In The Quick and the Dead, Gene Hackman talks about how nothing scares him. He loves the sensation of it, so new and invigorating it is when he actually tastes fear. So it is me and horror flicks. The Shining is overblown and overrated, Halloween is very intense but I wouldn’t call it scary. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane… well that’s different.
I won’t say my will is necessarily stronger than anyone else’s (my actions do that already, heh heh), it’s just that I’m cynical enough to not be afraid of an axe-wielding zombie who belongs in goal for the Canucks.
As such, Silent Hill was a revelation. It took a basic haunted house story, applied it to an entire sleepy town, filled said town with some of the most genuinely freakish monsters in gaming, and ramped up the atmosphere to an 11. The scene where the nurse bleeds out and charges you scared my college roommate so badly he couldn’t sleep for days. The second game I felt had a truly powerful story of loss and clouded memories, and also dealt with guilt and the intentional repression of dark memories. Very beautiful, and deeply sad (touched with more bizarre creatures and some of the most unnerving sound effects I’ve ever heard), Silent Hill 2 I consider a terrific game.
Silent Hill 3 starts promisingly enough, when teenager Heather walks into an amusement park that is definitely not open to toddlers. Anyone who’s played the first game will instantly recognize the dark, rusted world Heather is in, and just for kicks she’s standing right next to the freakiest bunny this side of Donnie Darko. This first segment is more of an introduction to the game controls, but since there’s no distinct help menu, you’re just thrown into the pool and have to figure out how to swim. Heather doesn’t know this world, how she got there, or how she’ll get back. All she (and you) knows is that evil is about, there are monsters in the dark, and those monsters are coming for her.The in-game graphics haven’t changed much since the last game, but they were such high-quality then it didn’t really bother me. The cinematics are gorgeous, and when they quick-cut to some of the more surreal monsters it’s genuinely disturbing. The monsters and the characters are all very well designed, and the movements are believable, if a little slow like when Heather runs. She always seems to be moving in slow motion. If I was being chased by a dog whose head was split in two, I’d be able to compete as an Olympic sprinter. The world(s) Heather sees are very eerie, even the normal places like the early shopping mall and later the hospital. The art design on the normal and dark worlds would be breath taking if it wasn’t so creepy. Especially that hospital. Once that turns over to the dark side, you’ll be shuddering for a long while. This is how sound design is done. The visuals in the game are impressive by themselves, but they’re nothing compared to the sound effects. The shuffling of the monsters, the cries they make, and the echoes of footsteps in hallways, all of it is designed solely for the purposes of giving you nightmares and the game does that quite well. The music is pretty good, but I do have to knock its repetition every time a monster would show up (which is frequently). Excellent work Konami, and they even managed to not screw up the voice acting either. Sure, some of the dialogue is hokey at times (and the character of Claudia seemed overtly over-the-top) but the limited cast comes through in fine form, especially Heather Morris as Heather. She’s not quite as grating as most teenagers, and given her circumstances one can appreciate why she’s flipping out.
You have to hold down the R2 button while hitting the X button to make an attack, Select is Inventory, Start is Pause, the L1 and R1 buttons are for sidestepping, and the L2 button swivels the camera around behind you. Like most survival horror games (I’m looking at you Resident Evil), the third-person camera is normally placed in a position that would be considered more cinematic than being practical. As such on more than one occasion, you wind up running down a darkened hallway while the camera is planted firmly in front of your face, and I were watching a movie that would be fine. But I’m playing a game with limited ammo and even less light, really big monsters are after me, and I can’t see in front of me but I still have to run down a darkened hallway? Who does this make sense to?Hunt the key, avoid the monsters. That’s about it for gameplay to be honest. In sequence after sequence, you have to find the right item (for example, a pair of tongs) then find the right spot for that item to be used (down a hall, in a room to the side, there’s a key behind a bench which you use the tongs to get) then run back to another location and use the item you just got, all while avoiding or killing the various monstrosities. Factor in the long amount of time between save points and you’d better have some time on your hands to play this. It’s not a long game, but it sure feels like it at times. I’d say Silent Hill 3 is the lesser of the three games, as the story ultimately doesn’t feel as personal as the first two games did, but it does get points for fleshing out the world and uniqueness of the town itself. After beating it the first time, you can go back through for alternate endings and multiple unique weapons such as a flame thrower and rocket launcher. I don’t think the story would hold up much under intense scrutiny, plus the good ol’ “hunt for the key in the special item” questing aspect of the series is getting old. It would be worthwhile to pull this out every Halloween and scare your guests with the hospital sequence among others, but I don’t see much use for it come February.