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SummaryDammit, get out of my nightmares SH3.
- Gorgeous graphics that hold up remarkably well 8 years later
- Akira Yamaoka's finest soundtrack; which is saying alot.
- Story is a valid and memorable extension of the original
- Memorable characters & writing overcome bad VO's
- Great boss fights
- Scary. Really, really really scary.
- Fantastic sound design rounds out production values
- Strong artistic sense thanks to Ito's twisted designs
- Almost perfect balance of atmosphere, psychological horror, and even some gross out/shock horror.
- Voice work slightly improved over past games, but not by much.
- Weird performance issues even on modern computers
- Ugly lack of Vertical tearing, and no - forcing V-Sync won't work.
- Some enemies can be more annoying than anything
- Retreads some areas from the previous game.
- Story, while good - lacks the emotion and poetic nature of its predecessor.
- Same gameplay flaws as before
The Bottom LineAwhile ago, I reviewed the brilliant Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams and praised it for its tense atmosphere, disturbing psycho-sexual imagery, and most importantly - one of the, if not the, greatest story ever told in a video game.
So what about Silent Hill 3? For some reason, SH3 is often ignored. People recognize the original as a classic and of course the start of the series, I am VERY far from the only person to praise the hell out of #2,
I have to ask... why is SH3 the least talked about? I know that it wasn't necessarily poorly received, but it deserves more credit dammit. Do you want to know why? It scared me so damn much that my balls fell off and eloped with my manhood and left my as a whiny little child. While it certainly isn't as poignant or emotional as its brilliant predecessor, I consider it to be the most frightening of the series and no other game save for perhaps Amnesia has scared me as much as it has. After the surprisingly good Shattered Memories," I've been on a Silent Hill binge and recently replayed through Silent Hill 3, and guess what? It's still scary as hell and is very well made overall.
Silent Hill 3 is a direct sequel to the original, and takes place 17 years after the Good or Good+ endings of Part 1 - in which Harry fights the Incubus rather than the Alessa Incubator, and after killing the Incubus and stopping him from impregnating Alessa with the god of the demented cult known only as "The Order," Alessa's spirit hands Harry a baby to help compensate the loss of his daughter Cheryl when she returned to Silent Hill and reunited with the other half of Alessa's soul. He names the new baby Cheryl, but after The Order makes an attempt on their lives - he flees and has her change her hair and go under the pseudonym Heather Morris.
The game begins in a nightmare, where Heather visits a bizarre and twisted Amusement Park in the otherworld and is killed. She wakes up inside a Mall Diner, and is approached by an old man by the name of Douglas Cartland who wishes to question her. She thinks that he is lying about being a private investigator, and more an investigator of privates and ditches him by going into the womens lavatory and then crawling out the window and entering another part of the Mall. Yet strange things begin happening, a hideous monster is found consuming a corpse and Heather stops it with a gun, and as she moves on she soon learns that the whole mall is filled with monsters and after meeting the bizarre and mysterious Claudia Wolf, she takes an elevator which transports her into the otherworld and thus begins her descent into hell.
It deals heavily with The Order as they chase Heather and do all in their power to fill her with hatred so that the god that has been in her womb since her "birth" can finally be born now that her 'time has come.'
The plot isn't quite as brilliant as its predecessor - but it is much more well written than that of SH1's plot and SH3 also has the distinction of enriching the mythos of the series more than any other entry before or since. It explains The Order and their beliefs in much greater detail and fills in many questions about them and the incident in the first game and it makes them more memorable as villanous zealots, though that is also due in part that the witch Claudia Wolf; brainwashed by Dahlia Gillispie from the original game; is easily the most memorable "Human" villain in the series. Sorry Walter (The villain of Silent Hill 4.), I love you but Claudia wins out through being far more treacherous and while I won't spoil it for the good folks who haven't played this game through, what she resorts to at the end of the game is certainly memorable for all the wrong reasons; namely for making me wish I hadn't eaten before witnessing it.
The "politics" of the otherworld are also expanded upon. It was made evident that The Otherworld is in many ways a version of hell, and that people are judged and punished there. We actually get to see this in great detail as the mysterious Valtiel (The hand of god) punishing various men and women. Valtiel is also important because while he is hardly the leader of the Otherworld, he is clearly a man of high power as he controls the change between our world and The Otherworld, twisting a valve that in turn - twists reality. He is also important in that while he does not have full control over what the monsters do (Which is why I claim he is clearly not the full overlord of the Otherworld.) he is there to protect Heather and grant her passage. Don't be fooled, Valtiel ain't the good guy and he doesn't care about Heather himself - he only cares that the baby god nestled in her womb makes it safely; and it can be assumed that he is more than willing to put Heather through eternal suffering to do so, due to the fact that if Heather dies in The Otherworld (Though not if she dies in the foggy world.) he will drag her body away and resurrect her.
