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Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) review

"Happy 10th Anniversary, Silent Hill 3!"

So… Silent Hill 3’s subway level.

Before I get into why Silent Hill 3 represents the series’ plateauing, I’ll talk about the very worst it has to offer. As a series, Silent Hill is based upon the exhaustive exploration of areas dotted with numerous locked doors and inconvenient obstacles that often require the completion of macabre puzzles to bypass. These are then interjected with horrific monsters lurking around the shadows, prevailing madness dripping from the ceilings and the constant threat of an air siren piercing the mumbling silence, and the walls starting to crawl. Silent Hill locations bathe in insanity and misery, perverting normality to invade that little space behind your eyes and worm their way into your brain. It’s a kind of beautiful suffering; a more artistic and loving version of video game horror, miles apart from zombie dogs smashing through the window for the umpteenth stint. Half the time, you want that next door to open just to see what perversion might happen next. Half the time, you’re secretly glad it’s inoperable because you’re worried about what the locked room might contain.

Strip all of that away. The wonderful sorrow, the gore-stained walls, the horrific conundrums, the stalking atrocities – throw it all aside. What’s effectively left is a confusing series of interlinked rooms with no clear path leading to the exit. You’re left with a befuddling investigation into dark corners, dead ends and mounting disinterest. What’s effectively left is Silent Hill 3’s subway level.

The Subway Stage. Spoilers: nothing ever really happens.

It’s important to ultimately disclaim Silent Hill 3’s awfulness: it’s not a bad game by any stretch (the series decided to save that particular label for the very next title in the franchise) but it does suffer from some deep-set flaws that take problems inherent to Silent Hill as a whole, then magnify them. While the previous titles openly suffered from the same base issues, they successful disguised them behind excellent choices and design. They drove you on with macabre curiosity and powerful narrative. They presented questions and ensured you were inquisitive or appalled enough to track down disconcerting answers. Harry Mason woke up from a car crash, and his daughter was missing; she was out there in the swirling mists somewhere, and he had to find her. James Sunderland received a touching letter from his wife inviting him to visit her at “their special place”. This might have been a Hallmark moment if she hadn’t been dead for a handful of years. Silent Hill 3’s Heather Morris takes a nap in a diner, wakes up, and then there are monsters.

This might be a little unfair on Heather, who manages to be the series’ stand-out protagonist merely by being a teenage girl, and not a morose twenty-something male sulking around the depressing landscapes. As such, she injects an almost immature and rebellious streak to a setting otherwise entirely dominated by disgust and revulsion. It’s a refreshing change of pace but it brings in its own downfalls when placed in conjunction to the relative weakness of her overall quest. With Silent Hill 3 being a direct sequel to the original title, Heather has the town thrust upon her rather than slowly finding the resolve or reason to push onwards through her manifested nightmares. Harry was driven by the love of his daughter and the unspeakable grief and fear of losing her. James, by a nagging sense of guilt and the impossible hope that his dead wife might, against all reason, welcome him with open arms at the end of his journey. If Heather is eventually given purpose, it’s through simple rage. If she’s given a defining quest, it’s to conclude a tale already neatly concluded back in 1999.

Silent Hill 3, effectively, stumbles along where its predecessors strode, and then something happens that turns your stomach. Something like Heather entering a nondescript room, with little to distinguish it from the dozens of other rooms she’s explored save the abandoned bathtub in the corner, and the full-length mirror adorning the far wall. A quick search turns up nothing of interest, and she’ll make her preparations to leave, before the entire rooms starts to pulse. Sinewy veins slowly creep from the bathtub, snaking discreet trails across the floor, up the walls. Though they never seem to accelerate, never seem to hurry, they coat the room in no time at all, leaving a nervous Heather to gingerly try and step around them, audibly squashing any she’s unable to avoid. It’s a surreal and unsettling moment, but it doesn’t seem to do her any harm. Unless you look at her reflection.

There, Heather’s covered in grasping thin veins. They pulse along with her heartbeat. And the girl’s visibly rotting where she stands. If she stays, she dies.

