Silent Hill 3
Console: Playstation 2
Genre: Survival Horror
(Ah, Silent Hill 3. One of my favorites in the franchise, mostly because it brought the storyline of the first game to a logical conclusion, tied together the events from the franchise well enough, and showed that the concept still had some real chops to it. While many people love Silent Hill 2 over all others, the first and third games will always be my favorites, because I really loved the Mason family storyline, and while I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the second game in later years, it is not, nor will it ever be, my favorite, as Silent Hill 3 will probably always hold that spot. I still probably overrated it though.)
For the record, I’m a big fan of the Silent Hill series. (Was; after Silent Hill 4: The Room, which in and of itself was questionable for a variety of reasons, Konami handed off development of the franchise to a shitload of terrible developers, each worse than the last. The best game to come out of the whole thing was… I guess the WayForward Diablo clone on the Vita, Book of Memories, because at least that one didn’t shit all over the concept the first four games created with the vigor of an IBS sufferer with dysentery.) With it’s dark and depressing world, horrific storylines, gruesome enemies, and angsty main and secondary characters, the game series has managed to entertain me a great deal more than I thought conceivably possible. If one were to make a comparison of games to movies within the Survival Horror genre, Resident Evil would be comparable to Night of the Living Dead meets a slasher flick, Eternal Darkness would be like The Necronomicon meets The Ring, and Silent Hill is Jacob’s Ladder, if it took place in Dairy (the home of a good portion of Steven King’s novels). (To be fair, that was mostly the intent of the games in question; Resident Evil was meant to be about survival in a strange environment featuring zombies and monsters, Eternal Darkness was kind of based on Lovecraftian lore, and Silent Hill loves Jacob’s Ladder SO MUCH YOU GUYS.) So yeah, of the three choices, I like the concept of existentialism mixed with the town of the damned theme, thanks for asking. (On reflection, I don’t know if Silent Hill is specifically existential so to say. The second game could certainly make that argument, as the characters are essentially stuck in a position where they’re effectively suffering because of their own desire to suffer, and the only way to really escape is to exert their will in a fashion that allows them to forgive themselves for their transgressions, which only James seems able to do. The first and third games are more based around a specific narrative, though, and while later games love the second game in a Single White Female sort of way, they don’t really get the concept either, instead acting in a “The events of the future impact the events of the past,” fashion that frustrates the fuck out of me.)
That said, I wasn’t too terribly thrilled with SH2. Sure, the game was beautiful, from a macabre standpoint, and the storytelling was top notch, I won’t argue that. My argument lies more in the fact that SH1 was more of a story of “Man’s conflict with the environment”, which I’m fine with. SH2 was more of a tale of “Man’s conflict with the environment” combined with “self-introspection” that ultimately turned into “Man’s conflict with himself”. In other words, first game was about killing bad guys. The second game, however, was about how the main character IS the bad guy, and is abusing himself. (I don’t so much have a conflict with that concept these days; internal and external conflict can both be handled well if the right writer works with them, and to be fair, James’ internal conflicts were represented as external forces so you got enough of both concepts that anyone could really enjoy the game regardless of their preference. My issue at this point with the game is more that James, on reflection, isn’t an especially emotive character. This was fine in the first and fourth games… less so the fourth one… because the plot isn’t about them, it’s about the world, and they’re merely the tool that fixes the world, in theory. In Silent Hill 2, though, the whole plot is about James, and he comes across as something of a wooden puppet, being dragged from one event to the next in a reverse It’s a Wonderful Life sort of shitshow that’s interesting, but is never made more so because James just… exists. Even his revelation and breakdown at the end aren’t great, he mostly just kind of mopes a bit and deals with it. “In Water” is the only ending that really has any emotional gravitas, and that’s the one where he fucking kills himself, though I think that’s supposed to be the “correct” ending so maybe that’s the point.)
It was a great deal more about self discovery and one’s own sins than about attempting to defeat evil, in any form or fashion. For the record, I’m not big on the concept of overcoming one’s own personal problems being a focal point of a video game. Movies, sure, I loved Jacob’s Ladder, which is what parts of this series are inspired by, no question… (especially the Lightside/Darkside) But in video games, I’m not too big on that sort of high concept scripting, because a video game is more about PLAYING the game than it is about storyline developments, realistically. (In the decade or so since I wrote this, I’ve since become fine with the idea on introspective storytelling in games and self discovery as a narrative concept in gaming, so long as the developer has a good idea of how to handle it. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was a decent example, for instance, while Amnesia itself was too wrapped up in its exterior crises to really pull it off, and Irritum shit the bed so hard there was just a big brown hole where the game should’ve been.)
Anyway, enough of that. Despite any initial fears I had regarding the newest incarnation, SH3 delivers the goods, big time. That’s what I came to say, people… this game is one of the best video games in existence, period, not to mention being the best game in this series. (The latter is still mostly correct. The former, not even close.) The mood and theme are perfect, the story development is excellent, and the game has a ton of extras for the player to discover. The game itself isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s a shining gem of why I’m glad to be a gamer. (Eh, I’ll still own that. It’s still a pretty good experience I think.)
