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Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) review

"The start of the downward spiral."

Looks great, less filling

Itís difficult to believe that occult-shadowed Silent Hill was once a bright, sunny vacation spot. But evil forces were called up and the tiny town was plunged into decay. The actual game series that is Silent Hill is similarly decaying: What began as uncommon brilliance on the PlayStation, has degraded into a convoluted and senseless exercise in flexing visceral muscle while offering less and less in the way of engaging play.

And the downward spiral began here.

Recall if you will, the first game: your daughter was beside you, in the passenger seat of your vehicle at the time of the accident. It was snowing and you couldnít see. You hit something--no, someone--and when you woke, you found that your daughter had disappeared, swallowed by the mist in a broken town where blood and wraiths run freely. Your daughterís inexplicable disappearance compelled you to play, to put up with clunky, tank-like controls and perfunctory fight mechanics to discover her whereabouts. So taken were you by your singe-minded mission that the subtle incursion of the bizarre swelled dangerously, tantalizingly, at the edge of your perception.

It was hide and go seek in hell.

The second game told its less intriguing story in a much more focused fashion. Your wife summons you to Silent Hill with a cryptic note. She says she is waiting for you in your special place. A touching invitation, but for the fact your wife is dead, going on three years. Only the exceptionally tedious fighting and running and door handle rattling sabotaged what could have been the best game in the series. Certainly the script melded the horrifying with the melancholic to arrive at something truly memorable and haunting, but in the end, Silent Hill 2 was like a brilliant short story that somebody decided to stretch ill-advisedly into a novel.

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) image

And so we arrive at Silent Hill 3. I braced myself as I rented the game, tried to suppress flashbacks of a terribly disappointing third installment of Ninja Gaiden from way back when. Regrettably, things donít get off to an auspicious start: the game simply drops your teenage girl protagonist, Heather (brownie points to Konami for featuring a female) into a nightmarish scenario typical of the series and says "there, go find out what's what." To which you want to respond, "um, what for?"

Donít get me wrong, there are reasons why this game received the attention that it did--for one, itís a work of art by PS2 standards. The charging, stirring sonic opening entitled, "You Arenít Here" is brilliant, and it makes me think how much more whole the previous two games might have been if some Ďreal musicí had been composed for them as well. The tune does well to lock what memories I have of the game into my head even now when I have been away from it for some time.

Aurally, the game impresses beyond musical composition: the pocket radio, as much a staple of the series as anything else, continues to create 'white noise' to alert you to the presence of undesirables in your vicinity. Monsters make positively revolting sounds when nearby as well. The voice acting on the whole is weak (when hasnít it been?) but the standout performance of the main character more than makes up for the lameness of the others. Konami certainly found a talented youngster to play Heather's role. The banter she offers is genuine as well ("yeah, whatever"), and clicking on objects often elicits a very personal, teenage girl response from her. The attention to detail is admirable.

Though perhaps even more admirable are the visuals in Silent Hill 3--this is as photorealistic as it gets on your PS2. This is as natural as human gestures have looked, as detailed as skin and fabric and blood have looked. And the monsters in the backgroundÖ! Konami have managed to make those monsters that, in similar games, just hang around and appear grotesque, actually move in truly alien and aberrant ways, twitching and lolling and gesticulating this way and that as your eyes struggle to piece together their pulpy incompletenessÖ

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) image

The monsters you actually get to fight arenít nearly as scary of course, since they have to be fully realized 3D models. That said, of all the Silent Hill games, this instalment presents the least scary monster menagerie. The evil dogs look real, and the skin damage to many of the 'human' assailants is believable, but who cares if they don't frighten us, even a little? The bandaged children from the first game, and the Pyramid Heads from the second--now those guys were frightening. And they were memorable.

As if to compensate, the programmers have given us much cooler weaponry with which to slay the uninspired cast of bad guys. You actually get to wield a katana (yup, thatís a sword), as well as a submachine gun (yup, that means a lot of bullets). So if the confrontations don't really get your pulse racing, at least doling out death is a bit more interesting than before.

The weapons at your disposal do help keep things moving at a decent clip; however, while Silent Hill 3 is the fastest paced of all the games, the apparent lack of a purpose for the protagonist makes it seem more tedious, because our actions feel pointless in the scheme of things. The game does not proceed from normalcy to madness. It begins bizarre and stays that way. Furthermore, the nature of our characterís struggle (or at least what she thinks it is) is not known from the onset, so itís difficult to care about her or her mission, because we donít know who she is, or what that mission might be.

This approach (the quest for identity), can work if handled carefully, but Konamiís people have cocked up the material considerably. A typical, successful approach involves giving us--and the heroine--a calling, and switching it up it later when new information surfaces. Here, the developers opt instead to leave us in the dark for the majority of the game, before clumsily spelling everything out (more on that in a second) in rambling CGI bits toward the finish.