One of the standout elements of SH3 are its production values. I absolutely adore Akira Yamaoka's music for the series, in fact I'm listening to the games soundtrack right now and I'll probably turn on the SH2 soundtrack when its done. This is very high praise considering the high standards he has set - but of all the Silent Hill games (I'll even recognize Homecoming and 0rigins for his music, but ONLY his music. Well... okay, there was one disturbing monster in 0rigins, the Carrion. THAT IS IT.) I think that this soundtrack is easily the best. Not only does it introduce us to the lovely Mary Elizabeth McGlynn's voice, it is easily the most melodic and memorable beat-wise and the atmospheric tracks in game are superb as well.
The graphics are also stunning - they were absolutely fantastic by 2003 standards, and believe it or not replaying it 8 years later I was still surprised. Silent Hill 3 has aged better than most any last generation game (Even Doom 3 and FarCry have aged somewhat less gracefully in my eyes. It helps that I was able to hack the game to run in 1920x1080 and witness it in full HD glory and that it has some fantastic lighting effects and high resolution textures. The models are memorable and characters are very well rendered and animated, and the monsters may not animate like proper humans.. but then again, why should they? Their bizarre movements are just as disturbing and bizarre as they are. The Otherworld sequences will give you some of the most shocking images ever seen in a video game, and many of them can easily be missed without the ability to view it in HD like I did.
There are tons of great effects, generated by something in the credits that is somewhat laughably and blatantly named "The Evil Effects Engine." Yes, 15 technical directors were set aside to create an "Evil Effects Engine," in fact according to the credits there are 3 separate engines; the main one, the lighting engine (Which is carried over from SH2 - not that that is a bad thing.) and the evil effects engine. The Evil Effects engine really impresses, the otherworld is packed with slimy detail as blood realistically and continuously sweats out from pores, limbs twitch and flail, and later on a clever smudging tool makes it appear as if the skin of monsters itself is twitching individually. Two good places to see this effect are in the Otherworld Hospitals store room, where Heather will be locked in with a mirror. Very slowly, blood will seep and as it turns darker, the dark blood will turn into tentacles and the tentacles and blood will spread rapidly throughout the room and Heather's reflection soon begins to bleed and become covered in said tentacles, and once she is consumed - the real Heather will die. There's also a memorable moment near the end where various rooms are covered in a strange red haze that slowly seeps in and covers the room and strangely has an amount of depth to it. It's a shame these effects were never, ever used again.
The biggest issue I have with the graphics is that being from an older period when widescreen and ultra-high resolutions weren't as commonplace, they didn't bother implementing widescreen or high resolutions. This means that you'll have to do what I did and change the resolution through the .ini and find a FOV hack to make the game not look stretched out. There's also an issue with vertical tearing, and the damn game doesn't give you any ability to get rid of it. No V-Sync option, and don't bother forcing V-Sync in your video control panel. It won't work, and trust me when I say this isn't like a lot of games with vertical tearing that are only slightly noticeable, the tears are massive and annoying. There's also some strange performance issues on modern computers, the full 4096x4096 textures lag to high hell once you get out into the fog of Silent Hill or heavily detailed areas of The Otherworld (I.E., all of them.) and even lowering the texture details, it may do this.
The graphics also work because the artistic design is fantastic. Like SH2, the artwork was done by the twisted genius Masahiro Ito (Look up his homepage if you like horror art.) and is as raw as the ESRB and CERO (The Japanese rating board.) will allow it to be. Like SH2, most of it relies not just on slimy grotesqueness - but also psycho-sexual imagery.
I use that term because most of the monsters have some form of sexual attribute to them, more often than not a taboo or frightening aspect which shows that as beautiful as sex can be, it can also be very, very ugly. The "theme" they carry is a bit different from SH2 though, while SH2's monsters were meant to represent and demonize sexual abuse, dominance, and misogyny SH3 has a focus on sexual innocence and childbirth; and not the happy side of childbirth either. An example would be the Numb Body, one of the first monsters you face. They earn their name for staggering about misguidedly as if they are numb (At least numb in terms of connections to their limbs - their bone chilling cries suggest that they aren't numb to pain.) and the fact that they mock the human body through abstraction, and their skin is not unlike that of a rare, disturbing and fatal birth defect (Nameless here so that someone doesn't look it up out of curiosity and find themselves disturbed. Those who have seen the deformity I'm talking about will know why I draw the comparison) and represent the fear that Heather's baby will be born deformed and in agony.
Rounding out the technical aspects of SH3 is the sound design itself. Sound is one of the most important aspects of any horror game, and SH3 gets it down pat. With the exception of the pendulum's screeching which is more migraine inducing than scary, all of the monsters make disturbing and bizarre sounds. The Numb Bodies and nurses probably freak me out the most with the Numb Bodies vaguely human, vaguely animal groans of agony or the nurses constant and heavy breathing. Whenever I hear that damn breathing, I imagine a nurse standing 5 feet behind me and panting over the idea of torturing or maybe even salivating over the idea of eating me. Yet the most disturbing sounds of course come from the atmosphere itself.
