Silent Hill 3
The mysterious, unspeakably evil town of Silent Hill was once a bright, sunny vacation spot. But evil forces were called up and the tiny town was plunged into decay. The story of the actual game series that is Silent Hill is quite similar. What began as genius and brilliance on the PlayStation, has finally degraded into a convoluted and senseless exercise in flexing visceral muscle while offering little in the way of engaging gameplay.
Recall if you will, the first game: your daughter was beside you, in the passenger seat of your vehicle at the time of the accident. You remember, it was snowing. You couldn’t see, you hit something – no, someone – and when you awoke, you found that your daughter had disappeared, swallowed by the mist in a broken town where blood and wraiths run freely. The compelling storyline made you want to play. It gave you reason to put up with clunky, tank-like controls and not-so-outstanding fight mechanics to discover your daughter’s whereabouts. So taken were you by your mission of love that the subtle incursion of the bizarre swelled dangerously, tantalizingly, at the edge of your perception.
The second game had a story that was not quite as compelling, but quite a bit more focused. Your wife sends you a note indicating that she is waiting for you in your special place. At Silent Hill. Not so abnormal is it? It would be romantic and touching, even–but your wife is dead. She died three years ago. Only the exceptionally tedious fighting and the illogical amount of running and door handle rattling sabotaged what could have been the best game in the series. Certainly the script melded the horrifying with the melancholic to arrive at something truly memorable and haunting, but in the end, Silent Hill 2 was like a brilliant short story that somebody decided to stretch ill-advisedly into a novel. It drags, and how.
And so we arrive at the supposed conclusion to the series. I braced myself as I rented the game-flashbacks of a terribly disappointing third installment of Ninja Gaiden from way back when, sprang to mind. I suppressed them, until I played the game. Now I’m checking with experts to see if I’m clairvoyant. Because Silent Hill, part 3, is as disappointing as they come. I mean, the game just drops your teenage girl protagonist, Heather (Brownie points for Konami for featuring a female) into a nightmarish scenario typical of the series and says “there, go find out what’s what.” To which you want to respond, “um, what for?”
Don’t get me wrong, there is a reason why this game is getting so much attention. It’s a work of art. The charging, stirring sonic opening entitled, “You Aren’t Here” is brilliant, and it makes me think about how much better the other two games would have been if some real music had been composed for them as well. The tune does well to lock the mediocre memories of the game into my head even now when I have been away from it for some time.
The excellence of the sounds continues to impress beyond musical composition: the pocket radio, as much a staple of the series as anything else, continues to create ‘white noise’ to alert you to the presence of undesirables in your vicinity. Monsters make positively revolting sounds when nearby as well. And while the voice acting of most of the characters in the game is quite lame, the standout performance of the main character more than makes up for the lameness of the others. Konami found a talented youngster to play Heather’s role. Also of note, is the fact that the things she says are what a young girl would really say (“yeah, whatever”). Similarly, clicking on objects often elicits a very personal, teenage girl response from her. The attention to detail is admirable.
As great as the sounds are though, the visuals in Silent Hill 3 are on a whole other level. This is as photorealistic as it gets on your PS2 (well, so far, anyway). This is as natural as human gestures have ever looked, as detailed as skin and fabric and blood have been. And the monsters in the background! Konami have managed to make those monsters that, in similar games, just hang around and look grotesque, actually move in truly alien and aberrant ways, twitching and lolling and gesticulating this way and that as your eyes struggle to piece together their pulpy incompleteness.
The monsters you actually get to fight aren’t nearly as scary of course, since they have to be fully realized 3D models. In fact, of all the Silent Hill games, this installment has the corniest looking enemies. The ‘dogs’ look real, and the skin damage to many of the ‘human’ assailants is believable, but who cares if they don’t frighten us, even a little? The bandaged children from Silent Hill, and the Pyramid heads from Silent Hill 2-now those guys were scary.
As if to compensate, the programmers have given us much cooler weaponry with which to slay the uninspired monster menagerie. You actually get to wield a katana (yup, that’s a sword), as well as a submachine gun (yup, that means a lot of bullets). So the confrontations don’t really get your pulse racing, but doling out death is a bit more interesting than before.
Unfortunately, while Silent Hill 3 is the fastest paced of all the games, the apparent lack of a purpose for the protagonist makes it seem tedious because our actions seem pointless in the scheme of things. The game does not proceed from normalcy to madness. It begins bizarre and stays that way. Also, the nature of our character’s struggle (or at least what she thinks it is) is not known from the onset, so it’s difficult to care about her or her mission, because we don’t know who she is, or what that mission might be.
This approach (the quest for identity), can work if handled carefully, but Konami’s people have cocked up the material considerably. A typical, successful approach involves giving us–and the heroine–a calling, and changing it later when new information surfaces. Here, the programmers opt instead to leave us in the dark for the majority of the game, before inanely spelling everything out (more on that in a second) in rambling CGI bits toward the finish.
In the end, Silent Hill 3 is the most graphically intense chapter of the trilogy that has become known for being “like Resident Evil, but scarier”. Regrettably, this newest chapter is the least deserving of that distinction-it’s not truly frightening at any point. It’s not that the potential isn’t there: if the proper build up was implemented, moments like the treacherous dash down the roller coaster tracks could have been heart-stopping. As it is, the writhing background monsters are often unsettling and the puzzles and fights move along at a decent clip, but our character never establishes any sort of relationship with us and after awhile of not knowing what the hell she’s on about, you’ll want to leave her in the lurch.
Indeed, more effort seems to have been made establishing forced, amateurish connections with the notoriously nebulous story of Silent Hill, than developing the unique story of chapter 3 proper. As a result, Silent Hill 3 fails as an update to the first game because it’s obvious and insulting and stupid. And it fails as its own game because it amounts to in-your-face nastiness with no point at all. This is like Hannibal to Silent Hill’s Silence of the Lambs. Borrow or rent it to see how sweetly your PS2 can make walls crawl (you have to see this to believe it!) and rooms grow and blood splash onto super-realistic characters. You’ll get a kick out of the introductory scene too. Here, our heroine appears confused and fearful of the dark and unclean things that skitter beneath iron bars, as the inexorable guitar charges on in spite of everything. Pity you won’t.