Sunday, August 29, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #4: “Time Heals Most Wounds with Silent Hill 3”

In retrospect, Silent Hill 3 is a pretty decent game and an acceptable addition to the SH series. But when it was released in 2003, I utterly despised it.

The problem certainly didn’t lie in the gameplay. The original Silent Hill formula still had some life at this point, and just like games the game before it, SH3 features your main character running around, bashing or shooting horrifying monsters and solving crazy puzzles. Anemic amounts of ammo create tense and often frustrating situations, and as a result, this game is a little shorter, but much harder than Silent Hill 2.

There’s a lot of evil eye candy in this game, starting with the smooth and disturbing textures. In fact, sometimes Silent Hill 3 feels like a demented Pixar movie – think Toy Story as directed by Tim Burton and Stanley Kubric. The trademark Silent Hill blood and iron motif returns, along with a healthy dose of “who turned out the lights?” The character models are no less impressive: For example, the main character, Heather, looks and acts like a typical teenage girl. She’s not overly attractive and the game doesn’t focus on her chest, which adds a bit of realism and believability to the mix.

In a surprising move, Konami bundled the North American version of the game with a special soundtrack CD. You might be wondering why they did it, and the answer is simple: The music of Silent Hill 3 rules. The rockin’ intro tune retains that classic Silent Hill vibe and pumps you up before you play, and the in-game music is as creepy as ever. The ending theme, “Hometown,” is a remix of the original Silent Hill theme, and it’s apparently performed by a cross between a drunken David Bowie and the guy who sits next to you every week at church who can’t quite sing, but belts out all the hymns regardless. That must seem awful to anyone reading this – and it is – but somehow it grows on you, I promise. In the same vein, the only real problem with the sound effects is the silly, annoying noises the monsters make. Instead of scaring you, they simply get on your nerves – especially the teeth-grinding buzz of bug monsters.

Silent Hill 3 suffers from a bit of what I call “Symphony of the Night Syndrome” in the voice department. Heather and Vincent sound fine, but Douglas and everyone else are another story all together. Apparently Douglas owes much of his performance to the Silent Hill cue card company, but they didn’t do a good job directing him, because it sounds like he’s reading his lines from signs that are positioned several miles away and written in yellow crayon: That is to day, one… word… at… a… time.

The same tank-like survival horror control scheme that had been in place since the first Resident Evil makes yet another appearance in Silent Hill 3, and it can be a handful for those who have never played a Silent Hill title before. Sometimes it’s hard to turn around to attack an enemy, accounting for a few otherwise unnecessary deaths and an easy to perform, but fairly useless blocking maneuver will be ignored by all but the most seasoned gamers. Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that several thousand hours of your life will be wasted trying to pick up an object that’s right in front of you.

So if the graphics and sound are both stellar and control is workable, what made my younger self want to toss Silent Hill 3 down the nearest swear grate? As a stand alone experience it’s fine, but when compared to the rest of the series up to that point, the third Silent Hill game feels like a pale rehash of what we’ve already seen in the first two games. The original Silent Hill is a masterpiece of blood and terror. The second in the series loses much of that fear factor, but the masterful storyline is rich in symbolism and intrigue. Silent Hill 3 is neither. Some monsters are scary, but the others are just laughable, like the marshmallow-like “Insane Cancers” that chill the player to the bone with their horrific ability to look like clowns. The storyline takes a major hit as well, eschewing the Silent Hill tradition of forcing the player to complete the game at least one more time to fully grasp the narrative. Much of the fun of the Silent Hill series is trying to crack the unanswered questions, but Silent Hill 3 gives you everything you could have wondered on a silver platter at the end, while simultaneously cheapening the creepy mythos established by the first game.

If you’re a rabid Silent Hill fan, no doubt you’ve already finished Silent Hill 3 about 35 times since its release in 2003. You’ve already formed you opinions and put the game back on your shelf to rot. Like me you might have been upset with the comparatively simplistic story, and also like me, you might have gotten over it in the last half decade or so. But those of us who aren’t obsessed fanboys and have never played the game before will find a fun and somewhat scary adventure in Silent Hill 3.

"Okay, but only if you push me next."

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