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2) image

In the end, Silent Hill 3 is the most graphically intense chapter of the series that has become known for being "like Resident Evil, but scarier". Regrettably, this chapter might be the least deserving of that distinction--itís not truly frightening at any point. It's not that the potential isn't there: if the proper build up was implemented, moments like the treacherous dash down the roller coaster tracks could have been heart-stopping. As it is, the writhing background monsters are often unsettling, and the puzzles and fights are well paced (an improvement over Silent Hill 2), but our character never establishes any sort of relationship with us, and after awhile of not knowing what the hell sheís on about, youíll want to leave her in the lurch.

Indeed, more effort seems to have been made establishing forced, amateurish connections with the notoriously nebulous story of Silent Hill, than developing any unique story of chapter 3 proper. It's unfortunate, because Heather is a wonderful protagonist who we simply canít get behind, and she is unhappily drowned in near-unrelenting and ineffectual in-your-face nastiness. Unhappy for us: This is like Hannibal to the first game's Silence of the Lambs.

Borrow or get it on the cheap to see how sweetly your PS2 can make walls crawl (you have to see this to believe it) and rooms grow and blood splash onto super-realistic characters. Youíll get a kick out of the introductory scene too. Here, our heroine appears confused and fearful of the dark and unclean things that skitter beneath iron bars, as the inexorable guitar charges on in spite of everything. Pity you mightn't.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (March 09, 2011)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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overdrive posted March 09, 2011:

You liked this one a bit more than me. I agree with you that the graphics and sound are great (one of my favorite rooms in the SERIES was the one where Heather's mirror image gets frozen in place as the blood flows over everything), but there were some areas... Just thinking of that "funhouse" where you have to battle the controls to stay ahead of the light that will kill you if it catches you pisses me off. It's a rip-off of the Pyramid Head chase through the hospital in a way, but it replaces a mysterious, iconic adversary with...a light. LAAAA---ZEEEEEE!

I've been thinking that I at least have to replay 2 at some time, as it was the haunting one that stuck with me. You mentioning it here just reinforced that.
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Masters posted March 09, 2011:

I just got SH2 off ebay last week and have begun replaying it. I do recall that there was way too much running, but I tried it today for the first time in years... and man was that an understatement. The first ten minutes is just running aimlessly and there's nothing you can do about it.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 09, 2011:

Great review, Marc!

I agree with you on the downward spiral. I liked SH3 quite a bit, but knew that soon after that it was going to fall apart unless Konami did something.

So they made SH4, and I wanted to cry.
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overdrive posted March 09, 2011:

That's right. I forgot about exactly how long the intro segment to SH2 is. Run along a road, run through a cemetery or some ominous location. The first time I played it, I was all creepin' too, because it was a creepy locale and I figured a giant vagina monster with sharp teeth would jump out at James at any time. So, this was a LONG trip for me. Then you get in town and aimlessly wander around around you get to a weird, shambling chap who you decide to follow to have a friendly chat with, only to find it's an insane abomination that needs killed. Even if you know exactly what you're doing, that'll take a long time. If it's your first time with the game, you'll probably take 30 minutes creeping through just knowing some eldrich horror is going to take your head around the next corner.

In a way, there's a neat vibe about SH2, though. It starts out so slow and mundane. You're going around streets that are pretty vacant (a few easily dodged foes) and the first couple dungeons are pretty forgettable, other than a few imagery things. But the game just gradually gets more dark and ominous and after a while, you feel like you're the one in that hellish purgatory. The prison was creepy as hell and that one late-game area where you're just dropping through holes to get from one corridor to the next just had this "descending to hell" feel.
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Masters posted March 09, 2011:

Thanks, Joe!

Haha, they did something alright. They gave up on the series. Wasn't SH4 originally planned as another game entirely, and they pulled a Super Mario Bros. 2 and just rebranded it? Weak sauce. (Although it did work out in the case of SMB2.)
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wolfqueen001 posted March 09, 2011:

This was a great review. Makes me want to play Silent Hill, since I never have.

I really liked the comparisons to the earlier games, especially for how they illustrated the changes and downhill slide and such.
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Masters posted March 09, 2011:

Rob: you know you've been playing RPGs too much when you call the areas in Silent Hill games, "dungeons." =D

But yeah, it's a long slog to get the game going, but chalk that up to establishing atmosphere, I guess.

That said, even the subsequent important areas, like the apartments are WAY too drawn out.

EDIT: Thanks, Leslie. =D
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EmP posted March 10, 2011:

You don't know what you're talking about!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 10, 2011:

Apparently I'm supposed to trick myself into believing it's the early 80s when playing Pac-Man.
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Masters posted March 11, 2011:

I love how it's always about "do I agree with this person or not... if no, BAD REVIEW, if yes, AWESOME REVIEW!"
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 11, 2011:

Yeah, seems like I see a lot of griping on that site, and usually about review score. ZOMG! They gave Uncharted a 9 and not a 10? Injustice!

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