Review by Overdrive
A great series takes a major step in the wrong direction
I have this friend that I get together with every few weeks to simply hang out with and play games. A few years ago, the two of us had a great time with Resident Evil 2 and decided to find out if there were any other similar games on the Playstation.
And then I found Silent Hill. We immediately loved it. Gone were the cheap, B-movie thrills of mutated zombies jumping through mirrors and breaking through windows. They were replaced by a more psychological type of horror — the sort that remains with you long after turning off the game. You see, the way the game’s story was portrayed, you got to watch things go from bad to worse to downright abysmal. Your protagonist, a man named Harry Mason, would randomly be taken from a fog-enshrouded ghost town to a nightmarish realm seemingly of a very unfriendly parallel dimension. You, the player, would be as confused by each turn of events as Harry was — creating a mystery that you knew you had to solve....even if you weren’t sure you wanted to know the truth.
Then, we played the second installment in the series. We didn’t like it quite as much as the first in the series, but still had a very good time working through the game — good enough to look forward to the third game in the series.
And then we played Silent Hill 3. Currently, we both are wondering just why we got so excited by this mediocre foray into the world of survival horror. A game in which flawed gameplay has a head-on collision with lazy level designs and a few questionable story-telling elements to create an experience that can’t even be redeemed by the genuinely creepy and disturbing atmosphere that the Silent Hill games can provide.
Let’s just start with the gameplay — or to be more specific, the game’s camera. To make a gross understatement, questionable camera angles have long been a staple of survival horror games (at least all the ones I’ve played). When you combine that with the somewhat awkward controls these games can have, one tends to just hope that poor play control doesn’t interfere with the overall experience such an intense form of entertainment can provide.
That didn’t happen with Silent Hill 3. It would be nearly impossible to count the number of times either I or my friend expressed our displeasure with such problems as the camera refusing to get behind our hero, a teenage girl named Heather, or wildly swinging for no apparent reason.
At times, it truly feels like the play control is as big of an obstacle as the various creepy critters that Heather must defeat or dodge to advance in the game. Look at the haunted house in the amusement park level. At one point, you have to sprint through corridors while staying ahead of a lethal red light that’s hot in pursuit. What’s tough about this challenge? The fact that any advantage you gain over the light while running down the hallways is negated at the corners, due to Heather cornering with all the grace of a semi.
Fortunately, the game keeps such instances where speed is of the utmost essence to a minimum, so most of the play control problems tend to concern themselves with you attempting to get past monsters without suffering damage due to a lack of precise control over Heather’s actions.
As in Silent Hill 2, the game sends you into some immense buildings. Just looking at the maps of the mall and hospital can be an intimidating process, as said locations contain multiple floors with dozens of rooms on each of them. Sadly, most of each map will be left untouched after you’ve finished playing through that particular area.
You see, most of these rooms are blocked off in some way. Maybe the lock is broken. Maybe the door won’t budge. Maybe some obstruction prevents Heather from accessing it. The game will give you more roadblocks than you can count, but they all mean the same thing. That what, at first glance, seems to be an immense free-roaming dungeon is actually a cramped and linear location. Sure, there might be 12 or more rooms on a particular wing of the hospital, but you’ll only be able to access two or three of them. The rest might as well never have existed, either in the real world or the nightmarish hell that is Silent Hill.
Sure, you could say that all the Silent Hill games are linear. In the first game, you can run the streets all you want, but business won’t pick up until you enter the school. The same holds true for the second game, except that you’re going to an apartment complex instead.
But (and this is important), as linear as the game was, it always gave the feeling like you were exploring. Do you remember the actual town in the original Silent Hill or even Silent Hill 2? There were dead-end alleys that contained ammo or healing items. There were a couple of buildings that, while unimportant to the overall quest, had cryptic messages or useful items. Part of the fun was creeping along the sidewalks just hoping to find a first aid kit secluded behind a car, while dodging zombie dogs and other monsters.
