Is it already that time again, time for another installment of Konami’s survival horror magnum opus Silent Hill? It seems like just yesterday that gamers the world over were scared out of their wits playing part two. A couple years before that, the original Silent Hill was released on the Playstation, and with it was born a new vision for the then-lagging survival horror genre. It’s true that the Silent Hill games have never radically innovated over previous horror franchises, such as Resident Evil, but the upshot is that Konami has always somehow managed to breathe new life into the genre by delivering some truly horrific shocks, a delightfully demonic storyline, and production values that are off the charts. So, while fans of the series may have been hoping for some new and original additions for part three, it will undoubtedly be the fence sitters who will get off on this game’s highly polished and genuinely frightening proceedings.
Not to say there isn’t a lot here to rouse the interest of diehard fans, that isn’t the case at all. The storyline is pretty much a direct sequel to the first game, tying up a lot of loose ends and filling in plenty of significant plot gaps – and those who played through part two will appreciate the fact that more than a few references are made to that game through revisited locales and ominous informational tidbits. There should be no doubt after experiencing Silent Hill 3 that this game is unmistakably true to the respective visions of its predecessors. The same combination of gameplay elements that formed the first two games is entirely intact here, and for the most part that’s a good thing. Exploration, puzzle solving, and combat are all crucial ingredients to the success of the series, and they’re all back in full force.
One major difference though, like with every successive Silent Hill game, is its cast of characters. This time around you’ll be in control of a 17 year-old girl named Heather, who mysteriously awakens in an abandoned shopping mall after experiencing a disturbing dream that took place in a monster-ridden amusement park. It isn’t long after she wakes up that two new characters are introduced; the first is a detective named Douglas and the other a somewhat scary-looking religion freak by the name of Claudia, who seems to know more than she is letting on. These two characters will reveal themselves more and more for who they truly are as you progress through the game, and their personality progression during that time gives rise to some really interesting, disconcerting questions and answers.
Like the previous games, most exploration is conducted in cramped, darkly lit hallways and corridors inside equally dark and foreboding buildings. There is rarely any locale you’ll explore that takes place in an open area, which means a couple things. First, the infamous fog effect that showed up so many times in past games is almost entirely and conspicuously absent. And second, progression is much more consistent now that you don’t have to hassle with widely spaced key areas. There are plenty of clues abound in the environments of Silent Hill 3, usually taking the form of scrawled notes, pictures, keys, and abnormal occurrences. There are also plenty of demon dogs with their heads spliced in two, pipe-wielding nurses, and other assorted monsters composed of bizarrely shaped limbs and disgustingly textured flesh, to encounter along the way.
Initially, Heather doesn’t seem very well equipped to deal with the hordes of baddies that the game throws her way, but eventually she’ll become a force to be reckoned with. Standard issue melee weapons like a knife, lead pipe, samurai sword, and mace will, of course, be used to dispose of mal-configured monsters, but the action really heats up once she gets her hands on ranged weapons such as a pistol, flamethrower, or sub-machine gun. But even with all this firepower at her disposal it can still be a frustrating task to kill every monster that creeps her way, reinforcing the “it’s better to run away” theory that was so prevalent in the past two games. Luckily, Heather will be able to utilize beef jerky by throwing it on the ground and using it as bait, making it much easier to slip by baddies unnoticed.
One of the coolest features of the Silent Hill games has always been its unique map system that constantly evolves by way of jotted down clues and plainly marked indicators as the protagonist explores an area. The map system is great for keeping track of where you’ve been and where you probably need to go in order to progress. Couple that with the fact that Silent Hill 3 offers a much tighter and more cohesive design structure and you’ve got a game that will constantly egg you on to keep playing, even if it can be beaten in six or seven hours.
One notable departure from the previous games is the fact that, unlike the original and part two, most of the action does not take place in the run-down, dingy town of Silent Hill. In fact, you don’t even step foot in the game’s titular locale until the second half of the experience. First, you’ll have to make your way through the aforementioned amusement park, abandoned shopping mall, a subway station, an office building, and Heather’s home before eventually making the journey to Silent Hill. Once you get there, you’ll get to hang out in Brookhaven Hospital, where the same pipe-toting nurses from the second game make yet another appearance. What’s more is that almost every environment you encounter will be revisited in their “dark” forms, where normal walls are drenched with blood or made of flesh and deformed corpses adorn the scenery.
As terrifying as the contextual discourse and story of Silent Hill 3 is, it’s the game’s technical presentation that really sets it apart. Just as Silent Hill 2 upped the watermark by which other PS2 games would be judged on a visual level, part three outdoes itself again with spooky grainy camera filters, an entirely new graphics engine, amazingly detailed character models, absurdly meticulous texture quality, and dynamic lighting that seems almost impossible given the limited nature of the PS2’s technical specifications. The in-game cut-scenes are superbly choreographed, featuring real-time facial animation and attention to detail, the likes of which are unparalleled in any PS2 game, or any game ever for that matter. The development team definitely knows how to create menacingly spooky environments, and their dedication to psychological horror has never been so evident as it is here.
Of equal importance is the sound in Silent Hill 3, which purports an almost overwhelming sense of dread and tension. Every surface that Heather walks on is realistically depicted, far-off cries and screams can often be heard out of the corner of your ear, and you’ll soon learn to fear the crackling static of Heather’s broken radio, which acts up whenever an enemy is near. But it isn’t just the ambient sound effects that will set you on edge, the soundtrack is chock full of music that will immerse you into the game’s frightening world like few games can. The sheer diversity in music is commendable. Everything from lonely acoustic guitar solos to seemingly environmentally produced rhythms and electronic industrial style tracks have their place in Silent Hill 3. The musical directors at Konami were so proud of what they created with this game’s soundtrack that they even packed in a free CD containing all the music from the game, which is a very nice incentive indeed.
When it’s all said and done, Silent Hill 3 stands as a truly worthy sequel to a couple of already-impressive survival horror games. It may not be as tempting a proposition as the original game was back in 1999, but it definitely removes any bitter taste left in the mouths of gamers after playing through part two. If you’re looking for a genuinely unsettling and terrifying survival horror experience on your PS2, than look no further, this is it.