross and mortifying, the subtle punch it packed earlier in the game is lost. I think if they could find a happy medium between Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3's uses of blood, we'd have the perfect mix. As it stands, it makes what would have been shocking reveals lessened, and even makes some events comical (blood coming from the bathtub...something right out of a slasher film, not a Silent Hill game).
Yep, they like their blood.
The bad controls are still here, though I thought they were a little better, but for some inexplicable reason somebody thought the Silent Hill franchise needed more bosses. Let me tell you right now, Konami: these games would probably work better with no bosses at all. Fighting a big enemy at the end of a stage is so trite anyway; it's like he was just waiting there the whole time? And once you are finished you move on? Other games can sort of let it sneak by because they are "gamey" already, but Silent Hill is all about atmosphere and aesthetic, drawing you in and sinking its claws into you. Having stage-end bosses is just stupid. The fact that most of them look dumb doesn't help this, either.
Sorry, worm-boss, but you really don't belong in this game.
I think the soundtrack to this game is the best horror game soundtrack ever. Yeah, Silent Hill 2's is second best, but seriously...the music is amazing. Horror usually falls into two categories: random creepy noises or over-the-top orchestrations for high tensity scenes. The Silent Hill games have always done a great job somehow merging these two elements and adding a touch of weirdness that works both as music and as background sounds. Granted, most of the game is played in absolute musical silence (another strength of this series), but when the music does kick in it almost always fits. I wish other games (and movies!) could do horror this well.
Complaints aside, you already know I love Silent Hill 3. Everything comes together into an amazing package. I'll be more than willing to admit that Silent Hill 2 is actually a superior game from a critical standpoint, but from a personal one Silent Hill 3 is miles above all other horror games for me in terms of personal preference. It's part of the previously mentioned Silent Hill HD Collection, which is starting at $40. Absolutely worth it at that price. I'd also like to say that the PC version is vastly superior in terms of graphics over all other versions (though it does come on seven cd-roms), running at massively high resolutions that really make this game look incredible. I'm hoping the HD collection will retain that same look (having played it on PC first, replaying it on PS2 makes the game appear...kind of crappy), so if you can't decide between the old or new version, go with the new. Assuming they don't somehow botch up the port.
I love the crap out of this game. Writing this review made me want to go play it again. Seriously, go get it, and play it alone in the dark. It'll grab you tight and leave an unforgettable impression.
Five out of five stars.
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