Title :Silent Hill 3
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2, Windows
Publisher :Konami
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :9.3
Review by :Ken Gagne

Flesh. Blood. Tears. Screams. Darkness. Horror. Pain. Death. 

Just another day in Silent Hill 3, Konami's third visit to the resort town in this latest PlayStation 2 game. 

As a survival horror series, Silent Hill had no trouble breaking the mold cast by the genre's progenitor, Resident Evil, by offering a pervasive atmosphere of perversity over cheap thrills. Though Silent Hill 3 makes no innovative breaks from its own formulaic gameplay, intriguing stories and horrifying presentation invigorate this biennial entry. 

The series has thus far explored two different forms of insanity: external (environmental) and internal (psychological). Now it considers the historical, with a protagonist who is not all she appears, nor what she thinks herself to be. Heather, our disheveled, teenage heroine, is not Konami's attempt to inject some sex appeal into the series, but is a developed character with a constitution that responds to the madness of Silent Hill uniquely from her predecessors as her reality is invaded by a world of someone's nightmarish delusions come to life. 

Silent Hill 2  had only tangential connections to its predecessor. Silent Hill 3 begins similarly, with a tour of random locales, but halfway through, coalesces into a story-driven game with direct ties to the series' origin

There are both action and puzzle elements in Silent Hill 3, each with adjustable difficulty settings. On the medium setting, there are so many monsters and so few bullets that cowardice is the better part of valor. Once a puzzle's parts are collected, it's fairly easy to see how they fit together; it's assembling the parts that's difficult. With a dynamic and automated camera, the game occasionally leaves players to wander until they see a door or item they hadn't previously, thus completing their inventory. 

The controller supports both digital and analog, in 2D and 3D formats. The digital is less dodgy, and the 3D scheme better accomodates camera angles that can dramatically shift at a moment's notice; that, and controlling from Heather's perspective gives one a better sense of being in the game. She can use her weapon to assume a defensive stance, while the results of failing to do so will cause the rumble feature to effectively pulse with her tiring heart, reminding players when it is about to expire. 

Both the aural and graphical components are integral to Silent Hill's atmosphere. The graphics have an inherent graininess that contributes to the unclean world in which Heather finds herself. The fog and darkness, once technological limitations, continue to obscure her vision, combining with fantastic lighting effects to make the unknown all the more omnipresent and frightening. Her nightmare includes harrowing sites — one such that, when I realized what it was and the possibilities it had in a survival-horror game, I felt a genuine sense of trepidation without anything having happened yet. Another's decor was so unsettling that I hoped it did not encompass the entire building; sadly, it was without relief. 

The soundtrack is replete with sound effects, keeping players on their toes for unseen threats or unbalancing them with groans, shuffles, and sobs. The voice acting is good; though the delivery may be stilted, the quality is there, though occasionally histrionic. 

A bonus soundtrack CD is included with the package, though its usefulness is dubious. This isn't Dance Dance Revolution, and I can't imagine most of the tunes being appropriate outside a Halloween party. 

Barring moments of frenetic combat, Silent Hill 3 is not a fast game — both in gameplay and during noticeable loading times, made more evident by patterns of writhing flesh and blood that animate the screen. On the normal difficulty setting, it will take average gamers under six hours to solve the puzzles, defeat the bosses, and clear the game. But the experiences they will have had on that journey will have made a worthwhile investment of your time and sanity.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 02-Sep-03