Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Silent Hill 3

Note: This review was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

A teenage girl's day at the mall turns into the worst nightmare imaginable. First, while snoozing in a café (Happy Burger), Heather has a horrific dream about a hellish amusement park. Then, a suspicious detective starts stalking her, mentioning her past. Demons show up, and after running into a strange woman named Claudia, who babbles on about gods and paradise, and Heather's true self, the mall is plunged into a nightmarish darkness. If that weren't enough to ruin your day, the subway has also been infested with demons, and the train leaves Heather off at an unknown, locked station, forcing her to travel through some underground passages and an office building before making it back home...


...only to find out that her dad has been murdered. Then, on the way to Silent Hill, to put things right, the truth is revealed. Heather is the reincarnation of Alessa, the girl from the first Silent Hill whose purpose was to birth a god. She is the baby that Harry Mason was given in the game's ending. Harry took her away from that hellish town, but seventeen years later, cultmember Claudia Wolf is anxious to bring her back and commence the ceremonies. So Claudia enlists the help of a detective named Douglas, who only gets caught in the middle of things. Douglas is responsible for reuniting Claudia with Heather, thereby initiating the whole fiasco, but he was just Claudia's pawn, and ends up being Heather's only real friend in the ensuing battle for all mankind. The fourth character in the story is an independent cultmember named Vincent, who seems to have his own disagreements with Claudia's methods.


SH3 is a bit of a mix between old and new, conjuring up the memories of the previous SH games while creating new memories to add to the legacy. Among the locations, the Brookhaven Mental Hospital, a classic from SH2, is revisited here, as well as the Lakeside Amusement Park, which is explored much more in depth than it was in the first game. However, at least half the game occurs nowhere near the town of Silent Hill - a first for the franchise. (Rest assured, even the non-Silent Hill locations are sufficiently nightmarish). This unfortunately denies us, as players, the pleasure of getting to excitedly explore new outdoor areas of our favorite ex-resort town. Another byproduct of this situation is that much of the game feels a bit more linear than in the past, going directly from one area to the next (why does the church have a door leading to a tunnel that directly connects to the amusement park?), instead of being able to carouse about the town looking for open buildings. While this is a decided disadvantage, the linear aspect of the first part of the game is actually a nice experience, since the plot at that point is that you're trying to get home from the mall. You start the game with your house key, and you just know that your travels are eventually gonna lead you there. From the mall to the subway, through the sewers, and out through an office building next to your apartment, your journey leads you back home. But even after you get to Silent Hill and finally get to move about the streets, the options are depressingly limited.

Brand new locations include the mall (nice choice), subway station, an office building (nice chance for a variety of decor, from a dance studio, to life insurance, to auto parts, and more), and appropriately, a church. The Silent Hill atmosphere is fully intact in this game, from the graphics, to the music and sound effects, and the moments of sheer terror we Silent Hill fans have come to expect. One thing I sincerely missed, though, was the sirens that mark the transformation from Silent Hill to Silent Hell, if you will. Those sirens are iconic, and I really missed them. Instead, we occasionally get this creature allegedly named Valtiel, who looks like Pyramid Head without the characteristic pyramid helmet, climbing on walls, turning a valve. I'm not entirely sure what purpose Valtiel served, but he was never used for more than effect. That is, he never attacks you, and isn't even directly referenced by the game. So he freaked me out at first, but after realizing that he's harmless, I didn't mind him so much. He's certainly no Pyramid Head.

New techniques: Silent Hill 3 offered two new gameplay additions. One is the block (at least I don't think it was featured in the earlier titles). I didn't use it a whole lot (run seems to be a more effective option), but it was useful against the Memory of Alessa boss. The other new addition is the beef jerky. A rather clever idea. You can pick up beef jerky throughout the game, and place it on the floor to distract some of the demons. I suspect it only works on the more animalistic and lower to the ground enemies. Truth is, I didn't really use it that much. It did come in handy during my play-through when I made a point not to kill any enemies (except for bosses). The jerky was essential in at least one of the hallways in the Nightmare Hospital, to distract those annoying lizard things that love to get Heather on the floor...I think they're called Slurpers. A pleasant image, indeed.

Speaking of monsters, the monsters were pretty good in this game. The first ones were generically creepy (the fishy ones), and the tall lumbering things with huge arms were rather intimidating. The dogs were cool, with gruesomely split heads (I can't imagine how they're still able to bite and howl...) - annoyingly fast, though. The wasps pretty much freaked me out for quite awhile, before I got the nerve to actually kill one. The fact that they can fly - meaning they can move across pits, coming from directions you wouldn't expect to be attacked from - doesn't help. Nor does the freaky grating sound they make with their blade-things. The ambling, lizard-like, floor-crawlers were equally disturbing and frustrating, particularly when they attack in numbers. Getting pushed flat onto the ground in the middle of an ambush is not pleasant. The fatsos were interesting. I believe they're officially referred to as "Insane Cancers". The way they lie on the floor, seemingly lifeless until you approach, is unnerving, even when you know what's going to happen. They take a lot of pain, although I worked out a way of killing them with consecutive thrusts from the katana (my favorite weapon), which saves ammo and damage - it's somewhat less effective on harder action levels, though. I think the only monster I'm leaving out is the type that shows up in the church and looks like the roof boss. I guess they're your typical late-game addition to the bestiary - formidable and feisty.