Though the itinerant horrors clearly lack the menace and underlying symbolism of previous titles, you’re constantly reminded that this is, at heart, very much a Silent Hill title, from the way white noise is prevalent before every encounter, or in how the walls crawl when sirens blare, and reality drops away to reveal misery apparent. To the unsettling genius of Akira Yamaoka’s bizarre musical compositions, joined for the first time (but by no means the last) by haunting vocals from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. To the ultimate showcase of a world that has no right to exist, and one besieged by obsolete prayers aplenty that it wouldn’t.

Then there’s the subway level, bereft of both imagination and terror. If Heather had a greater purpose to invest in, perhaps this would have been little more than a slight bump in her exploration. But, in all Silent Hill 3’s squandered malevolence, in its inability to supply a real sense of motivating resolve, it’s a chore. It’s the unfortunate hangnail that, perhaps, summarises the overall experience better than it has any right to. Through it, this becomes the first Silent Hill to be little more than ordinary.

And, god help them, it was all downhill from there.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 19, 2013)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted August 19, 2013:

Nice review, Gary. Seems we were pretty much exactly in sync with how we felt about this one. The second sentence threw me a bit though: "stagnate plateauing"...
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EmP posted August 19, 2013:

I edited that sentence down a little. I'll probably chop a few more down before I'm content with this review. I think I ramble at points, as I tend to do.

Thanks though, Marc. I remember initially enjoying the game more than you did, but I really struggled with my recent replay. Large chunks of the game felt like a chore, and Heather's only real reason for carrying on was revenge. SH1&2 were almost sadistic Noire games where there was a mystery to be solved. Heather, right at the base of things, just wanted to crack skulls.

Just *shudder* Downpour to go, I guess.
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Masters posted August 19, 2013:

Yes, you did! You called me a fool for my view. Now you share it! Muahaha. Yup, it's not great.

Downpour is weak sauce. I'm surprised you're still playing it.
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overdrive posted August 19, 2013:

Funny thing is that I find myself agreeing with this review a lot. But from the other stance, where I didn't like it as much the first time around and am liking it more now. I think the big thing for me is that I liked the ambience of the town that you got to see in 1 and 2 and felt the game was weakened by essentially being just one dungeon after another. But now...I'm thinking the town sections take away from challenge because you can easily run around enemies and pick up tons of health/ammo goodies and so not having them isn't really a weakness. Like, in playing 2 again, I was nearly out of everything by the time I was done with the hospital. By the time I got to Toluca Prison after town-running, I had a healthy amount of both pistol and shotgun ammo, as well as enough health to overcome all sorts of blunders.

I mean, the formula still was getting kind of stale and, as you said, Heather is far more pointless a character (at least until you reach the apartments and she gets a reason to want to crack skulls) than either Harry or James.
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EmP posted August 20, 2013:

Marc: I doubt very much I would resort to name calling!

I honestly dread playing Downpour. It’s just so incomplete and awful. Most entries post SH3 can be labelled bad Silent Hill games. Downpour is just, point blank, a bad game. But I need to get it done, now. I’ve entered into a personal contract, and I need to fill out that SH timeline thingy under the review. Still, the thought of it even now makes me want to do all the dullest chores I’ve been putting off for months instead.
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EmP posted August 20, 2013:

Rob: Speaking of the hospital, one thing I’m kicking myself for not mentioning is how you come across the zombie nurses again, and they’ve become a little bit old hat. You start indifferently mowing them down, because Heather has access to a bloody katana and, out of nowhere, one of them pulls a sodding pistol on you and starts popping caps sidewise gangsta style.

I think the overworld works a lot better in the first two games. Harry’s frantically searching, and the paths to each location aren’t initially obvious, so battling your way to a crevice in the road felt like a real blow to the gut. James had been to Silent Hill before, so just strolling around the town and hearing his thoughts on how things are nothing like he remembers felt like a unique insight. People, literally, just say to Heather “Go to the hospital” and she says “Yeah, okay!”

