Silent Hill 3

Year: 2003
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Konami
Genre: Survival/horror
Review Date: 10/2/03
Rating: ****

A true sequel to the original "Silent Hill" (1999), although the first half of the game doesn't even take place in the creepy little town that we all know and love. The game begins with a spunky teenage girl named Heather waking up from a horrible nightmare about Silent Hill. She'd just happened to doze off at the burger joint in the local shopping mall, and dutifully calls her dad to tell him that she's on her way home. But pretty soon the mall starts to change and monsters start roaming around the deserted shops. The recurring shifts in reality trigger intense pain and spark lost memories in Heather's subconscious, and she eventually makes her way to Silent Hill in search of answers. It seems the religious cult from the first game is up to their dirty tricks again, and Heather has to stop them.

Technically, the game is nearly flawless. The graphics are incredible, and even more impressive than the superb "Silent Hill 2" (2001). The sound effects are bone chilling and the music is excellent. The game even comes with a bonus soundtrack CD, which is awesome, but the very best song in the game is curiously missing from it (that would be the "clear game" music, in case you were wondering). The controls are slick and responsive, and you have the ability to switch between 2D and 3D navigation on the fly. This is crucial for navigating certain areas and combatting certain foes, and the system works well. The characters are extremely detailed and very well rendered. I was shocked by the amount of detail in the engine driven cut-scenes, some of which I would have sworn were pre-rendered. The town of Silent Hill is once again rendered beautifully, although the ever-present fog is even MORE inpenetrable than the previous games. The voice acting is a little weak, with Heather being quite good and all of the other characters being rather bland. I also commend Konami once again for making a game that's accessible to players of all types, with difficulty settings ranging from super easy to super hard. It makes the game much more enjoyable all around. The one area where the game seriously falls short is the uncooperative camera, which behaves exactly like the camera in SH2. Most of the time the camera insists on being in front of Heather, so you can't see where you're going. This results in hitting the L2 button a lot. The limited camera panning controls are basically useless, and the game could have benefitted immensely by using the right analog stick to freely rotate the camera. Like its survival/horror brethren, this limitation was probably intentional, in order to help build tension and suspense.

Heather is a fun character to play. While she's not overly attractive and her wardrobe is pretty hideous, she's full of energy and attitude. This game is more combat intensive than the previous games, and Heather's arsenal includes among other things, a submachine gun and a katana for dealing severe punishment. She also carries around beef jerky, which she can use to distract certain monsters that are interested in taking a bite out of her. She always has amusing things to say about the sistuation she's in, and even pokes fun at "Silent Hill 2" when she sees a really nasty toilet plugged up with an obstruction of some kind. Ironically, as much as I enjoy games that feature teenage girls in mini-skirts running around and shooting things, I actually enjoyed playing "Silent Hill 2" much more. Its themes of guilt, redemption, and damnation were much more resonant with me than the macabre mystery that Heather faces. I also enjoyed the art direction in SH2 more. The creatures that James faced were truly hideous and disturbing, whereas the monsters in Heather's twisted reality are just weird and uninteresting. But at least the nasty nurses are still around! Flesh and blood play a major role in SH3's decor, but it failed to spark a real visceral reaction with me. As with the rest of the series, the story is often confusing and convoluted, and you'd do well to dust off the original and play through it to have a better understanding of what's going on.

Clearing the game unlocks numerous bonuses, including lots of extra costumes, all of which are extremely unattractive. Except for one... Heather has one outrageous costume that transforms her into an anime styled magical girl, complete with a "Sailor Moon" like transformation animation! That alone is worth playing through the game multiple times to see. She can also wield a "beam saber" (that's a lightsaber to you and me) and shoot laser beams and homing missiles out of her eyes in this mode. Very cool...