The atmosphere is just as thick as its predecessor (Though in a more traditionally horrific way) and plays on the fact that less is more. Even something as simple as hearing the sound of thumping from another room or the ceiling is unnerving, and whenever you hear whispering or echoes of an unseen monster growling or wailing you suddenly get a feeling of dread that something is following you and that makes the actual appearance of a monster, even if it wasn't the one you heard, far scarier and eliminates the need of monster closets. Of course, the radio also returns - and like before, it warns you of monsters and sends you into bloody paranoia when you hear it crackling but can't see through the distance.
Gameplay wise, Silent Hill 3 is more or less unchanged. That is both good and bad. Truthfully - gameplay isn't and never has been the series strength, controls are weird, camera angles are bizarre, and combat is frustrating and you'd think that swinging a pipe is like swinging a 100lb dumbbell by how long and clumsy it is. However, this DOES work to the games advantage in some areas - afterall, you aren't supposed to be Rambo. You are an average young woman, and the confusing cameras and harsh combat only serve to make the game more terrifying by inducing the feel of disorientation and panic that one likely would succumb to when in a horrifying nightmare battling a monster with giant penises of death on their arms (And no, I am not joking about giant penis of death arms. Go to the Silent Hill wiki and search "Closer.") and trying to run from a horde of murderous nurses with deadly magnums.
There are some places though where the combat DOES feel unfair. On Normal difficulty, the game is much harder than any of its predecessors and being a survival horror game - that's fine, but some monsters simply make combat unfair. The worst offenders are the slurpers, with the pendulums in close second. The Slurpers scurry around on the floor and earn their name as they are the carrion feeders of the otherworld and slurp up all the blood and goo and the like, and when they see Heather - they will knock her down and then try to mount her. (Yeah, I know, eww. Then again it's supposed to make you say eww.) What makes them so annoying though is that you can't heat them with any melee weapon except the slow mace (Which despite being pretty powerful, is a worthless weapon since it takes so long to swing, and while its long reach may be advantageous if you master timing the weapon - more often than not while Heather begins the swing, the monster will be 2 feet and instead of receiving a mace they'll just got a tiny bit of steel rod and have time to mutilate her.) and I don't feel like wasting precious bullets on them. They really just attack with mosquito bites, although their... uhm.... humping can do a fair amount of damage, Heather can usually get to her feet before they mount her and knocking her other doesn't really damage her more than maybe 2 points, but it's damn annoying to be getting to an important area and get knocked down by a slurper and it is doubly annoying to get knocked down by one when you are out of ammo and a gaggle of the more dangerous monsters are following you.
The Pendulums are also annoying. Not only is the noise they make migraine inducing and far too loud, they fly and cannot be hit by melee weapons and they chew bullets like candy, and often stun Heather or knock her down and their blades do heavy damage.
The other monsters are more fair, and there are also some great bossfights. One complaint of SH2 was that the boss fights, while memorable for the disturbing creatures you fought, lacked the clever nature of the original SH1 bosses and really just came down to "Pump thing with bullets till it fall down go boom." and while it is true that you are still mostly just pumping lead or bashing the bosses, they actually have specific weakpoints and strategies like the first game and require more thinking. A memorable one is a fight with a monster (Though considering his name, humanoid figure, and not being a manifestation of Heather's mind and seen very clearly by Claudia - I believe he is either a mutated human or simply a guy in a weird costume.) known as The Missionary, who can block bullets with his blades and must be fought with well timed hand to hand combat. It was cool to use the Katana and have a match of blades.
The level designs are good, but there is an underwhelming use of areas from past games; especially #2. Probably the biggest offender is the return to Brookhaven Hospital. The layout hasn't changed at all and there's a lot of deja-vu from SH2. To the games credit, it DOES focus mainly on areas that you couldn't explore in SH2 (Apparently broken locks can unbreak at will for other people) and The Otherworld of Brookhaven Hospital is reformed completely, not unlike "Nowhere" from the first game and is actually the most memorable trip to the otherworld next to the chapel towards the end of the game. It's still disappointing that they didn't take us to new parts of Silent Hill though, especially when there's a huge chunk of the south region that has never been explored. Once again, the games credit though - the first act and a half of the game is spent outside of Silent Hill which does add some fresh locales to visit.
All in all - if you want a scary game to play in the dark, want to see some of the most twisted and sickening imagery ever put into a game, and enjoyed any of the other Silent Hill games - this is an extremely memorable and raw entry into the series. Don't let yourself be disappointed if you expect its story to stack up against its esteemed predecessor, and enjoy the game for what it is: Genuinely horrific.