Do New Locales and a Female Lead Create a Fresh Silent Hill?
If you were fortunate enough to play the first two Silent Hill games, you probably have certain expectations for the series. After experiencing either of those titles, most Silent Hill fans would expect an intriguing premise, horrific environments, and startling sound effects at the bare minimum in any future Silent Hill. They might even desire gameplay alterations such as an improved control scheme, less backtracking, and easier puzzles, but most players would be satisfied with a game that merely manages to capture the spirit of the series.
Fortunately, Konami didn't discard many defining characteristics of its preeminent horror series when developing Silent Hill 3. Silent Hill 3 still provides plenty of scares through its environments and sound effects, while managing to weave an interesting, albeit predictable tale. Where it begins to diverge from other games in the series, however, is with its increased focus on environmental scares that sometimes have little bearing on the plot.
Unlike previous games in the series, Silent Hill 3 begins with a dream. The main character, Heather has a horrific dream where she's trapped in an amusement park, wandering aimlessly. In her dream, she runs from creatures that are far more disgusting than anything previously seen in a Silent Hill title. Her dream only ends after certain objectives are completed, or when she randomly falls in a hole.
What's unique about Silent Hill 3's opening (besides its imagined beginning) is that it takes place in an environment outside of Silent Hill. Heather's journey begins in an ordinary shopping mall where she's having a telephone conversation with her dad, but then a mysterious detective starts stalking her. He doesn't appear to be dangerous, but Heather takes refuge in a women's restroom anyway, then escapes out the window. Once she reenters the mall through another door, her journey becomes more akin to a stroll through Silent Hill.
After entering, Heather notices that the mall's appearance is the same, but now it's mysteriously vacant. Heather soon realizes her folly, however, when she begins to encounter monsters that appeared in her dreams and a figure who hints that Heather doesn't truly know herself.
There is relatively little plot development during the first half of Heather's journey, but it gives the player plenty of time to grow accustomed to Silent Hill 3's gameplay. As with Silent Hill 1 and 2, you wander through unique locales such as malls and subways looking for important items and your true destination. While exploring these environments, you'll encounter numerous locked doors that often require keys, which are obtained by completing clever (and sometimes annoying) puzzles. As with Silent Hill 2, there are also a variety of difficulty settings for puzzles and gameplay.
Silent Hill 3 doesn't require quite as much backtracking as the previous two titles, and the puzzles are generally easier, but areas can be harder to navigate due to tough enemies, infrequent (and sometimes hidden) save points, and a tiny map. The game's difficult foes aren't an issue for the majority of the experience on 'Normal', as you'll eventually get ranged weapons, but when you only have a knife, fighting multiple enemies can be a pain. Therefore, it's best to avoid confrontations when possible, but this is easier said than done with cramped corridors and enemies that can easily surprise you.
What makes Silent Hill 3's early encounters even more annoying is the game's lack of save points. The first two Silent Hill titles had an adequate number of save points, and the majority of them weren't difficult to find, which isn't the case with Silent Hill 3's save circles. To discover save points in Silent Hill 3, you sometimes have to go out of your way -- risking your life in massive areas where grotesque enemies could be lurking behind any door. This of course escalates the game's fear factor, but it would have been nice if there were more save points (or at least check points).
The third gameplay feature I was most disappointed with: Silent Hill 3's tiny map was surprising, because maps were invaluable during the previous two Silent Hill adventures. It's not a lack of detail that degrades Silent Hill 3's map quality; instead, it's the small font size. Fortunately, this problem didn't exist towards the end of the game when you revisit some areas from earlier Silent Hill titles, but early portions of Silent Hill 3 were sometimes frustrating to navigate.
Silent Hill 3's development team may have made some negative gameplay alterations, but they also spruced up the combat and made the world a bit more dangerous. In the previous two Silent Hill titles, the camera was entirely static, but Silent Hill 3 often allows you to press a button to view the action from behind your character. This camera alteration is handy when navigating certain corridors, but unfortunately, it doesn't always work.
As for other gameplay changes, the main character can strafe and equip new types of weapons such as the stun gun. Unfortunately, strafing doesn't improve combat much, as it's a difficult technique to use in cramped hallways. The new weapons on the other hand make Silent Hill more exciting by providing new ways to take out enemies.
One of the most interesting design changes for Silent Hill 3, however, is that you can actually walk off ledges into the abyss. This addition forces the player to be more cautious when moving through dungeons, and it also makes avoiding enemies more difficult. I wouldn't say that it's a negative addition, but it definitely makes you more aware of your surroundings.
Clearly, a few gameplay changes were made in Silent Hill 3, but does the game pack the scares of previous Silent Hill installments? If Silent Hill 2 horrified you, it's likely that 3 will at least be as terrifying, mostly due to its grotesque enemies, frightening environments, and scary sound effects.
Silent Hill 3 brings back a few familiar enemy types such as nurses, but many of the new enemies are even more horrifying. You'll encounter an assortment of foes including revolting dogs, aerial monsters, humanoid enemies, and massive sack-like creatures that flail their arms. The fear these freakish creatures instill in individuals is due in part to Silent Hill 3's creative, albeit dreadful environments, however.
In Silent 3, the 'Other World' emerges at random times just as it did in the previous games, and it's even more terrifying. This gruesome world's walls seem to be made of boiling blood, and it often feels like you're walking through the depths of Hell -- or at the very least, a torture chamber.
Surprisingly, even Silent Hill 3's "normal" environments will have you cowering in fear. Traveling through dark subways, a demon-infested church, and a creepy amusement park is enough to make any grown man (besides me) hide under a blanket.
Also, as you would expect with any Silent Hill title, the sound effects play a key role in the experience. You'll find familiar, yet indescribable sound effects that make your heart pound whenever frequenting new areas. These unpleasant sounds aren't accompanied by as much wonderful Akira Yamaoka music this time, but at least the scare factor is there.
What series fans will enjoy most about Silent Hill 3, however, are the brief cameos of certain key characters from previous Silent Hill experiences. The story closely ties in with what occurred during the first Silent Hill, so certain mysteries are partially resolved. This also means that you'll travel to certain familiar environments, yet again. Fortunately, when visiting these old areas, you won't have to backtrack nearly as much as you did in the early Silent Hill titles.
As with previous Silent Hill entries, Silent Hill 3 is a horrifying adventure that'll make you hug your significant other (or controller) throughout the experience. It's not quite as grand as the previous two installments due to its predictable plot and a few annoying gameplay additions, but it's still a great package as a whole. Any fan of survival horror titles would be wise to check out this final "traditional" Silent Hill installment.
· Detailed character models and environments
· Horrifying sound effects and visuals
· Sometimes you can change the camera angle
· Clever Haunted House scene
· The story is less open-ended and more predictable than previous Silent Hill plots
· Tiny maps make it difficult to identify locked doors
· Strafing and other control additions feel clumsy
· No checkpoints and infrequent save points that are often difficult to find. Lousy Voice Acting