Brief synopsis for you: Our story revolves around Heather, (a) normal young girl out for a day of shopping. She nods off at the burger shop and has a horrible nightmare about the carnival, then, after calling her dad, she is accosted by a private detective who wants to tell her about her mother. (Seriously, fuck Doug Cartland. He’s basically useless throughout the majority of the plot, and the one thing he does well almost causes the end of the fucking world, to the extent that Samael is capable of this thing. What a shithead.) She tells him to go piss off and escapes him through the women’s bathroom, only to find herself encountering things she never thought possible… horrific monsters, a changing world, and a woman named Claudia, who seems to hold all the answers. (Ah, Claudia Wolf. I kind of love Claudia as a character because she’s a horrible religious zealot who’s so devoted to her cause that she thinks everything she’s doing is for the greater good to the point where any and all sacrifices are necessary, but I hate her because fuck that, she’s a horrible human being. The worst part is, she’s actually not a bad person; while her viewpoint is horribly corrupt from being raised within Silent Hill as a child in the Order, she’s actually not trying to be evil, which makes her even worse, because she thinks her viewpoint is the correct one, and she’s not immoral so much as just warped and super fucked in the head. Compare her to Vincent Smith, the other quasi-antagonist in this game; Claudia’s viewpoints are wrong, but she’s committed to them and believes them to be correct, while Vincent’s viewpoints are probably more correct, but motivated by greed and personal gain. I like that a lot, honestly.) Terrified beyond belief, all Heather can do is try to find a way out, to get back to her father, so things can be normal again…
Now then, graphically, SH3 is absolutely beautiful, so long as you remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (It still holds up okay enough, mostly due to the heavy fog effects on display, though oddly, the HD remake Konami gave the game made things worse, and between them releasing a broken HD port because who fucking does that and the fact that they basically said “lol no patch for 360,” they made it apparent they gave absolutely no fucks. Basically Konami sucks all the dicks these days and fuck them for not going out of business and passing their franchises to a company that might fuck them up less. When I can say “Well even if Capcom turned Silent Hill into Resident Evil it’d be better than what Konami’s doing with it that’s not good.) The monsters are horrendously ugly, to be sure, but the graphics themselves are exceptionally gorgeous, and it’s obvious Konami paid a lot of attention to detail. The character models are also very exquisite, and are very well detailed, though some of them give off the impression that they’re on some sort of illegal substances by their looks in general (Heather, in particular, looks like she’s seriously stoned through most of the game). (To be fair her life’s a fucking mess, I’d look like shit if I were in her position too, I suspect.) The backgrounds compliment the game experience by being rendered, as opposed to the standard Resident Evil style of having a static backdrop with dynamic character models. (RE, as we established, dropped that particular aspect before this came out, actually, though it was a big part of the franchise for years so I can’t fault myself for referencing it.) In short, the game is a thing of visual beauty, bar none.
Aurally, the game kicks it into high gear as well, which should not be a surprise to long standing SH fans. The music is dark and mood-setting, often times made up of simple looping beats combined with the sounds of the wailing dead or human screams. The vocal tracks are also decent for what they are, though something of a more Nine Inch Nails bent would have better served the game’s purpose, I think. (You shut your whore mouth, past me, Akira Yamaoka is fucking awesome. Between him, Yuzo Koshiro and everyone in the Atlus in-house band, Japan makes the best game music and if you disagree I will fight you, come at me.) Also, the sound effects are dark and eerie, the creatures make sounds appropriate to what would be expected of them, the gunshots are all as accurate as I’ve ever heard, and the voice acting is simply wondrous (not a surprise coming from Konami, home of Solid Snake). (Considering the voice work in the second game, less so.)
The control is actually one of my favorite points of the game, as Konami saw fit to offer two different control schemes for the game right out of the box: 2D, which allows you to press a direction to move in that direction, and 3D, which allows you to move forward via pressing up, turn by pressing right, and back up by pressing down. (AKA “normal controls” and “tank controls”.) Personal taste will dictate the ultimate decision on that one, but I went with 3D, if only because I’m used to it from previous RE titles (though I did bitch about that in my RE:0 review, for the record… I do like having a choice, even if I stick with the same damn thing). (From having played the RE remake released to XBOne and PS4 recently, I will note that with these specific games there’s a certain positive aspect to the tank controls, mostly because of the static camera angles. Basically, with tank controls, if you press up, you always move forward, so you don’t get all fucked up if the camera angle changes. With normal controls, that can happen if you adjust your movement, so while tank controls suck, they do kind of have their place.) Also, Heather controls very nicely and with minimal difficulty in both control schemes, and the button options should be familiar to fans of survival horror; the run button, action button, aim button, and attack button are all as present as they’ve always been, though the new item option built into the L3 button is a welcome timesaver if one chooses to hotkey ammo or health to it. (These days that’s hotkeyed to the D-Pad because no one uses that to move around anymore.) Overall, the controls aren’t perfect, but they’re very solid, and no one should trip over them given ten minutes playing any game in the genre.
