The road to Paradise is closed for repairs.
Due to pesky regional release schedules, our European friends played Silent
Hill 3 weeks before we did. Europeans like to vent about things and,
fortunately or unfortunately, many of them have telephones. Even now, I can still
hear the voice of one French girl in particular, who despite her mastery of English
had to grope for her words (I can’t do a disgusted, female French accent too well,
so you have to use your imagination): “Oh, Silent Hill 3. Oh, no,
no. You’ll see. It is’so”nasty!”
I thanked her, politely wrapped up the phone call’and sat there in silence. And then I started smiling. Yes, we’d soon judge for ourselves. The game arrived the next day.
moreso than any other video game series, Silent Hill can be
called nasty. This third entry once again revolves around a basically ordinary,
believable person; no corny secret agents or “elite cops” here. Seventeen-year-old
Heather Morris (the series’ first female lead) is also more likeable than her
two bland-o male predecessors, having some attitude, some vulnerability and
even some snarky teenaged wit. When an adult character introduces herself to
Heather with a rather dramatic, Thespianic “I’am Claudia” (shortly
before which Heather has seen her entire world turned nightmarishly inside-out),
Heather shoots back with a mockingly-dramatic “So…what.”
Heather doesn’t even start out in the town of Silent Hill. She’s just a girl
who wants to enjoy a day at a local mall. And then the monsters start
showing up, right there in the food-court, as it were.
If you haven’t had the “pleasure” (if that’s the word) of the Silent
Hill series, then there’s one salient fact you need to know above all
others: the normal, everyday world can change at a moment’s notice, suddenly
shifting to a darker, uglier, nightmarish reflection of itself. Overall floor-plans
(as per the map) may remain largely the same, but commonplace rooms can become
blood-spattered torture chambers, empty hospital corridors become suddenly acrawl
with awful things that can no longer be called “nurses,” and the most
banal of city streets or mall escalators can suddenly be shorn off by industrial
barriers or black gulfs of inexplicable nothingness. And in terms of sheer amounts
of red present onscreen, Silent Hill 3 is also probably the
goriest, bloodiest game ever made.
We’ve seen dynamic, virtual blood-spouting many times before (“FINISH HIM!”).
We’Ave seen bloodied, static backgrounds (Resident Evil). But
walls that actually, actively throb and bleed? That’s a fairly new
one, at least to this degree. There are probably hundreds of video games one
would be well-advised to not play under the influence of psychoactives, but
Silent Hill 3 truly takes the cake’and then kills you with
The monsters are everywhere, their proximity only heralded
by the ever-increasing shriek of static from a malfunctioning pocket radio.
And not just your hulking, Doom-style video game monsters,
either, but really icky, nasty-looking ones that your eye can’t quite categorize.
Silent Hill 3 creature designer Ito Masahiro must have some
really juicy nightmares.
Mechanically, Silent Hill 3 is essentially the same as its
predecessors. Heather can wield an arsenal of weapons, including a switchblade,
a handgun, a shotgun, bludgeoning instruments, a stun-gun, a katana, and even
a sub-machine gun (it’s easy to waste ammo with this, but God, it’s satisfying).
Both the standard 2D and 3D types of control are available, the inventory screens
are almost identical (with the ability to access all previous clues and the
current area’s map, if you have it), and combat has been slightly improved.
Heather can strafe left and right as she confronts the horrors of Silent Hill,
and if she punctuates her attacks with well-timed, one-button blocks, the katana
is a surprisingly effective weapon, more than capable of taking down bosses.
It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible.
what starts off as a normal day at the mall (gone horribly wrong) proceeds
to a tour of the town so many horror-gamers have played in’and died in. If you
made your way through Silent Hill 2 as James
(or Maria!), you’ll definitely revisit some old haunts, including the Heaven’s
Night strip-club (which, for your secular dollar, is still probably the last
place on Earth in which you’d want to get a lap-dance).
But the bulk of the Silent Hill experience certainly isn’t
“secular” by any means – in fact, there’s a lot of religion floating around
here. While Silent Hill 2 eschewed much of the
first game’s occultic nature (in favor of a more internalized horror-tale),
Silent Hill 3 is filled with questions of occultism, belief and destiny.
It certainly feels much more like the first game, and in fact makes many, many
direct references to it, as well as references both oblique and direct to a
number of modern and classic horror movies. Visually, it’s obvious that the
creators of Silent Hill 3 have noted such movies as Adrian
Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder (one of the game’s new environments makes a blatant
homage to that film). It’s also obvious that they spent a great deal of time
perfecting the look and concentrating on keeping things immersive, evidenced
by the fact that the fantastic cut-scenes are all in-engine.
Aurally, sound designer Yamaoka Akira also makes his intentions and passions
known; the U.S. release of the game (unlike the Euro release) actually includes
a separate 25-song soundtrack disk. It might make you re-think the value of
the normally dubious “video game soundtrack,” as it includes not only gorgeous
female vocals (a series first), but also mesmerizing
space-out tracks and even dramatic, emotional songs that
slowly build to guitar-heavy rock licks (redolent of something Slash
might have a hand in) that brilliantly incorporate recognizable musical themes
from earlier Silent Hill games. And despite one or two instances
of iffy translation, there are some really startling lyrics, too; here I’m thinking
of the powerful female singer’s voice crying for a miracle, imploring “The high
that is sending me, is most likely ending me.” Yikes.
Suffice it to say that Silent Hill 3 revisits some old themes
and locales, while introducing some new perspectives on both elements of the
first and second games. Those wading in completely wet-behind-the-ears will
be a little lost, and rightfully so, but even Silent Hill veterans
from way back won’t ever have all the answers’although if they survive long
enough, they will certainly be closer to the heart of the mystery.
Not all the quibbles of mechanics and game-camera have been completely ironed
out, but this is certainly Silent Hill at its functional best, despite the now
familiar gameplay. Occasional camera problems crop up, and oddly, time does
not stop while you are futzing with some of the puzzles. Getting bitten on the
butt by some hell-spawn while fiddling with a logic conundrum can be trying.
And Hard mode is truly hard, with a distressingly high monsters-to-bullets/health
ratio, and one or two really harsh puzzles. Hope you know your Shakespeare.
But you probably knew the dangers when you arrived here in Silent Hill. If
you’re more familiar with the second game than the first, you’ll doubtless find
the heavier occultic, religious tone a little distracting. It’s okay, though;
you will deal, or you will die. And the road to Paradise may be truly scheduled
for demolition. Proceed with caution.