BY KONAMI & KONAMI TYO, 2003
25 WORDS OR LESS:
A teenager named Heather is drawn to the town of Silent Hill in a continuation of the first game in the series.
Silence is golden
Silent Hill is a scary game. Despite its somewhat outdated appearance, the game still packs its share of scares and "holy crap" moments that exploit our innate fear of the unknown. The human mind renders scarier images than the PS one could ever hope to, making each sound heard in the dark a potential threat. It’s this chilling sense of danger and immediacy that SH2 character motion designer and SH3 director Kazuhide Nakazawa has grown so fond of during the game’s development. If you found yourself longing for the raw brutality and intensity of the first game, you don’t have much to worry about with SH3. To paraphrase contemporary beatsmith DMX, "Nakazawa gon’ give it to ya."
Our protagonist is a girl named Heather Morris who becomes trapped in the series’ trademark "nightmare world" after a normal day at the mall. Heather eventually meets up with the rest of the cast — Douglas Cartland, the scruffy private eye, as well as black-clad cultist and full-time zealot Claudia Wolf. A couple other characters make the scene further down the road, but Spoilerville can be even scarier than the town of Silent Hill, even if the game’s overall plot doesn’t pack the same punch as its predecessors. But does it matter? Silent Hill games are played for one reason and one reason alone: to make you pee when you don’t want to pee, and it’s in this area that the game excels.
The game looks and plays much like a direct sequel to the original Silent Hill, and in most regards, it is. Whereas Silent Hill 2 acted as a sort of side-story in showing the effects that the town can have on those with messed up pasts of their own, Silent Hill 3 returns to the history of the town itself and the events that transpired in the original game. For this reason it is strongly advised that fans replay Silent Hill, although a decent plot synopsis will do in a pinch.
Gameplay remains virtually unchanged from previous entries in the series. As expected, Heather walks, runs, shoots, and beats down disfigured lumps of flesh with all the strength of a teenage girl, but takes in the charm of the Otherworld with a smidgen more attitude than Harry or James. This serves to exemplify the (lack of) abilities of an ordinary person under extreme duress, which in this case can be considered anything from downing blood-soaked dopplegangers to evading bandaged dogs that bite you gangsta style. It’s freaky shit, and it belongs there inside equally freaky environments.
While it’s not the same graphical leap made between the first two games, there’s still been a decent jump in visual quality, specifically in the monsters. This old silicon dog has even been taught a few new tricks whose effects are so well implemented that all you can do is sit and stare, even if it costs Heather a pint or two. One specific trick that was developed just for SH3 can be seen on several occasions, and is the driving effect behind one of the game’s creepier moments. Hint: it’s in the hospital.
A large part of any Silent Hill title’s horror factor is its use of accompanying music and sound to truly scare the bejeezus out of the player. Series composer and sound effect master Akira Yamaoka once again lends his eerie talents to the project to create a number of requisite background tracks and even a few solid vocal pieces implemented at the appropriate moments. Gutteral moans and shrieks often overpower your standard-issue radio to let you know that something very angry is very close. That these sounds can be quite terrifying and grating works towards the overall effect of scaring you witless, but the fact that they persist when the game is paused is not so much appreciated.
One of the first things that was noticed about the game when it was first unveiled was that automatic weapons would be available to the player for the first time in the series. Many feared that this would detract from the game and work against the feeling of helplessness that defines the Silent Hill series, but this is most certainly not the case. The single automatic weapon in the game is discovered sometime during the middle and must be used sparingly to conserve its rare and quickly-depleted ammo. Apart from this, the standard Silent Hill arsenal is in full effect, including the trusty steel pipe, handgun, shotgun, and even a few close-range surprises similar to those seen in previous games. Unfortunately, the same battle system is also present and can make running and hiding a more preferable choice to standing your ground and attempting to aim. On the bright side, a blocking ability has been added that can absorb 95% of the damage inflicted should you dare a zombie nurse to cross the line.
Like Silent Hill 2, SH3 allows players to set the action and riddle difficulties independent of one another. While there are only three riddle levels, a whopping fourteen action difficulties can be opened up upon multiple completions of the game. A total of ten Extreme difficulties offer enough challange to satiate anyone bored with Beginner, Easy, Normal, or Hard action difficulties. To compensate, players can also earn an increased ammo adjustment factor up to x9, making conservation a thing of the past. Another of SH2’s welcome additions also returns in the form of a choice between a 2D or 3D control scheme. Capcom: wake the hell up.
There might not be as many hidden endings to obtain, but there are a few neat extra weapons, and wardrobe fetishists will go nuts trying on any of the 26 hidden costumes available to Heather. Several notable print and online videogame media venues are immortalized on stylish tanktops, and one bizarre costume even gets its own cutscene every time Heather puts it on. And if you’re determined to see all the clever hidden scenes, you’d better get some SH2 data on that memory card; this is a Konami game after all.
Lastly — and this cannot be overemphasized — Silent Hill 3 is a participatory experience that demands your attention in order for it to be fully appreciated. It is a visual and auditory masterpiece that should make any PS2-owner proud, and it needs you to turn down the lights and really get into it, to really get pulled inside and in a position to be grossed and/or freaked out. You might jump three feet anytime your cat knocks something over in the next room for the next month, but’s a rare level of terror that only a Silent Hill game can deliver. Enjoy it. —Alex Fraioli