That fun is just not present in this game. You’ll only spend a brief amount of time hitting the streets and there just isn’t much to explore. Inside the actual dungeons, just about everything that you do is necessary. Sure, there are a few optional rooms, but they are few and far between and do little to dispel the notion that you are essentially being led on rails from place to place with no opportunity to depart from the beaten path.
And the storyline really wasn’t all that I expected it to be — especially considering the way it tied into the first game. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t played the game, Heather finds everything going weird in her hometown. After surviving a number of challenges, she goes to Silent Hill to confront her demons, so to speak.
Now, there were two things I loved about the storylines of the first two games. First, you were taking these seemingly normal people out of their normal little lives and putting them into a world of nightmares and cryptic foreboding — a world that came to the surface in a resort town named Silent Hill. Second, these people endured the horrors they faced due to their desire to regain a lost loved one. Whether it was Harry’s missing daughter or James’ deceased wife, these two people had a goal in mind and weren’t going to let any number of bizarre and disturbing sights get in their way.
Silent Hill 3 essentially takes those two points and throws them out the window. Heather’s first few adventures take place in a town that is some distance from Silent Hill. So, did ye olde forces of evil decide that since Heather had no plans to visit Silent Hill, they’d make Silent Hill visit her? In keeping with the continuity of the series, wouldn’t it have made more sense for her to be tricked or blackmailed into going to the town, rather than suddenly having horrible things happen in what is an apparently normal city?
Also, Heather’s goals during the course of the game are to first get home and then to confront the mysterious Claudia. Yes, you spend roughly half the game simply trying to get home. It’s not exactly the dramatic “I don’t care what gets thrown at me, nothing’s stopping me from finding my daughter/wife” storyline that fueled the quests of Harry and James in the first two games. Sure, you could say that Heather’s line of thinking may be consistent with a teenager confronted with the bizarre, but to me, that doesn’t constitute an involving story.
And all of that truly is too bad, because there is a lot of good hidden below all the bad in this game. Graphically, this game is beautifully drawn, with wonderfully grotesque imagery strewn throughout. The sound is also top quality for the most part, although some of the voice acting could be a bit better. From the excellent music played during the opening cinema to the disgusting grunts uttered by a couple of the monsters, the auditory elements of this game are excellently done.
Of course, like any good bit of psychological horror, there are some genuinely creepy scenes. The hospital, in particular, can really give players the creeps. If the thought of a mentally disturbed inmate named Stanley obsessively stalking Heather while always remaining out of sight isn’t freaky enough, well, the mirror room ought to do the trick.
This little room has no purpose at all. No monsters, no items, no storyline revelations. There’s just a full-length mirror and a sink. But after a while, things change for the worse. Your reflection quickly becomes covered by blood while tendrils of the red stuff slowly seep into your half of the room. Eventually, the reflection simply stops moving, as if glued to the floor by the gore that has suddenly made its presence very known. Fortunately, you don’t meet the same fate and are able to escape the room — which is good, as staying here means you’ll take a lot of damage...
While those may be the most effective of the creepy and disturbing scenes, there are plenty more throughout the game. Konami always has done a wonderful job of creating a macabre atmosphere in the Silent Hill games and it could be argued that they’ve outdone themselves here. Whether it be watching carnival horses come to life or watching grates rise and lower, manipulating your trek through a maze of corridors in the hospital — with each turn you make bringing you closer to the menacing Leonard — the way this game elicits a growing sense of dread might even be enough to overcome many of the game’s flaws.
“Might” is the key word, though. While this game has enough extras, including secret weapons and hidden endings, to give it plenty of replay value, my friend and I had no desire to pick it back up after finally putting it down. Perhaps another player might be able to overcome the shoddy camera work, ignore the overly-linear quest and be unfazed (or even in favor of) the altering of the standard Silent Hill storyline. Neither I nor my friend were that player, though. As someone who loved the first Silent Hill and liked the second, I sadly must say that I was disappointed by the third installment in the series.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.