Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) Review
Konami's Silent Hill series is known for being among the most atmospheric, and-let's face it-gory video games to date. In all the series' releases, the games have sold millions of copies worldwide, acquiring a fairly large and faithful following.
Silent Hill 3's story centers around a young girl named Heather, who wakes up from a dream in a mall at closing time and finds herself confronted by a man claiming to be looking for her. This detective, Douglas, claims to know something about Heather and she blows him off in the normal way: by walking into the women's bathroom. Shortly after that, she runs into an even stranger woman named Claudia, who proves to be quite adept at scaring teenagers. As time wears on in the mall, Heather finds herself encountering nightmarish creatures as her surroundings deteriorate into a very familiar parallel of Dark Silent Hill. The strange thing? She's not even in the town yet. In fact, she doesn't arrive in Silent Hill until about halfway through the story. As the story progresses you'll find out why Heather has this strange connection with Silent Hill, and what it is Claudia is after.
Silent Hill 3 continues the trend of mixed gameplay. The exploration and puzzle elements are top-notch as usual, with three levels of difficulty from easy to expert. On Easy, the answers to riddles are basically spoon fed to you, and there are fewer items required to solve puzzles, and they're also generally easier to find. Medium is a comfortable midway, where a lot of the riddles and puzzles are fairly challenging, but they won't crush your morale with ludicrous difficulty. Expert difficulty, in layman's terms, is not for the faint of heart; these are the kind of riddles and puzzles that induce hair-pulling, almost on the same level as Cyan's Myst IV: Revelation. To offer up an example, one of the puzzles on Medium requires you to place Shakespearean works on a shelf in the right order to reveal a combination to a lock. On Expert difficulty, you're required to read a complex riddle about the Shakespearean plays and place them all in order regarding the clues about the story of each play. Clearly, not for those lacking patience.
As you might expect, you essentially have to explore each area twice, due to the sudden transformation between a normal area and a 'dark' version of that same area. Fortunately, this isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, because the dark version is almost completely different from its normal counterpart in that completely different areas are unlocked. Normally, this transition also only happens once you've fully explored a normal area and solved all its puzzles. Sadly, you might also miss some of the better items, like the Katana or the Submachine gun, if you're not careful. But again, a lot of this game is about exploring every crevasse of every room to find all the items and clues in order to advance. This might sound tedious to some, but it's actually quite nicely blended in so that it doesn't necessarily feel like you're being dragged back and forth just to find one clue in that room you've been through eighteen times already. One area late in the game even mixes things up by randomly switching between dark and regular Silent Hill as you move between rooms occasionally throwing powerful enemies at you, further increasing anxiety upon entering a new room.
Silent Hill 3 isn't a particularly long game, doubled exploration aside. You can probably complete the game's main story in about eight to ten hours, or perhaps more, depending on the difficulty or how you approach the monsters. Luckily, there are multiple endings, as has become typical of the Silent Hill series, and depending on how you play through the story, you'll get a different ending. When you complete certain conditions during the game, you'll also be able to unlock new weapons and outfits for Heather. Most of these, though, don't do much aside from make things extremely easy (flamethrower and infinite machine gun, anyone?).
One issue, though, with how the game handles this time is a lack of exploration of Silent Hill itself. Upon arrival in the haunted town, you'll find most of it blocked off, unlike in the first two installments, in which players were encouraged to explore as much of the town as possible for items, clues, and a few surprise enemies. This step down from the original element of exploration doesn't exactly bring down the game by a ton, but it makes it feel a great deal more restricted and linear, as if Konami decided they were going to take control of where players went into their own hands and basically force them to go to certain places in a specific order. Even so, exploration in the areas themselves is pretty well done, and there are even a few optional items, like a taser and a silencer, and even body armor, all three found pretty early in the game and having their own unique uses.
Let's face it, though: Silent Hill has never had great combat, and Silent Hill 3 is no exception. The combat feels awkward at times, and the camera tends to get in the way of it a lot the time. In a way, the sluggish and unwieldy attacks Heather unleashes with her vast array of weapons might be attributed to the fact that she's an average person who doesn't actually know how to fight monsters, and has been shoved into horrific situations by circumstance, but that can't always account for the fact that she's swinging at chest level to hit an enemy that's crawling at her feet. That's just one of a few instances that give the impression that Konami could have tried a little harder. Even with the shortcomings of the combat and camera, it's evident that the combat could have been a lot worse. There are even some ways to circumvent getting into actual fights. You'll find pieces of jerky throughout the game that can be used as bait to allow you to sneak by monsters without having to fight, or to set traps and get the drop on them and land a few extra shots with your gigantic maul or your shotgun.
From a graphical standpoint, Silent Hill 3 is one of the best-looking games on the Playstation 2, hands down. The character models look great, from the facial expressions and movements they make to all the little details of their skin and their outfits. In one cutscene in which Douglas and Heather are driving to Silent Hill, there's rain running down the windows of the car as they go, and the effect just looks brilliant. Despite a few minor blemishes here and there, like awkward movement of hair or an object being moved, the cutscenes are all fantastically rendered and animated without having to resort to abuse of FMV movie sequences like so many other games.
The town of Silent Hill itself has never looked better, in spite of how little of the streets you'll be seeing. New and familiar enemies screech and groan as they spiral and shamble their way about the town. Textures have seen a noticeable improvement since Silent Hill 2 and objects and enemies look a little more real (or surreal) as they fade into and out of the mist. To be frank, some of the animations in the combat's graphics do look a little shaky and seem to abruptly come to a halt rather than slowly winding down (swinging the maul, mostly-the others don't look too bad when it happens). It's not something that'll bother most people, but there are a couple jittery moments in which it'll really show.
Yet again, Akira Yamaoka provides the music for a Silent Hill title, and again, he doesn't disappoint. Silent Hill 3's soundtrack is a huge departure from the grunge sound of Silent Hill 2 and the MIDI soundtrack used in Silent Hill. Instead, it's now a bit more industrial sounding, with stronger use of heavy sound effects and ambient noise. Even with the shift, the soundtrack manages to sound incredibly varied, and a lot of the songs even borrow elements from previous titles, and it's nice to see a couple tracks that almost seem like homages to past entries. Another new aspect is that there are vocals in a good portion of the tracks now. The game's main opening and ending themes sport vocals from different singers, and another track that plays during the game's story also features vocals. The only thing that some might consider negative about this soundtrack is that there are significantly fewer songs on 3's soundtrack than in 2 and 1, though 3 is a bit shorter than the other two, so that's understandable.
It's hard to call Silent Hill 3 the best in the series, considering it's not much of an expansion upon the series except in story. The game offers a lot more insight as to the events of the first game and only vaguely hints at the second game. And even though it's short, there's a lot of challenge to be had, mode depending. Survival horror fans, or fans of the series should definitely look for this one if they haven't played it already.