Silent Hill 3 PS2 Review

When a series gets to its third instalment, its pretty fair to assume its doing something right. Of course there are exceptions; and, generally, the consensus seems to be that the more sequels a game sees, the less impact the gameplay has. This may be true of some games – but Silent Hill wont settle for that. No way.

Graphics

Absolutely beautiful…well, the things that you see are far from beautiful from an aesthetic point of view, but in terms of graphics they really are outstanding. The lighting effects are spot on, and really outdo everything the series has previously done. The same grainy filter as used in SH2 has been applied to the game again (which can be turned off on the replay), which really makes everything appear more surreal and disturbing. Great use of reflective surfaces has also been made, with some of the beasties giving off a fantastic slick, shiny appearance which again surpasses the previous incarnation. Light and dark has been used well too, with some areas like the tube station being brightly and naturally lit, yet devoid of people. This masterful use of natural environments in the daytime is a fantastic way of creating tension, and of exploiting our fears; a surreal nightmare world is disturbing, but not nearly as a place where we could actually find ourselves in everyday life.

The character models of SH2 were quite outstanding when the game was first released; this is attributed to the facial expressions being hand drawn, while motion capture is used for the rest of the animation. This allows for the tiny details of expression that we take for granted – things like minute creases alongside the eyes and mouth, which cannot be captured otherwise – to be perfectly rendered, and the results are some of the most perfect characters I have ever seen. Douglas, the ageing detective, is perhaps the best example of this, and really looks like something out of an animated movie rather than a game.

The environments show the same attention to detail that the earlier games boasted, and with areas like an abandoned amusement park and a deserted shopping mall, things really do make for a truly disturbing atmosphere.

Gameplay

SH3 sees feisty teenage Heather waking up from a disturbing dream in which she is wandering around a twisted and gruesome amusement park, armed with a knife. As she makes her way home on what would otherwise just seem like a normal day, she is stopped by a detective with “important information” about her birth. As she tries to get back home, strange events begin to occur that threaten to engulf her and the world around her into a strange, twisted, alternative reality. Is this just in her head? What is so important about her birth? It would seem the only way to find out is to travel to that place of dreadful intrigue, Silent Hill…

Like other survival horror adventures such as Resident Evil, the game adopts a third person view utilising mostly fixed camera angles. Control can be swapped between 2d and 3d, which is a welcome option. Puzzles involving various objects that are found along the way are in abundance, as are riddle solving conundrums; the difficulty of these, and the clues that you will get to solve them, can be set at the start of the game, so those of you that either don’t feel up to or just cant be bothered with much lateral thinking can make the solutions more obvious. There is not much innovation on this front, sadly, although some of the puzzles are eerie enough to really tie in with the atmosphere of the game; puzzles that bear absolutely no relevance to the situations of the game are luckily few and far between. Various weapons from the standard knife and handgun to the almighty submachine gun and flamethrower can be found; the addition of these new, higher calibre weapons is a nice change, albeit rather an unrealistic one, and fits in with Heather’s tough-guy attitude – gone are weedy Harry and James of the earlier games, which is really no great loss. Heather can also run a lot faster than her predecessors, which does away with the slow pace of the earlier games. Perhaps the best new feature is the fact that a large portion of the game doesnt actually take place in Silent Hill at all – fans of the series will no doubt appreciate this move away from the predictable trends of the earlier games, and all players can appreciate the dread that accompanies the thought that this kind of evil can happen outside of evil places.

As with many fixed-angle games, the camera can be a bit of a problem; while you can swing it around during free-roaming sections (pretty much everywhere other than smaller rooms), it can be hard to pinpoint an enemy at times due to its lack of mobility. When the camera is fixed, it is possible to move off the screen, and so be blindly shooting at something that you cannot see. This can be a pain, and the solution is generally to run away from the edge of the screen and wait for your foe to come closer before attacking.

One irritating feature of the game is the fact that the areas you explore initially seem quite expansive – in fact, almost dauntingly so – but a number of doors are “locked”, “stuck” or ” broken”. Around about 70% of the doors you will try in the game are no more than textures, with these comments to explain why you cant get through; after a while it becomes almost laughable. Similarly, perilous obstacles like a stack of boxes on a staircase prove too formidable for our heroine to pass, which is really a bit pathetic. Luckily, the game doesn’t suffer from the abundance of “invisible walls” that plagued SH2, particularly in the woodland descent into the town, which is a relief.

Some of the text in the game is also a little dubious; while Heather at least has a little more personality than the heroes of the earlier games, some of the comments that she comes up with seem a little out of place and not the reaction that you would expect. While this is a minor fault, it does unsettle the game in places.

In order to really appreciate this instalment of the game, its really integral that you have played at least the first title in the series, as the story make a number of strong references back to it. There are also several nods to the second game, although these are in no way as important to understanding the story. However, if a decent action game is enough for you, without getting more deeply involved in the story line, then you will not find this game harder to play for missing its predecessors.

Sound

One area in which the game moves into new territory compared to its predecessors is in the use of humour, and indeed, all extents of emotion; there are actually a couple of jokes thrown in here and there, which move the game out of the realms of clichéd stony-faced, mechanical individuals. The voice acting is pretty good, although there are some let downs. This is an area that the SH series always seems to have struggled in; luckily the heroine is brilliantly voiced over, save for a few incidences when the tone of voice doesn’t match the action, and the remainder of the cast are functional at least.

The SH “tunes” return in the form of torturous knife-against-metal squeals emitting from Heathers radio whenever enemies are close by; lovely atmospheric music that will really set you on edge. The enemies also make some bloodcurdling noises, but perhaps the most disturbing sounds are the ones that occur when no-one else is near; hearing someone knocking sharply on the door of an empty toilet cubicle, or just hearing a distant scream while wandering the dark streets will really shred at your nerves. Silence has also been used as a great weapon; the immediate quiet following the death of the last enemy in the room is almost as unnerving as the sound itself.

Lifespan

Like the other instalments, the games are not particularly long; a couple of weeks or so for the first play, much like the Resident Evil games, can be expected, with the time for veterans shortened substantially to within a week. The extra difficulty modes, both in riddles and action, may make the game last a little longer, especially if you leave the game a while so you cant recall the solutions to the puzzles. Thankfully, there are a number of prizes that can be obtained on the replay; several outfits can be obtained, many with references to the game and some just outrageous. There are also a number of bonus weapons, such as the unlimited submachine gun and hyper beam (a lightsaber-like weapon) that can be found. There are also several secrets to be discovered, most of which are humorously OTT; the fact that the developers do a marvellous job but don’t let it go to their heads shines through in these little touches.

As well as this, some events change slightly on the replay, with the extra odd animation thrown in; also, playing the game with a SH2 save on the same memory card will make available some extra cutscenes. As if that all weren’t enough, there are also three different endings to unlock. All of this makes for a nice package, which offers some decent reasons to come back and give the game another bash.

Overall

This really is the epitome of the Silent Hill experience, and possibly of the survival horror genre as a whole; it terrifies you both by showing you the grotesque and by undermining your expectations of the normal. Konami have really done their homework, finding out exactly what will offend the human senses the most, and have exploited it here masterfully; while Resident Evil may have its scares, SH3 hits you on the psychological level and really does it better than anything else.

9 out of 10
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