If games like Resident Evil already caused you serious nightmares (a little cardiac arrest every now and then when something jumps you from behind is ok, though), you shouldn’t even think about getting yourself a title from the Silent Hill series. While in Resident Evil the horrors were sort of explainable by means of evil genetic engineering, in Silent Hill the horrors are simply there – unexplainable, mysterious, but nonetheless deadly. Some think that Silent Hill is a place outside this plane of existence, others believe that it is just an illusion, and that the games take only place in the minds of the main characters.
No matter in what theory you believe, Silent Hill is a place where you find things and memories you have lost or forgotten. In the first two games the characters willingly came to Silent Hill looking for someone lost. Their problem in both games was the fact that they (hopefully) not only found their missing ones, but also had to fight their inner fears brought to life by the town of Silent Hill, forcing them to fight not only for their lives but also for their sanity.
The rules (seem to) have changed in the third part of the series. Heather, the heroine of this story, is just an ordinary, unhealthy looking girl, with a quick temper. On a typical Sunday she went shopping to the local mall, and stepped without warning into a world of nightmares.
While Silent Hill 2 already featured top-notch graphics, Silent Hill 3 raises the mark even a little more. This is achieved partly thanks to the fact that the infamous “grain filter”, that made the previous game more spooky and mysterious without a doubt, but more or less willingly “downgraded” the graphical experience, is put to less use. An abandoned mall, creeping with inhuman abominations and other locations simply don’t need additional fog to turn one’s spine to ice.
Unlike the earlier games, you don’t spend much time on the streets of Silent Hill, and for that matter not even in Silent Hill itself. You start in the mall of your home town and after visiting your apartment building and a hospital, only later on in the game you will find yourself in Silent Hill. All the locations are highly detailed in their “spookyness”. Compared to other ports of console games to PC Silent Hill 3 really stand out in this aspect as well. While the graphics are really good already in the PS2 version additional lightning effects and the higher resolution emphasize the graphical performance even more on the PC.
The few people Heather will meet in her adventure, and she herself, are all highly detailed, and the animations look realistic and bring the characters to life, although like in all Silent Hill games, most of them look quite unhealthy and uncongenial. The same is valid for the new set of nightmarish creatures the developers created for Silent Hill 3. While some are only “refurbished” versions of enemies already known from earlier titles, they will all give you the creeps once they are after you. Or do you prefer your dogs bandaged, heavily burnt and with a head that can split open in the middle every second?
Summing it up in one word: creepy. Don’t be a coward and turn the sound down – you never know if it is just you imagination that plays tricks on you. But wasn’t there just a noise behind you? The musical selection is (as always) excellent as well, although the Silent Hill 2 main theme will always remain my favourite in the series. Turn the lights down, the stereo a little up, and if you have a nice surround system like me you will likely need some strong coffee to calm yourself down after every half an hour of gameplay.
Like in the past games, our character can choose between different weapons. Melee weapons' selection includes a knife, a steel pipe, a maul and my personal favourite: a katana. The katana was an unlockable weapon in the original Silent Hill, but since it wasn’t very balanced it wasn’t worth the trouble. This time though, it is the best melee weapon around: fast and deadly, although why 17 year old Heather handles it like a pro is beyond my understanding.
In firearms the basic “pistol” is in for the ride again and a shotgun is available too. The hunting rifle – the strongest firearm in Silent Hill 2 – was replaced with a submachine gun. The gun is quite powerful, but ammo for it is very rare, and you should save it up only for the strongest enemies.
Be warned that your choice of weapons influences the decision of which of the multiple endings you will get. Using only melee weapons and perhaps even worse, never healing one self unless already close to death, is yet again a good way to get one of the unhappier endings of the game. Not that there is a “real” happy ending anyway for that matter. I learned this lesson the hard way in Silent Hill 2. Playing “Resident Evil” style I saved as much ammo as possible, and stocked up my health packs for the bosses. The game thought of me as a tired of life lunatic, and I was quite frustrated with the way the game ended for me the first time. But back to our new heroine Heather, shall we.
Two other items that more or less *had to* make it into the newest installment are the flashlight and the radio. The radio is a proximity device, emitting static once an enemy draws close, and the job of the flashlight is obvious to everyone, I believe. Both items have their drawbacks as well - which becomes especially obvious on the harder levels of difficulty. The radio now not only detects enemies, but actually attracts them as well, and you should turn it off at all times. The disadvantages of this are minimal, as you will hear the monsters approaching if you know what to listen for (Hint: moaning and sounds of something eating noisily is normally a bad sign). The flashlight makes detecting you easier as well, but I’m aware of only a handful of hardcore players that are courageous enough to do without the flashlight... and sometimes even these have to resort to it, as you can’t see anything without it.
Also unchanged back in the game are the two independent levels of difficulty. Starting the game you can choose your level of difficulty regarding action and the complexity of the riddles. Raising the action bar means less health and less ammo, and even worse, stronger and faster enemies. The riddle level on the other hand influences the game even more. Some riddles only become available on the higher levels of difficulty, suddenly denying access to locations that were accessible without a problem in easier modes. At the same times the riddles themselves become harder and only a few clues are provided.
But raising the levels of difficulty for both will not only make the game hard to play, as the rewards you can gain make up for that. Finishing the game on various levels of difficulty again, you can obtain various bonus weapons and even a bonus ending. Without giving away too much, I can tell you that besides the “standard” weapons with unlimited ammo there are also more unearthly bonus weapons, including one from a galaxy far, far away. And who claimed that looks can’t kill, by the way?
The horror has only begun
The story is full of twists and turns like in the previous titles, and while I definitely sympathize with Heather more than e.g. with the main character of Silent Hill 2, there is of course yet again more than meets the eye. But what’s really going on is something for you as a player to find out, in this fine addition to the series.