Written by  :  Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (589)
Written on  :  Nov 27, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Hands down, the greatest horror atmosphere in the series. But this dreadful Capcom-ish feel is growing within...

The Good

INTRODUCTION: If Muhammad doesn't go to SILENT HILL...
Puzzled, Heather steps in the amusement park.
"Where am I?"
Suddenly she notices her pocket knife in her hand.
The amusement park is a grim scenario. The floor seems to be made of a rusty grating standing over bottomless pits. A thick mist swirls and engulfs everything in the distance.
Inside a metalic cage, held by chains, there's a human body covered in dirty bandages. The image somehow awakens distant memories in her head.
Heather enters a door, and sees a dog... or is it a dog? The flesh of the animal seems to be corroded beyond the point a living tissue could probably sustain. The animal seems to start opening its mouth —instead, its head splits side to side. The dog is about to jump on Heather, when a huge monstrosity of a silouhette approaches her from the darkness. A steel blade rips through her flesh.

Heather wakes up confused.
Slowly, she begins to remember where she is. The dinner. The shopping mall. How long has she been sleeping? Dad must be worried.
She heads to the telephone booth and calls her father. "I'm coming home now".
When she hangs up, a man in a trenchcoat approaches her. He introduces himself as Douglas, and claims to be a detective, but he looks more like a crazy bum. He knows Heather's name, though, and he asks her to give him thirty minutes, as someone wants to talk to her. "It's about your birth", he says.
The sentence seems to have some effect in Heather, but she just tries harder to get rid of the man. She walks away, and as he follows her, she violently confronts him. "Do I have to scream?!".
The man backs up. "Fine. I'll be waiting here."
Heather enters the ladies' room and exits through the window into a narrow alley by the mall. Anything to avoid that creepy bum. When she's about to reach the street, she finds her way blocked, so she re-enters the mall.
It's only now that she notices the place looks totally empty. How late is it?
Only a boutique is open, so she enters. There's a handgun laying on the floor.
Suddenly, Heather notices she's not alone: There's a man laying on the floor a few meters away from her. The creature that just slashed her in her nightmare is chewing on the man's face.

SILENT HILL 3 is a horror/survival game. It's the third installment in a series considered as the answer —as well as the main contestant— to the RESIDENT EVIL series, the toughest kid of the block for some years.
Saying horror/survival should require no further explanation. This is a massively popular genre, albeit mostly between console-players: Third-person perspective where the camera doesn't necessarily follow the character, but instead it takes its own way with cinematic shots, puzzle-solving, some fighting, and above all, a gripping horror atmosphere.

THE GRAPHICS: She's got the look
Hands down, the first thing that draws your attention —no, the first thing that shocks you about SILENT HILL 3 is the quality of the graphics. I thought it couldn't probably get any better than the already impressive SILENT HILL 2, but this game proved me wrong.

Not only the poly count is as high as to represent perfect human bodies, but the textures for both characters and scenario take full advantage of hardware pixel shaders like nothing ever did before, specially the textures for characters' skins. You can see details down to a microscopic level: the shading, the wrinkles, the hair, the eyelashes, the glowing in the eyes... you can see the god-damned pores in characters' faces, man!!!
You can take a glimpse at the visual magnificence of this game in the SCREENSHOTS right there, but trust me when I say even that even those don't make justice to the game: you are missing half the shock until you see these in motion.
As with graphics and textures, so far I thought the model animation in SILENT HILL 2 was just as lifelike as it gets. Anyone who has seen the infamous Room 312 scene simply can't argue with this.
However, turns out SILENT HILL 3's model animation looks EVEN MORE REAL! Can it get more real than reality? I don't know, but it certainly looks so.