You should think about a SH3 rewrite, OD, and be the other side to Marc & I’s coin. Let me know if you plan to, though, and I’ll back your old one up to a b-side account, or some such.
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Masters posted August 20, 2013:

I like the link-y thing you did at the bottom of the review.
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EmP posted August 20, 2013:

In that case, you should check out your Thunder Force reviews some time.
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overdrive posted August 20, 2013:

Gary, I am thinking about that. But with a twist! The game I'm doing for your contest is the Silent Hill HD Collection, where I'm re-playing 2 and 3 to determine how my feelings have changed. Since, other than that, what would be the point of reviewing it. Haven't found any of the glitches I read about and, so, other than voice acting changes and the inclusion of "Born From a Wish" for 2, there's nothing I haven't seen before.

I mean, I'm sure I could re-do my 3 review if for no other reason than how it's kind of long and clunky, but if I can say what I need to say in this review, there might be no need for that. Depends on how things go.
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EmP posted August 22, 2013:

The ‘Born for a Wish’ thing was pretty interesting. It was a nice bonus on the HD disk for the vast majority of people who played the pretty inferior PS2 version of SH2. Suckers.

If you’re playing the 360 version of the HD collection, you’ll find very few of the faults – they exist almost exclusively on the PS3 version, and I’d expect most of them to have been patched out by now. The only issue I ever found was that gameplay will often hang as you unlock achievements (I found in SH2 much more than SH3).
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wolfqueen001 posted August 25, 2013:

Great review! Silent Hill is a franchise I never got into yet, but I doubtlessly will one day. The type of horror there seems entirely different than the type Resident Evil throws at its audience, and for this reason might even be more effective. If I have the courage to try it one day, then I will.

It's a shame that the first two titles are really the best ones, though. Sounds like Silent Hill took a quicker nosedive than the other series its often compared to.
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EmP posted August 27, 2013:

How you’re able to keep playing the old and now awful Res games, yet still refuse to play Silent Hill – on PSN for a couple of your worthless American dollars, I might add – boggles me. I am boggled.

I’m hard on SH3, but it deserves it. It should and could have been better, but it’s only outshone by SH1, 2 and perhaps Origins. Maybe that’s more of a commentary and just how shit the series eventually becomes, but I’ve beaten SH3 twice. Origins aside (which is surprisingly great stuff) nothing else is worth a first glance, let alone a second.

Thanks, all, for reading and sharing your thoughts.
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overdrive posted August 27, 2013:

I agree with EmP on that. The first few SH titles, IMO, exceed the first few RE in quality. But I've had that argument with my best friend, who's a diehard RE2 advocate. I like it and all, but would put it behind both the first two SH games. A lot is what you look for in horror. He likes an uplifting, happy ending -- I have no issues with ending a game with your hero committing suicide or irreversibly traumatized from all that's transpired.

Just, to me, SH tends to have so many neat subtle nuances that just create an atmosphere that's both bizarre and creepy. Heather being "stalked" by the ghost of an inmate in a hospital. James jumping down one deep pit after another going from the historical society to a prison to a labyrinth and then winding up at ground level despite all that. Harry introducing us all to the world of Silent Hill by immediately getting dispatched by a horde of undead knife-wielding children, only to wake up in a diner like nothing had happened. It's like playing through a nightmare where, on one hand you want to wake up, but on the other, this morbid sense of curiosity keeps you asleep because you want to find out what's around the next corner.
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wolfqueen001 posted August 28, 2013:

Haha. You said you liked Res 2! :P Anyway, Silent Hill's on the list, promise! =D
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EmP posted August 28, 2013:

I did say that -- and I do like Res 2. Not sure I would replay it after how awful I found Res 1 last year (and Res 3 was always kind of rubbish), but it's a game I recall very fondly indeed.

SH/SH2 exist on a completely different and much higher level. They blow it out of the water.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 12, 2013:

Out of curiosity, EmP, are you planning to review Silent Hill Origins?
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EmP posted September 13, 2013:

I've no immediate plans. I'd have to replay the game first and I'm enjoying my time delving back into old PC adventure games for now.
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zippdementia posted September 17, 2013:

How did you do that thing at the bottom, EMP? I should set that up for my Mega Man reviews.
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EmP posted September 18, 2013:

It's basic HTMLing. I'm wrecked at the moment, but when I get a chance over the weekend, I'll see if I can make you one and HGMail it over.

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