Review by Lisanne
Reviewed: 06/15/03 | Updated: 06/15/03
Groundbreaking graphics make up for its shortcomings.
My personal fears are sporadic, but unusual. I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid of heights, insects, spiders or pain. I'm not scared of ghosts. However, I am afraid of clowns, dolls, enclosed spaces... and anything that looks like it should be alive but isn't (think: ventriloquists' dolls and mannequins). We are all different. Our hopes and dreams, our feelings, and our fears. None of us are clones and none of us think the same way. To frighten your audience, you must understand your audience, and in a world where we cocoon ourselves from anything which we may not like, and where our fears are as diverse as we are, this is a difficult task to accomplish.
The survival horror genre as a whole is generally geared towards mainstream fears, and as such is rather unimaginative with regards to its scenarios, enemies and atmospheres. The fear element is traditionally created by using cheap scares - zombies hiding behind doors, spiders jumping out at you... and so it goes on. Silent Hill 3 has been hyped predominantly as a genuinely unnerving and deeply unsettling game, with the chief cynicism being derived from sneering journalists claiming that it did not frighten them. Typically, reviews of this game can be divided into two categories: did scare, or did not scare. Little attention has been paid to the rest of the game; this is a great disservice to Silent Hill 3, particularly as fear is such a subjective emotion. If all you want is a cheap scare, rent a B-Movie. This game is worth so much more than that, whether you find it frightening or not.
I am not going to talk about the story, or much else for that matter. I do have good reasons for neglecting to do this. I will say it immediately: I am going to recommend that you play this game for yourself, and I will also say immediately that any information beyond that which I intend to give is too much and will spoil the game. See, the genius here lies in the suspense, and if I tell you what's coming, you won't be surprised, will you? So I'm not going to tell you. All I will say is that the game commences with a serial killer and ends with... something else. Themes are mind-bogglingly complex and the story is perhaps more harrowing than the game itself. There are links with the first Silent Hill game particularly, but it is not inaccessible to those who are new to the series. The main character is a teenage girl by the name of Heather, but who she is and what she's doing there are things which I can't explain at all without completely spoiling the whole game. The story is wonderful, and you'll have to trust me on that.
So, how scary is it? Shallow as it would be to judge the game purely on its fear factor, the entire premise of the game dictates that it should be frightening, and as such it of course holds sway in how good this game is. Well... the truth is, it's only moderately scary. Konami have tried too hard. For a game that aims for pure psychological terror, Silent Hill 3 shows too much. Fear comes from the mind, and the imagination of the player is always the most powerful tool in creating that fear. If you can't see something, you imagine it, and psychologically you always imagine the thing that would frighten you the most - it's a natural instinct which we evolved to prepare us for anything by releasing adrenaline in readiness for whatever we may face. Show us what we should be scared of, and some of that potential is lost, as it is guaranteed not to appeal to everyone. Essentially, all we get to see are the ultimate fears of the artists rather than our own personal ultimate fears, and this is something that really could have been changed. Anonymous sounds behind locked doors with monsters which we never get to see are more frightening than big lolling dog things with no skin, but unfortunately Konami's development team have not been taking their psychology lessons and as such, the ultimate fear which they were so keen to create is reserved only for those who happen to be incredibly afraid of big lolling dog things with no skin, and various other monsters which appear throughout the game. Still, the atmosphere is delightfully chilling - nicely paced, the shocks come from a gradual realization of the reality of your immediate surroundings. An example of this comes from a popular screenshot of this game - a giant bunny sitting on a bench. At first it appears to be a costume. Then you see the blood around its mouth... These slower-paced moments of tension building are what makes Silent Hill 3 unique among its genre, and superbly crafted as they are, they lack psychology.
Game play is pretty much standard survival horror fare, but lends itself a realm of possibilities due to the difficulty levels being fully customizable. As well as being able to choose your own difficulty level for the action-based elements of the game, you can also choose a difficulty level for the puzzles. So if you'd prefer to be all gung-ho without having to think too much, you can alter your levels accordingly, as you can if you prefer to lend more focus to the story and puzzles, by cranking up the puzzle level while keeping the rest easier. This is a nice touch, since it essentially allows you to play as you please. In case you hadn't already gathered this, Silent Hill 3 offers much more than walking and shooting. Running away features heavily - there simply is not enough ammunition available to kill everything you come across. Exploration is key, and the puzzles are genuinely challenging and change well in accordance with the aforementioned difficulty level. Play through once, and you unlock a seriously cool extra weapon, as well as new outfits for Heather. As with the previous instalments, there are multiple endings available (three that I have found - I don't think there are more) which offer different slants on the experience. Plenty of replay value there, which is just as well as the game itself is exceedingly short. I completed my first playthrough in a little under seven hours, but with replay value like that, it's forgivable... barely. Controls take some getting used to, since the left analog stick is used for running and turning (hold it straight ahead to move in whatever direction you're facing, basically) but you can fight and move at the same time, which is a rare thing in action games.
Graphics are superior to any other game I have seen on the Playstation2. That's one hell of a statement, but it is true. Lighting is entirely realistic, backgrounds are varied and nicely detailed, and the character art is faultless. Notice that I used the word ''faultless'' rather than ''flawless'' - this is the main thing that stood out for me. People do not have smooth, porcelain skin. People do not have perfect hair (not when they're running through a subway, at least). Heather reflects this - she has skin imperfections, freckles, messy hair, bags under her eyes and bruises on her hands. It's what you or I would look like if we were running through a subway, and it's what Heather looks like. She is realistically imperfect, and it's incredibly refreshing to see this in a game. Show me another game where the character is covered in a light sprinkling of real-looking grime, and I'll show you a pig flying past a blue moon. Cut-scenes blend well with the rest of the game, being identical in appearance to general game play. Overall, an atmosphere is created whereby you feel as though you are right there with Heather as all hell breaks loose around her ankles. Perfect.
Sound is something of a let-down, being as it is a step below the standard of the rest of the game. It's still good, but it's not great and it certainly does not meet its potential. The opening song is wonderful - composed by the sound producer, it is a catchy girl-rock number with memorable lyrics and a very upbeat feel. It is a shame that this quality isn't carried through the rest of the game. Instead, Silent Hill 3 as a whole features incredibly dull ambient music and sound effects which wouldn't be out of place in a bad horror film. It is cheesy and sounds cheap. Sound adds very little to the great atmosphere here, and would have been a much worse disappointment if it had been a major contributing factor to the game. Since it is merely a diversion (the atmosphere is created by means mentioned earlier), it does not detract as much from the standard of the game as it could have, and as I said before it is still quite good. Overall, it is rushed.
To conclude, I highly recommend this game. From the gory opening scenes to the... end (well, I did say I wouldn't spoil it), Silent Hill 3 is a game that will not disappoint. Marketed to cash-in on people's fears, it does not achieve what it set out to achieve, but rather, leads to a whole host of other reasons why this game is ultimately one of the most eminently playable titles on the PS2. A great, albeit short experience, this is one of those rare games that will have people coming back for more again and again and again.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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