Now, background graphics. As you probably know one of the most distinctive events in this series is a constant shifting between daytime, in which the world is almost devoided of all population (other than some twisted demonic monsters) and a dense swirling mist covers everything; and something called The Otherworld, where the mist is replaced by a deep darkness, the number of monsters grow massively, their appearance turns more terrible, and everything seems to be corroded, derelict, like the place was deserted for hundreds of years. Chairs, tables, beds, and what all not is replaced by items designed by a decorator Satan himself fired for his bad taste. As the game progresses, the floors, ceilings, walls, and even the streets are replaced by rusty iron grating.
Daytime graphics really couldn't get better than it was in the previous game, and yet some points DO look more detailed, but the real deal is the Otherworld. Not only we spend WAY more time in it than we ever did before, but the graphics are UNCANNY. The rusty grating, the bottomless pits, the corroded walls —it's all back, it's all better, and it brought some company: Sometimes the walls pulsate like if you were navigating the entrails of an animal, sometimes walls bleed, sometimes the walls are slowly eaten by some kind of crawling darkness.
Words can't even begin to explain it, you have to SEE it for yourself... (hey, it worked for The Matrix, didn't it?)

SOUND, MUSIC AND ATMOSPHERE: Advice for the faint at heart
Unlike SILENT HILL 2, this third chapter is a direct follow-up to the first SILENT HILL. This is true not only story-wise, but also atmosphere-wise.
Whereas the second game of the series was a melancholic and heart-grinding love story, and it wasn't as straight-out scary as the first one, SILENT HILL 3 picks up the flag of the first game, building the same kind of hardcore pure-horror atmosphere, and even raising the bar to a new level.

For one thing, the kind of sound effects of the first game are all back and improved, as well as the strange environmental music a la Angelo Badalamenti.
When stalked or confronted by an enemy, the soundscape will turn into a mix between howlings, chains dragging, yelling, our good old static-emitting radio, and all kinds of tension-building noises, that will raise up the hairs of the back of your heart. As it happened in the first game, it will be hard to tell what is sound and what is music, yet one thing is for sure: the mix will create a breathtaking atmosphere.

As if mixing the best of both worlds, it's not all creepy noise: there are several dramatic scenes in which the music turns to a beautiful and touching tune, much like it happened in SILENT HILL 2. By the way, the game features no less than three vocal songs, a total novelty, and they are all beautiful.

Then, along come the random noises that fire up when you least expect them, the kind of "Boo!" sounds that make you jump off your seat. You'll be navigating a hollow hall, immersed in total silence, with the feeling of unspoken horrors lurking around the corner, when something as silly as a door slamming will force you to repaint the ceiling, to get rid of your own fingernails' marks.
Simple, but effective. Have no doubt.

We've seen the voice acting improving greatly from the first game of the series to the second, and the trend keeps on with this third chapter. Most of the actors are average-to-above (Douglas the detective being the weakest, pretty lame actually), but Heather (who is played by a girl called Heather, look at that ;-) ) is just AWESOME. Not only the tone of voice as well as every sentence spoken sound beautiful and totally convincing in Heather's voice, but she also has some heavily emotional moments, and totally succeeds in transmiting the character's feelings. This girl actually CRIES on-camera, and makes you believe it.

Now, the atmosphere is not only about the sound: SILENT HILL 3 has the most classy horror atmosphere I've ever seen, beating any horror game and even most horror movies by a fair margin. The game is full of what I call classy horror mementos. They are random, they have no connection to anything else, they can even be bypassed by the player in a rush, but they are effective and there's a lot of work put on them.
I wouldn't want to spoil any of them, but I guess I need to do it to make myself clear, so there goes one: You enter a room full of mannequins. The place is dark and every mannequin is missing their head, except for one. Upon examining this particular one, Heather comments how the fact of having a head makes it even more disturbing than the others. So you cross the room, and in a far corner you pick up some items. While at it, you hear a sudden scream. When you make your way back, you can see the mannequin's head on the floor, and a stream of blood coming out of its neck.
Gore-full, granted, but in a so exquisite way...

