Review by Arschrammen
Awe-inspiring, but not quite as gripping as its predecessors
Like most reviewers here I was looking forward to this game since Silent Hill 2 showed me exactly what the Playstation 2 and, indeed, Team Silent could achieve. Unlike most things I look forward to, I was not disappointed with Silent Hill 3. Everything brilliant about the technological advances in Silent Hill 2 was here, and this game also included everything riveting about the original Silent Hill as well. If anything, though, Silent Hill 3 is not as gripping as its predecessors due to little improvement in the gameplay and the loss of some of the creepiness due to the sense that we've already been down the same path before. It's still brilliant though, even for its cinematic qualities and ability to extract the beauty in the darkness that is Silent Hill.
One of the strengths of the Silent Hill series, as compared to say the Resident Evil series is the story. No outrageous zombifying virus here; its nothing but intrigue and terror as per usual. This time around we are placed in the delightful Heather's shoes and are taken on a mysterious nerve-shattering hellride which leads her into the town of Silent Hill. If you get into these games as intensely as I do, you will feel her pain as she explores her identity and seeks bloody vengeance.
Silent Hill 3 is more a sequel to the original than Silent Hill 2 was in that it is more about events and people connected to the mysterious circumstances that transformed Silent Hill into the foggy reality shifting nightmare that it is today. That's not to say that newcomers to the series will not understand or enjoy the plot, although it is probably fair to say that anyone who sat through the original title will take certain events a lot more personally and hence enjoy a much more intense experience. I'm not going to ruin any of the story like a lot of early reviewers did, so you'll just have to play through it yourself and let the surprises kick you in the face.
The basic story is this: on a seemingly normal Sunday trip to the mall, 17 year old Heather suddenly finds herself trapped in a twisted parallel reality populated by horrifying monsters. Her attempts to get back home are just the beginning of nightmare that takes her into the town of Silent Hill to discover why and how she ha become part of this world, and how she gets out of it.
There is very little difference from Silent Hill 2 here, but there are some slight improvements. Fans of adventure games will love exploring the disturbing and hauntingly realistic environments, but fans of action games may not be as impressed with the combat that is awkward at the best of times, but still strangely enjoyable.
Players can tailor the level of difficulty for both enemies and puzzles to their style of playing, so those looking for a challenge won't be disappointed, whereas those who want to cruise through and just enjoy the story and atmosphere can just set the difficulty to easy. The enemies are much more demented than the usual zombie type and often possess human characteristics in the abstract but recognisable sense that one might see in a Francis Bacon painting. The monsters aren't as creepy this time around, however, they are still very impressive and were more varied than previous titles and the boss fights were challenging and just generally excellent.
In the previous games, I felt the combat and general gameplay could get monotonous and at times frustratingly awkward. However, there is something about the gameplay this time around that makes it much more fun and consistently exciting. For a start, it is possible for you to fall off of things which makes you pay more attention to where you're running. This is a good thing, because in Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 you could just run about wherever you wanted. Essentially you could close your eyes and, provided there were no monsters, you could just run in one direction and be certain you would be fine, whereas in Silent Hill 3, you would likely fall off of something, so you have to watch where you're going. There is also a better combat system which allows more varied attacks with most of the weapons and also a blocking function. This made me more keen to actually fight the monsters rather than just run away due to either a) being scared or b) because I just couldn't be bothered stammering about like a fool. However there is still the problem, which I so consistently complain about, that if you want to use health recovery or change weapons you have to stop the game and open a menu. This disrupts the flow and intensity of the game a great deal, especially in combat. At least this time around, the R3 button has been utilised so you can use a selected item without opening the menu. It's definitely a step in the right direction.
Something that impressed me was that as the riddle difficulty levels increase, so does the actual amount of puzzles, not just their relative difficulty. The easy mode pretty much just involves finding combination numbers for locks, but as the difficulty levels increase, you will find you have to find ways around certain obstacles which are not there in the easy mode. Also impressive is the fact that the combination numbers change every time you play. This way you cant just memorise the numbers and run straight through the game.
In general, these are the best graphics I have ever seen, especially the environments. The textures of the walls (when they're not bleeding) appear real. It's incredible! There have also been significant improvements in the detail of the characters, but we can once again see how the graphics are not perfect when the characters begin to speak. Much like in Silent Hill 2, their mouths flap about and they look like they're going to fall off.
An improvement has been made in terms of the use of motion capture. Also, the actions used are all very life-like, including Heather's running! I was very impressed by this, as so few games manage to successfully capture the motion of running well.
Something everyone has been talking about is the oozing walls. While I thought the bleeding walls are reasonable, I was not at all impressed by the glowing orangy pussing walls. To me it looked more like PSone graphics pasted over incredible PS2 graphics and it just looked out of place.
Excellent addition of block. Also, as mentioned, the addition of R3 for using the selected item helps keeps the gameplay rolling nicely. Still not there by a long shot, but it's a start.
Once again, sound director Akira Yamaoka puts his previous work, and every body else, to shame. If I start raving on about the sound and music here, I will not stop. So I will just be brief and say the music is perfect, and the sounds are awe-inspiring and nightmarish in quality. The voice acting is also very impressive, especially from the beautiful Heather Morris and slick Richard Grosse (who, sadly, passed away shortly after the Silent Hill 3 recording sessions).
One of the things I noticed about this game, compared to the previous titles, is that its short. If you know where you're going it will only take about 4 hours, even if you stop to kill all the monsters.
Unfortunately, there are no special making of DVDs included with this game. Unfortunately, this time around the European sector (including Australia, where we got the wrong region DVDs!) missed out on the bonus disc, where the US received the soundtrack on CD as a freebie. There are some in-game unlockable extras like costumes for Heather, weapons, and, of course, alternate endings.
OVERALL, while not quite as engaging as the Silent Hills before it, the incredibly engaging story, the improvements to gameplay, and the morbid and disturbing (yet beautiful and alluring) visuals are enough to warrant dishing out your hard-earned cash. 9/10.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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