Review by midwinter
Loosing Yourself In Silent Hill
If there is one thing that survival horror games have in common with the popular movies that inspired them, it would to be their affinity for sequels. No good horror franchise is complete without a handful of rushed, cash-in-quick style follow ups that milk the product for all it's worth. It's a fact that most sequels to popular horror movies are terrible, but it would seem that the reverse is true for their interactive counterparts. Where one becomes tired and stale, the other grows and evolves. It's an unusual equilibrium that seems to hold true for each of the major survival horror franchises. Konami's Silent Hill series is no different as each successive installment has somehow managed to raise the bar set by it's predecessors. With this, the third release in the Silent Hill series, Konami shows us yet again that they are still the masters of the genre. Not only does Silent Hill 3 go well beyond what has come before in terms of both story telling and atmosphere, but it also delivers one hell of a gaming experience!
The Silent Hill series has always excelled at scaring the player with it's unique use of psychological horror over the more mundane, giblet-in-your-face style usually associated with other such games. It's no surprise then to see that Konami have taken this concept and pushed it to the forefront of SH3, thus delivering one of the most suspense filled packages ever to be unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. For it's 3rd incarnation, the story follows the journey of Heather, a highly troubled teenager with an unusual past. Having fallen asleep in a cafeteria at the local mall one afternoon, she experiences what can only be described as a vividly grotesque nightmare. Upon waking however, she is shocked to discover that something very strange is indeed going on. What was once a normal suburban shopping mall has suddenly become completely devoid of human life. Where there was once life and laughter, the very same monsters that haunted her dream now roam. As the story unravels, Heather begins to learn the truth about her past, and the realization that she may have the starring role in a dark prophecy that threatens all of mankind.
For much of the game, what propels Heather to make the journey is her quest for self-discovery. Who is she? Why is she being drawn to Silent Hill? What did her father do? The constant questioning of who she is and what involvement she has in the unfolding nightmare is very real, and is sure to draw the player in. While the ''unknown past'' is an over used game premise at the best of times, it works very well within the context of this story, and long time Silent Hill players will no doubt be pleased with where the path leads. The pay off at the end is 10x greater for fans of the previous 2 games than for players new to the series!
Along with the story, the other key element necessary for any Silent Hill game is an atmosphere thick with menace, and once more, Konami have pulled a rabbit out of their hat. Let it be said that SH3 is the single, most atmospheric survival horror game around. It goes so far beyond the greatness achieved in the 2nd installment that one must wonder, where will it all go from here? With the help of some outstanding graphics, SH3 delivers an atmosphere slick with blood and gorged on fear. Along with the now standard entropy scarred, post industrial nightmare environments, SH3 takes the player deep into the bowels of hell itself, as walls burn bright with flames and monsters subjugate the innocent on torture racks. With the help of some gruesomely scripted moments, the player will no doubt be left breathless as the atmosphere begins to weigh heavy upon their bravado. It's shockingly clear that there are some seriously twisted souls working for Konami that really get off on designing this stuff. And yet, rather than condemning them, I feel the need to express my gratitude! Thanks for the frights guys...
As with any other survival horror game, sound factors heavily into the SH3 experience. A careful mix of background sounds helps build an audio landscape so chilling, even Marilyn Manson would be left to wonder if singing the praises of the dark lord was a good vocational idea. The sound has been implemented with such professionalism that it's often easier to be more frightened of not what you can see, but hear. As Heather progresses further into the story, Konami ups the ante at regular intervals, slowly building the ambient sounds and background music to a hell bound crescendo by the conclusion of the game. Every trick in the book and a few new ones have been used to ensure that the player constantly has something to fear, even when the on screen action begins to wane. Voice acting for the most part is well implemented, but unfortunately there are times when the dialogue comes across as wooden and artificial.
As evolved as things are, one must question Konami's continued use of the old style Silent Hill camera. It's still as perfectly serviceable as ever , but with so many other good examples of solid 3d cameras out there, it can get rather frustrating. There are moments when the camera is so badly positioned that the player is forced to fight blind! Still, perseverance is it's own reward, and it soon becomes easy enough to judge where the next monster is attacking from. This is thanks in part, to the previously mentioned excellent use of sound, and the confined environments of most indoor locations. Was it luck or was it clever game design? Who knows? The fact is however, it could have been better...
Like the other Silent Hill games that came before it, Silent Hill 3 is an extremely short experience. It's 6 hours of gameplay definitely makes a water tight arguement for quality over quantity, as those 6 hours manage to both entertain and test your courage. There is incentive to go back and play it all again though, as there are a number of weapons and costumes waiting to be unlocked. None of these bonuses are especially original, but they do give the player something to check out later... and that's always good! The addition of multiple endings also helps matters, but when the underlying game is this good, it's only natural to want it to last longer than it does.
If you're a Silent Hill fan then I would have to recommend this installment whole heartedly. It's story and atmosphere far surpasses what's come before with such flair and style, that it easily holds the benchmark for survival horror games in general. If you're new to the series however, I'd recommend that you don't start with this release, as much of the story's dramatic appeal will be lost. Bearing that in mind, the experience offered by Silent Hill 3 is excellent incentive to go back and play the first 2 games. And as far as recommendations go, they don't get any better than that!
* Mysterious story brings the player full circle
* Heather is an interesting main character
* Unique special effects
* Outstanding graphics
* Real edge of your seat, scare your pants off atmosphere
* Good use of sound in creating atmosphere
* Highly enjoyable soundtrack with some great songs!
* 2 sequels later and the camera has yet to be refined
* 5-6 hours of gameplay make Silent Hill 3 a terribly short experience
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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