One aspect of the game that was a little iffy was the voice-acting. All the parts reek of over-acting, in that cheesy game-dialogue sort of way. At least it's not like I play Silent Hill for the FMVs. The game held a certain bland sense of humour, which in some cases I enjoyed. But ending the game with the line, "don'tcha think blondes have more fun?" ...this is Silent Hill, I remind you. I have to say I preferred the alternate ending (possessed). It was definitely more of a "Silent Hill ending", even if it was less believable. Vincent actually made one joke in the game that I wish was true. He's talking to Heather about all the killing she's done, suggesting that she's enjoyed it. Heather asks if he's talking about the monsters, to which Vincent replies, "they looked like monsters to you?" That could have led the game into a psychological direction akin to the second game, but alas, it was only a joke. In the game's defense, the in-game text used to describe items you come across really captured Heather's personality, I think.

Extras (this section obviously contains spoilers about the different kind of extras you can unlock in the game)

I was pleased with the extras in SH3. As for the extra weapons, you can unlock a beam saber, a flamethrower, and the Unlimited SMG (Sub-Machine Gun). Of the three, the Unlimited SMG is probably the least cool, but actually the most useful. It stops enemies in their tracks pretty well, and makes the bosses considerably easier. I feel like I didn't really give the flamethrower a fair chance, but although it's really cool, I didn't find it to be particularly useful. It's just too slow and too weak, and the range is rather pathetic. Considering that my favorite weapon was the katana, the beam saber was a dream come true. Basically it's a green lightsaber. It still has the shortcomings of the katana - short range, not so hot in an ambush - and though I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be stronger than the katana, it does require a couple seconds to activate each time you use it. Though there is a trick to get it open on the fly.

The other significant extra feature in SH3 is alternate costumes. After beating the game, you unlock an option on the title screen which lets you type in passwords to acquire new costumes for Heather to wear in-game (including FMVs!). Those passwords can be found in a number of ways. A handful of costumes are "Silent Hill 3 Originals", and their passwords are uncovered by beating the game under certain conditions (like killing no enemies, or achieving a 10 star ranking, etc.), or otherwise found within the game, or given in the official strategy guide. There's also a wide range of promotional costumes for various video game magazines, websites, and such, who gave out their passwords in their own medium, though all of those have since been conveniently compiled for the SH3 costume collector.

I automatically love it when a game featuring a female protagonist offers an option for alternate costumes (TR outfit modding anyone?), but I was disappointed that the vast majority of the costumes were simply color/pattern variations of the jeans/sleeveless shirt outfit. Though the jeans/shirt outfit was a considerable change from the standard gore-tex jacket/miniskirt/boots outfit. Still, despite the monotony of outfits, SH3 redeems itself with the Transformation costume. You aren't gonna believe this.

Beat the game twice, and you get the Transformation costume. Equip it in-game, and you will be treated to a hokey transformation animation showing Heather morphing into magical girl Princess Heart. No joke. Then you get to traipse through the darkest, dankest corridors of hell-on-earth as a justice-fighting, love-redeeming magical girl (mahou shoujo)! And that's not all! There's actually a fourth extra weapon you can unlock, called the Heather Beam, which uses up stamina to shoot energy balls and sprites from Heather's eyes. Use it with the Transformation costume equipped, and it becomes the much stronger Sexy Beam! You can even shoot beams from your eyes like Superman! And here's the best part - go on a rampage, killing demons with the Sexy Beam, and you can get the "Revenge" ending. Like the UFO ending in Silent Hill, and the Dog ending in Silent Hill 2, the Revenge ending is a rather bizarre joke ending which showcases the creator's unexplainable sense of humour...


Silent Hill 3 lives up to the Silent Hill name, and if you enjoyed the first two games, I can't imagine you not enjoying this one. Still, I'd like to see the outdoor portion of the game series not vanish altogether. I've heard that Silent Hill 4 is even more of a departure from the traditional formula, but I have confidence that it'll work out well. I can't wait to play it. I'm really grateful for the Silent Hill franchise - I have not before or since played a video game that is quite as scary. Realms of the Haunting is a close second, but where RotH's horror leans toward a mythical bent, Silent Hill is just pure hell. As an adult who no longer fears the dark (in general), Silent Hill freaks me out much more consistently than any of the horror movies I love to watch. I simultaneously look forward to, and dread, my next foray into the world of Silent Hill...

Endgame Stats

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