Silent Hill 3 - PS2 - Review

 The best-selling PlayStation 2 survival/horror series has returned.  Silent Hill 3 has crept its way onto store shelves and is ready to keep gamers running around in the dark for hours.  With a new cast of characters, new monsters, new weapons and new areas to explore, Silent Hill 3 is everything diehard SH2 fans have been waiting for.

The gameplay hasn't changed much at all.  Returning Silent Hill fans know what to expect: lots of exploration, several monsters, a few puzzles, and a nearly endless amount of darkness.  The static radio is back to alert you of any nearby monsters, as is the all-important flashlight, the clunky but powerful steel pipe, and a handful of useful weapons with limited ammo.

There's good news for censorship haters: Silent Hill 3 is the creepiest of them all.  In the past, the developers have said they held back, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.  But with Silent Hill 2 they pushed the envelope even further.  This time around they decided to forget the envelope altogether and give gamers the most disgusting images they could possibly think of.  Although you may cringe more, this doesn't make the game any scarier.

What's so creepy about it?  The deformed monsters are one thing, and probably won't faze anyone who has played through the previous games.  New aesthetics include underdeveloped humans (the legs are all there, but the body is not), a worm-like boss, and a Resident Evil staple, mutated dogs.  These dogs look different from the ones in RE -- they have no head!  Well, they do, but it opens up like a mouth.  Need I say more?

These new monsters are not creepy enough to make a hardcore gamer cringe, but the story just might.  Some really crazy stuff goes down with the main character, Heather, and the woman who eventually becomes her adversary, Claudia.  Saying anymore would lead you to the game's biggest shocker.  I figured it out just by watching a movie sequence featured in the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine's demo disc.  So whatever you do, don't read too much about this game and stay away from strategy guides.

However, I will say that, as great as Silent Hill 2 was, it had one really crazy ending in which it is revealed that the main character killed his wife.  Distraught over this revelation, he then kills himself.  Most people were fine with that, but it bothered me.  Silent Hill 3 follows in its predecessor's footsteps by having one extremely demented sequence.  It takes place before the ending, but even so, it kind of damaged the story for me.

If you thought Silent Hill 2 made better use of polygons than any other survival/horror game, you were right.  But now, against all odds, Konami has improved the graphics.  I didn't doubt them, but I did doubt the PS2 -- could it really go beyond SH2?  Could it really do more?  Now we know that yes, it can, and just did.  The lighting is virtually the same, though with less of an emphasis on impressive shadow work (they already blew our minds once, so apparently they didn't think they needed to do it again).  What has been improved, and to an unbelievable level might I add, is the characters.  Whether in a real-time cut scene or during actual gameplay, Heather looks absolutely stellar.  Her skin color is realistically toned, her hair has individual strands that move independently, and her facial expressions are some of the best a PS2 game has ever had.  The car sequence looks amazing, with rain pouring down on the windshield.  The mouth movements are pretty close to CG-movie quality, lining up very close to what the characters are saying.  This makes it much easier to enjoy the story and care about what the characters are saying.

The graphics are truly a work of art, both technologically and artistically, but Silent Hill 3's high point is its music.  Having the best soundtrack in the series, Konami decided to include this one as a bonus disc with every copy of the game.  (You'll hear the music in the game too of course.)  With its incredible sounds and a stellar mix of instruments, Silent Hill 3 is both haunting and emotionally powerful.  It'll intrigue you and intensify the situation, but it also has a lot of emotion behind it.  No two songs are exactly alike, and span a much greater genre range than you'd expect (mostly rock, techno and classical, but the music is so vast that it's not always easy to label it as being one genre).

