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SummaryAnd I thought parking was a nightmare.
The GoodSilent Hill 3 begins with a girl having visions of a nightmarish amusement park while she daydreams at the mall. The girl's name is Heather and waking from the dream, she's confronted by a private detective who hints that there's something mysterious about her past. Heather gives him the slip, sneaking out a bathroom window, but finds the mall has changed—stores are closed, people are gone, and strange creatures from her dream now lope down the backroom corridors. Welcome to Silent Hill.
At the start of the game, the player picks the difficulty level of the game for the combat and puzzle portions. Setting easy, medium, or hard for the combat is a pretty standard feature, but making the same adjustments for puzzle solving is a nice touch. On the easy setting, a puzzle might be absent or its solution blindingly obvious, medium requires some brainwork, and hard can be insidiously evil (but often poetic). Regardless of the settings, the game's ending is the same (at least on the first play-through).
In terms of game play, Silent Hill 3 is accessible to the newcomer, but if you haven't played the original game (or at least Silent Hill 2) the story might be elusive. Having played the original game, I still found myself reading a walkthrough of it just to clear up some of the finer story points. This, of course, would be the big difference between Silent Hill and the Resident Evil series. While Resident Evil puts you in charge of paramilitary characters, the protagonists of Silent Hill are the Lovecraftian doomed Everymen.
The opening levels in the mall set the tone for the game. In the mall, Heather runs past monsters to duck into open stores, where she finds inventory items or solves puzzles. Certain events trigger Silent Hill's signature feature—the transition into the nightmare world. When this happens, the mall's floors turn into a rusty, corrugated metal, the walls drip with blood, and more monsters appear. Now in the nightmare mall, Heather must revisit locations to find new items or explore areas which were previously closed off. It's unsettling, which is Silent Hill's second signature feature.
Following this model, Heather's adventures take her to an apartment building, an office building, and a hospital familiar to Silent Hill fans. There are also some frightening detours into the subway, the sewers, and, of course, a nightmarish amusement park. In addition to the private investigator, Heather also runs into Claudia, a cultist who also knows something about Heather's past, and Vincent, who delivers the game's most chilling line.
Silent Hill has a fare assortment of monsters: dogs whose mouths open vertically, not horizontally, giant walking cancers, and the classic mutated nurses. Heather is surprisingly well-armed against them: handgun, shotgun, katana, etc. Her best weapons, though, are the maps she finds. Heather records information about puzzles, locked doors, and the location of the many player-friendly save points. Heather's other equipment offers trade-offs: a flashlight lights the way, while drawing monsters' attention and a Kevlar vest reduces damage, but slows her down. The handheld radio returns, buzzing static when monsters are near and there are various health restoratives to be found.
I found this entry to be more engrossing than scary, which isn't to say that Silent Hill doesn’t offer more than its share of chills, but it's probably wordier and subtler than most survival horror games. Graphics are great, with cutscenes blending into game play, and the wall textures are amazing, especially the squamous ones. Voice acting is great and the music is so good the game comes with a separate soundtrack CD.
The BadI really enjoyed the first Silent Hill—it offered multiple endings, most of which were bleak, placed you in confrontation with allies, and told a very disturbing story very effectively. I liked this game but found it lacking in several ways.
Silent Hill 3 has monsters you've never seen before and some of them just look silly. There are bizarre tripod things, weird bipedal creatures that look like miniature, headless ostriches, and one of the bosses screams phallic image. Not that these things aren't dangerous, but… really? I also don't understand why the monsters of Silent Hill change from game to game.
So some of the monsters are silly but dangerous, thankfully, Heather's well-armed. Too well-armed and too proficient with the arms she has. When's the last time you found a katana? Close quarters, in the dark, with monsters all around—how accurate are you with a gun? How fast can you reload it under those circumstances? It's amazing how collected Heather is, but it's astounding what she actually reacts to. After fighting the phallic image, Heather finds a newspaper rack with papers a few months old. That freaks her out. The worm didn't.
The Bottom LineAs I was playing this, Silent Hill 4: The Room was released. At this point, I'd like to see some of the mysteries of Silent Hill cleared up, rather than new installments taking place in its surrounding areas. I'm not saying that I wouldn't like to see more games, but perhaps they could be set in earlier times. I'd like to see a story arc, instead of sequelization.
Having said that, Silent Hill 3 is a very good game that fails to kick up the genre or the franchise.