Finally, there is one more thing worth to mention, and it's the amount of humor present in the game, a first-ever in the series. Because of her true nature, or maybe just because she's a hardass girl, Heather has a fairly easy time getting used to the strange events in which she's suddenly immersed. She has no problems making some ironic remarks and even joking with the most disturbing things.
This kind of humor works nicely as a steam-blower after certain particulary heavy moments, but I'm not certain whether to consider it a good or a bad thing: It does somehow fit Heather's character, and it does relief a bit of tension; but on the other hand, SILENT HILL 2 didn't lean on any humor, and it worked out for a much more dramatic and intense atmosphere...

REPLAYABILITY: Where no man has ever gone (no sane man, that is)
Konami and Capcom have a fierce competition in several aspects, and one of the most outstanding ones, which set both companies way apart from any other in the market, is the replayability value of their games.

When you play a Konami or a Capcom game you can be sure of one thing: you're extremely likely to be replaying it several times.
If not for the multiple endings, a replay of a SILENT HILL game is a whole new universe, in which the game trascends the limits of logic, mostly by giving you nearly-surrealistic items to play with.
This time, we get to dress Heather with no less than 20 different outfits ranging from a "Heather T-Shirt" (the one the SH3 crew used in interviews) to the classic japanese sailor schoolgirl uniform, we get to use a beam-saber (may the force be with you, if you know what I mean), and we get to see a new UFO ending (a classic in the series, this time dubbed by many as the revenge), among others.

The Bad

TECHNICAL ISSUES: Capable PC-programmer wanted
I hate to start the bad with this kind of thing, but here we go —AGAIN.
There is a persistent problem among console programmers porting games to PC, in which the games seem to have a more or less traumatic problems with video cards other than nVidia's. Maybe it's because they're generally ported from Xbox versions, or because the companies can't afford to buy several different graphic cards to test-drive their games (?), but there's one thing which is unacceptable, to say the least: there's always some kind of problem with ATi graphics card.
Come on, guys! It's not S3 we're talking! ATi has been leading the market for almost two years already! Will you keep up?
In this particular game, the whole Radeon series of chips suffer some random, persistent, and plain annoying glitches in certain areas, specially in character's faces. The game CAN be played without any major problem, and it's not like it happens ALL THE TIME —but it DOES happen, it IS annoying, and if you spent 150+ US bucks for a video card, you DESERVE the right to ask for a solid visual quality, goddamnit.
Konami already recognizes this issue in the game's readme, and they blow it off to ATi and their drivers. But the thing is, the last time they said this exact same thing, they ended up releasing a patch on their own. Hummmm...

Oh yes, sports fans, this time the storline is in the bad, contrary to what everyone might have expected. In fact it's NOT that SILENT HILL 3 has a bad story: it's just not a worthy bearer of the series' name.
The thing is, Konami received a lot of whining about the cryptic storytelling of the first SILENT HILL, so this time they went all the way to the other side: in SILENT HILL 3 there is little to uncover once the game is finished, all the explanations are detailed, conclusive, and tell-all.
There IS room for interpretations of certain points, enough as to justify plenty of theory-building, forum-discussion, and some rich plot guides as always in the series; but compared to the previous games, this story is a walk in the park. So much so, it even goes to the lenghts of explaining all those things that some people didn't understand in the first game.
I know, some people (what do you mean, normal people?) prefer this kind of conclusive storytelling, but I do not. I like to have room for interpretation, as I always thought most SILENT HILL fans do.

Aside from that, the story of SILENT HILL 3 is —at its core— the first game all over again. Of course, there are enough differences as to tell both games apart, but for the sharp eye (and it's not like you need to be some Hercules Poirot to see this either) there are just TOO MANY similarities between the two stories. It's like a song and a remix of that song: It's not the same song, yet somehow it is...
Take for example the way the game starts, with some sort of nightmare which is not only a dream, and then the hero wakes up at a dinner.
Or even more clear, let's see the supporting characters: the semi-useless sidekick who only shows up every now and then to give the protagonist someone to talk to (Cybill/Douglas), the cult-leading wicked woman who wants to resurrect the ancient demon-god (Dhalia/Claudia), the cult's conspirator who starts to have second thoughts about the whole demon-resurrecting thing (Kaufmann/Vincent)...