Also impressive is the voice acting.  The voice work is by far the best in the series.  Heather sounds young, but not to the point where it's annoying (as in most games and anime).  She's a young, somewhat intelligent woman and her voice conveys that.  Her tone is never off, and what she says never sounds out of place (her actions are a whole other story though).  Claudia has that old, possessed-by-evil sound, but as with Heather it works.  Not because this sort of thing works out good (it usually doesn't), but because Konami got talented voice actors.  Vincent and Douglas, the only other main characters, also have appropriate voices.

What it really comes down to though is not how good the music is or how talented the actors are.  What matters is how fun the game is to play.  Silent Hill 3 is fun, but lacks the intensity of the first game.  The intensity was lessened with the sequel, perhaps due to the fact that it was a sequel and I had already experienced that kind of horror once.  Silent Hill 3 uses the same scare tactics as the first two games, so unless you're a newcomer, you probably won't be too horrified.  If you question whether or not this makes the experience any less fun, then obviously you have no idea what a survival/horror game is all about.  Silent Hill 3 great fun, but it doesn't go beyond that.  Diehard SH fans won't be able to live without it, that's guaranteed.  I had to know how the story turned out and I'm sure you will too.

But will this game give you the same unique, unbearable feeling that the original did?  Will it scare you so harshly that you actually need to take a break?  The answer is no.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.5
Silent Hill 3 may be the least scary of the bunch, but it still packs an entertaining punch.  The new environments (a mall, the Lakeside Amusement Park, etc.) are an excellent addition.  Finally there's a survival/horror game that that takes after the Night of the Living Dead sequel!  Having worked in the stock area of a mall, it was eerie to revisit similar hallways and explore the various passages of Silent Hill 3.  Even creepier: the name of the mall I worked at is Lakeside.

Dying to shoot something?  Silent Hill 2 didn't really have that many "things" to kill.  That's definitely not a problem here though, 'cause Silent Hill 3 is packed with monsters.  More boss battles, too!

And if you like to search and explore, Silent Hill 3 will give you plenty of chances to do just that.  The game is relatively linear in that you can't go too far beyond an area until it has been completed, but within the first hour of play you'll find yourself running in circles.  Items are scattered about, and with the lights out in almost every area of the game, you won't find every necessary item without scouring every unlocked room.

Graphics: 9.1
Lighting, shadows and mutated dogs, oh my!  Seriously, this game has put the graphical "emotion" back into the Emotion Engine (the graphic processor powering PS2, remember?).  Four words can be used to sum up this game's beauty: real-time movie sequences.

Sound: 9.3
Silent Hill 3 has a mind-blowing soundtrack.  It has certainly outdone the first two Silent Hill's, and is easily the best survival/horror soundtrack featured in a PlayStation 2 game.  It's deep, it's creepy, and it adds a lot of enjoyment to the whole gameplay experience.  Without it, Silent Hill 3 just wouldn't be as fun.

One major flaw: the vocals.  They were completely unnecessary and detract from the quality of the music.  On the other hand, the voice-overs are great.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium/Hard
Silent Hill 3's challenge is based on whichever difficulty level you choose.  Unlike every other game out there, which is one of the three, Silent Hill 3's difficulties truly make the game harder or easier.  The easy difficulty is almost laughable -- you can even make the riddles easy!  It's good for first-timers, but I think hardcore gamers will want something a bit harder.

Concept: 5.9
Silent Hill 3 is a great game, but it doesn't do anything major that the series hasn't done before.  The story is the least shocking of them all, the gameplay isn't as scary, and the main villain isn't very original.

Overall: 8.5
Are you a fan of Silent Hill 1 and 2?  Do you love its gameplay style and want more?  Would you appreciate some closure to the demented storyline?  If you answered yes to any of those questions, then Silent Hill 3 is probably already in your collection, or will be very soon.  It isn't the game that'll turn people into survival/horror maniacs, but there's little doubt that Silent Hill fans will be pleased.  It's short, so don't say I didn't warn you, but that's true of all the games in the series.  To compensate, there are extras to earn and multiple endings to view (you've gotta see the comedic ending!).

Great

Gw
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