It’s been a rough day for Heather. She spent all the cash her dad gave her, fell asleep at a greasy diner, got stalked by a creepy detective, and…oh yeah, had to slog through dozens of hideous monsters as both her psyche and the world around shifted between hellish landscapes only to find out that there is a plot regarding her mysterious “true self.” Such plays out the hefty prologue to Silent Hill 3, where we dive into the mind of a normal teenage girl as she comes face to face with the most demented town in video game history. Is the new story and gameplay package enough to keep the Silent Hill formula alive, or should players cancel their vacation plans?
The story’s spinal structure, as always, revolves around its protagonist, this time about Heather’s realization of her connection to Silent Hill and its implications. While the game has its share of corny dialogue delivered with middle-school performance skill, Heather brings to the franchise a more human element that draws the story into a much more consumer-friendly pace and style: common sense. Her sardonic commentary and emotional outbursts are perfect for her age and mentality, captured almost impeccably and serving as the more humanistic motivation the series has ever seen. This new found wit flows into the game’s easter eggs and hidden moments, an easy excuse for replay value for those that can stomach the game’s faults. While the overall plot still descends into melodrama as the gameplay time lengthens (and lacking the masterful psychological underpinnings of the second game in the series,) the performances surrounding Heather are strong enough to keep the player just as motivated to finish her quest as she is, giving the plot an enjoyable edge to dangle from.
While most everything on the surface has evolved with the generational leap, most players will still find piloting Heather to be almost as frustrating as previous protagonists in the series. Upgrades to Heather’s fluidity include a much sharper strafe and ability to walk outside of stagnant straight lines, but when precision is required – especially in combat – gamers might battle harder with Heather herself than the monsters after her. Luckily the weapon management has seen a more palatable revamp. The various attack speeds, ranges, and strengths are – for the most part – as sensible as they feel to use, ranged weapons targeting made automatic when an enemy is close enough in range. While fixed dramatic camera angles are still implemented regularly throughout the game’s more intense and/or freakish moments, players can swing the camera during the more open levels, relieving much of the battle frustration from earlier in the franchise. The menu structure has also seen a face lift, and made much easier and less stressful for it.
Silent Hill 3 stands apart from its brother releases in the franchise in being much more difficult from the on-set. Monsters are much stronger and take much more damage to fell, making engaging them a matter of confidence and necessity rather than commonplace. Adding this to their placement in the levels, and their movement speed, it was clear that retreating is often a much more reliable source of continued living than direct combat. But even during down-time the game’s grittier edge stands sharp in the game’s design. The puzzle element of the game still relies on the find-a-key-to-open-the-door motif, but more often require item hunting and combination, giving the gameplay element a more insidious degree of difficulty than the previous entry’s logic/metaphoric-related puzzle segments.
Both prior games in the Silent Hill universe set respective bars in their visual capacities, and Silent Hill 3 furthers that goal with even more flair. While both 1 and 2 relied heavily on full motion video segments to present the more dramatic plot points, all of 3’s events are displayed in engine, sporting an impressive range of emotion and animation in character movement. The motion captured cut-scenes feel dramatically more natural than in the franchise’s wooden past, and voice-acting hits most notes with enough believability to round out an absorbing package. Minute details, especially in cinematics, are often victim to blurry or even lazy textures, but in-game most interactive objects and environment details are captured with intricate detail, even if most invisible walls are comical in their appearance. Monster designs remain as horrid as players have come to expect, but without the philosophical story underpinnings, their creep factor is only skin deep.
But it wouldn’t be a Silent Hill game without an impressive audio design, and 3 doesn’t miss a step. From the scratches of sheeted metal to unidentifiable animal sound mixes for monster growls, Akira Yamaoka’s score is so intoxicatingly creepy that most gamers will find themselves paradoxically draw to things they never wanted to see. A more pop-oriented sound permeates the game’s more orchestral pieces, and match perfectly with Heather’s personality and the game’s overall melancholy, providing some of the game’s most deranged and entertaining moments. The use of vodou chants towards the game’s end is especially well-executed, and worth the gameplay progression alone.
While still suffering from the control issues that have plagued the genre since its birth, Silent Hill 3 manages a more believable and entertaining narrative, although its shallow-ness does keep it from reaching heights previously achieved in the franchise. Cutscenes are expertly captured and voiced, even when the somewhat flaccid script denies the depth of emotion the character’s express. Puzzles have taken a more simplistic and routine turn that many series-mainstays will disapprove of. But upgrades to the weapon and menu system make combat much less annoying, despite a high difficulty curve making actual combat engagement rarer. In the end, Silent Hill 3 is still a wonderful experience for those not addicted to gun-blazing, and provides an entertaining venture into the more human side of an inexplicably possessed town, and the people that are drawn to it.