Silent Hill 3

Review by Old Rooster
February 2004

"Where Am I?" —Heather

A young girl appears to be dreaming. Or is she? These visions or remembrances or reality (?) take her from an amusement park to a mall to a hospital, with stops along the way. As the authors phrase it: "It happened suddenly, without warning, and seemingly without reason. The simple happiness she had known was gone. Her entire world was transformed into a grotesque and bizarre nightmare. She was caught in the middle."

In this interesting third iteration of the classic Silent Hill series, the developers make quite a departure from previous formulas, at least as regards playable character. This time you play, in third-person perspective, an "ordinary" teenage girl who immediately finds herself caught up in really strange places and situations. Beginning in an uninhabited amusement park, in the evening, Heather soon finds herself transported to her favorite shopping mall, which does have some inhabitants—but they're not shoppers!

"Is this a Dream? It's Got to Be." —Heather

Let's chat for a moment about the technicalities of Silent Hill 3. As a very nicely done port of the classic PS2 title, SH3 ships with five game CDs plus one full-hour music CD, to recreate atmosphere during your nonplaying times. Installation broke a record for this gamer, taking 5.2 gigabytes of space on the hard drive! However, there were no glitches, crashes or other anomalies during my entire 15 to 20 hours of playing time. Further, this PC version allows saving anywhere, as well as providing a quick save and load feature set, with instant response time. Given the smoothness of the operation, as well as excellent visuals and sound, I didn't mind the gigantic installation. Further, it looked outstanding and ran smoothly on my moderate nVidia 3, Pentium IV, XP setup.

"The Door Is Locked"

This, and parallel messages, will be sent your way many, many times during the course of the game. Frustratingly, many or even most of those doors never do open, nor need they be opened. In some respects, SH3 plays as a quite tedious door-opening item hunt punctuated by interludes of rather absurd creature fights and the occasional moments of shock and horror. It's the latter, those times of horror, coupled with the anticipation of what may be coming, that makes SH3 a cautiously recommended experience.

The interface is well-done, readily accessible, and logical. In addition to a Heather Health indicator, you can bring up supplies (bullets, medicine), items (keys, flashlight), weapons (select and reload), maps (with a zoom feature), and a few other selections, as well as keyboard configuration. Once the shallow learning curve is overcome, there's little to stand in the way of smooth gaming. Hitting Esc pauses the game, except during cutscenes and fights, allowing you to be properly equipped, check the map, and think about your next move.

A bunch of other options are available. You can play in any of seven languages—from English to German to Korean—and use subtitles. The amount (!) and color of blood can be selected, as can resolution, light flare, shadows, brightness and even screen sharpness. Easy, normal and hard settings can be selected for Monster Level, as well as a Riddle (puzzles) Level.

Hotspots often prove to be a problem. You suspect you need an item, or a walkthrough even tells you it's necessary. You know approximately where it is or should be, and it doesn't show itself the way most collectibles reveal themselves (a noticeable little light on the screen). Three of my remaining 27 hairs were pulled looking for a bottle of bleach. "Stop screaming and get one from the laundry room," says Mrs. Rooster. Well, she just doesn't get it, does she? Of course, contributing to this occasionally frustrating item search is the general darkness of the whole place. You dearly want to turn on an overhead flourescent!

"What the Hell Is this Thing?" —Heather

Although not nearly at the level of Resident Evil's zombies, Heather does confront a succession of slithering creatures that can kill her. Armed initially with only a knife, this mild-mannered suburban teenager soon learns to use her acquired pistol, katana and even a submachine gun! The fights with these baddies and the bosses are not especially satisfying. Essentially, it's stab, stab, stab or shoot, shoot, shoot, with little regard for aiming, tactics or moves. You can usually also run from them, a preferred way to go, especially if you've saved your game just prior to confrontation, and can experiment a bit with direction—not running to a dead end, for example.

In essence, they're a nuisance, and not much more, unless you choose to play at the hard level.

"What a Nightmare!" —Heather

As suggested, it's the threat of the unknown, of what may be coming, that causes the greatest fear. The creators worked hard and well to evoke a sense of foreboding. The game world is dark (leading the adjustable light setting to be cranked up all the way), and you need your flashlight a good deal of the time. The settings, especially the mall, are also large, and the map is very useful. But, perhaps, it's ambient sound that will give you the creepiest feelings. There will be times of "dead" quiet, with only Heather's footfalls and the hum of machinery evident, and then you'll hear a bit of static, getting louder, on your special radio, meaning one of the monsters is very close.

Or you may have this kind of experience, one of my favorite in the game. The mall and its environs are a bloody mess, as you'll see from the pictures. You explore one of those unlocked doors, finding it's a ladies' room. You have to acquire an item or two, but you also notice a stall door that looks interesting. You knock, and someone (something?) knocks back! There's a blood-curdling noise, and the door partially opens. You enter, ready for anything, but find the stall empty—except for a vast amount of blood spattered upon the toilet and walls. It's this sort of anticipated terror that forms the best aspect of the game, perhaps even the series.

"I Don't Get It" —Heather

Perhaps I'm becoming a bit jaded with games of my favorite subgenre, horror, but I found, after the first hour or so, Silent Hill 3 rather tedious, sometimes boring, and always confounding, in terms of where it was going. Sure, the visuals, sounds and sense of dread are great stuff, especially if you've not played either of the first two games. But even with a new character and settings, we've been there and done that. Further, as a "game," Silent Hill 3 falls short in a least three critical respects. The "adventuring," as in collecting and using items, is mainly primitive and superficial, and sometimes downright nasty in terms of finding cursor hotspots. Secondly, the fighting aspect is even more primitive, amounting to little more than weapon selection and button pounding. Finally, the story, without giving anything away, just doesn't lead one to say, "Well, that was a trip worth taking."

The primary appeal of Silent Hill 3 is setting and atmosphere. SH3 is grungy, claustrophobic, very bloody—not a "full family" game. For many, this general creepiness of visuals and sounds, coupled with fear of the unknown, will be sufficient. For this gamer, more is needed, leading to my mixed rating ("maybe yes, maybe no").

What I Liked Most About Silent Hill 3

  • The game drips, sometimes literally, with atmosphere;
  • Graphics are outstanding;
  • Compelling sound track, voice work and ambient noises;
  • The port from PS2 is nicely done, with PC enhancements;
  • Significant game differences among the three difficulty levels.

What I Liked Least About the Game

  • Long stretches of tedious searching and monster bashing;
  • Sometimes awkward camera placement;
  • No real fighting moves or tactics—just button pounding;
  • A very lonely and dark world, with an odd storyline;
  • Sometimes critical item-finding problems. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: November 28, 2003

Available for: PlayStation 2Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 1 GHz (P4 1.4 recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB 3D GeForce 2 video card
DirectX 9.0a compatible sound card
5.2 GB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

GoGamer 19.90 (PC); 39.90 (PS2)

Prices/links current as of 2/23/04
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