As I said, this game's plot is not exactly bad, it's just too cheap for a worthy title of this series.

THE COMBAT SEQUENCES: We're going to war!
This is the point where the game starts to show a dreadful trend, which gives me the utter creeps, because it seems to lead down the Capcom path.
As it's of public knowledge, Capcom's most popular horror/survival franchise is WAY more nonsense-action-oriented than Konami's. To put it bluntly, Konami goes for the pshychological horror, whereas Capcom goes for the class-B-movie action-pounding kind of horror.
In a RESIDENT EVIL game it's only normal to find a guy who's an ex-air force pilot AND an ex-cop at the age of 25, or to fire a rocket launcher inside a house which would crumble down with the noise of a firecracker.
In SILENT HILL games, on the other hand, we used to find rather next-door people, and if they were lucky enough they got to struggle with a hunting rifle in order to deal with the monsters.

This time around, Heather gets her hands on stuff as ridiculous as a VERY heavy spiked mace (which God knows how ended up in some sewers) and... *gasp*... a sub-machinegun!!
No way, this can't be true. A seventeen-year old girl who never got to even use her stun-gun goes blasting monsters with a piece of military hardware? How did you say this game is called, again? Residen Hill, it was?
Who-ever thought of this CRAP? For the love of God, Konami!! Fire that jackass right now, before the fourth game gets to evolve any further!!!

While we're at the combat issues, the classic awkward interface of horror/survival games rears its ugly head again! Since this game is much more action-oriented than its predecessors, pretty soon you'll be complaining about this kind of interface yet again.
When will gaming companies address this issue? Could it be that anyone finds this kind of controls any comfortable?

MONSTER DESIGN: The end of imagination
This series used to have a well-deserved fame for the creativity in the design of its monsters. From the zombie dogs, to the split-faced lizard, to the zombie nurses, to the mannequins, to —stand up, gentlemen— Pyramid-Head, hands down the coolest villain EVER; the monsters of this series are a trademark of imaginery and horror...
Until now.
In SILENT HILL 3 we get to see the zombie nurses again (of course), we have this enigmatic Valtiel character stalking Heather all the time, we have some creepy split-faced hounds... and that's it.
There are more monsters in SILENT HILL 3, but they're not only unworthy of the series' legacy —they plain SUCK.

There's not much to say in this regard: the textures do a fine job to make them look disgusting, the poly count and animation helps a lot too, but from a designer's point of view, the monsters are simply lame.

The Bottom Line

If you never played a SILENT HILL game before, you should go play both of them before going any further. In fact, you should have done so a while before reaching this point.
If you're not going to do so, I'm not talking to you. Period.

Now, for those of you who know both previous chapters of the series, here's the thing:
—If you thought the first SILENT HILL was the most scary experience ever, and you're yearning for a game that gives you the creeps like that one did, and you almost lost all hope of getting to know such a game, yearn no more: SILENT HILL 3 is THE GAME for you.
—If you thought the series grew a lot in SILENT HILL 2, and it was an immersive storyline with believable, deeply developed characters, and it was a big leap ahead from the first game, you might want to think it twice before going for SILENT HILL 3. This one LOOKS even better than its predecessor, but the story is a MAJOR step back.

Finally; if like me, you are a fan of the SILENT HILL SERIES, and you enjoyed each title so far, for each one's own highs, and you think the SERIES is above any other horror game, movie, book, or whatever —Well, I don't know what are you doing, still reading all this nonsense ranting. You have just lost some priceless SILENT HILL 3 minutes, man.
And you ARE going to get this game anyway, you know that already.