And then we come to what is usually my favorite topic: the extras. For the record, let me tell you, before we go any further, that SH3 is going to get a perfect 10 in this category. (SPOILERS ASSHOLE.) Reason? Konami put every single possible extra short of an alternate playable character into this game, and it all comes off like pure beauty, baby. From a miasma of unlockable costumes to a large amount of special weapons, the game offers anything and everything a pure gamer could ever hope for, and more. (This is no bullshit, for reference; Silent Hill 3 had all kinds of crazy nonsense built into it, including somewhere around thirty costumes and a damn Sailor Moon suit, a lightsaber, magical eye beams and all kinds of other awesome stuff. This obviously takes away some of the impact from the storyline but fun is fun, and this game is clearly trying to have it.) In addition, there are a total of three ending sequences to unlock, easier and harder game difficulties, and the option of having Douglas not wear a shirt or pants (eww), all right there! (Still don’t get the point of that one, but whatevs.) What’s not to like? Whether you are a die-hard gamer or just someone who wants a little more, I can rest assured that there’s something in here just for you (the transformation costume, as a prime example… pure stupid goodness, gotta love it). (Not only that but there’s even an “In the name of the *mumblemumble* I’ll punish you!” ending to find, and it is awesome.)
On the whole, I can honestly say that this is the definitive SH game, bar none. (Structurally anyway; clearly Silent Hill 2 is the definitive franchise game, since every game after The Room is just Silent Hill 2, over again, only much worse. Hell, they remade the first game and turned it into the second game retroactively for fuck’s sake.) Every single aspect of the game is done to perfection, and gamers of every possible skill level will have a blast. The horror elements are played up very well, the game ties up all of its loose ends by the end, and the game experience is masterful in its execution. As much as I might like to, I can’t really find anything truly bad to say about this game, except that it might turn off anyone who’s disgusted by graphic violence, but beyond that, this game is a perfect example of what the survival horror genre is capable of. (Off the top of my head, I can say nowadays that the gameplay still isn’t great and I was grossly overrating it.) SH3 is a must have for fans of the series and the genre alike, and even those who aren’t too thrilled with the genre as a whole might find something to like here, as well.
1. Graphics are absolutely stunning.
2. Voice acting is top notch.
3. The sheer amount of extras alone make this game worth the money.
4. The storyline development is high-impact, and builds to a very interesting climax. (She vomits up a God fetus, watches Claudia eat it, then kills Samael/God after it’s born. Not that interesting.)
5. The vast majority of the puzzles in the game are relatively logical, and make sense if you think about them long enough.
1. The sheer amount of time you’d have to play this game to unlock everything is mind boggling. (Yeah that’s one of the bigger issues; you’d have to play through the game about three or four times to unlock all the shit in it, and that’s assuming you can get one of the best possible scores in the game at least two of the times you play through it.)
2. You can see certain plot developments coming a mile away.
3. The subway scene that the game almost blatantly ripped from Jacob’s Ladder. (To be fair they love the fuck out of Jacob’s Ladder, and constantly reference the subway and hospital scenes, even in the non-Team Silent games.)
4. Some of the puzzles are more than a bit obtuse (like, find a silver dollar on the table, put in the soda machine, the soda has a key in side, WTF?) and may require some real brain bending.
5. The final boss wasn’t nearly as impressive as I’d hoped he’d be, considering he’s y’know, God and all. (For a “god,” Samael is generally ineffectual in the first few games, honestly. It’s fine that he can take over the small tourist town of Silent Hill, I guess, and make a little pocket dimension within it, but he doesn’t really seem to care about doing anything with it but tormenting others who feel they deserve it. Even The Room only expands that to the point that Samael’s power extends to a dude who travels outside of the town to kill people. The later games imply he’s capable of rewriting reality and all kinds of other crazy things, but it’s not like there’s even an explanation for any of that, unless you count “because we said so.” I always kind of felt like that was on purpose; like, the Order summoned up this “god,” but he’s a shitty, ineffectual god, and they’re just too stupid to realize it, so they give him power and let him run their town because they don’t know any better and think he’ll lead them to better things. Meanwhile he leeches off of their stupidity, because he’s the perfect god for them in his own shitty way.)
1. Some of the scenes in the game are outright gory as hell, to the point where the question of why they are that way may come to mind… (The game’s downright tame in comparison to The Evil Within or Dead Space these days.)
2. Heather’s flashlight, the worst fucking flashlight in God’s creation.
3. The radio noise is subdued in this game, and combined with the ambient soundtrack, makes it almost useless.
4. Yeah, I’m really gonna use Jerky on a dog with a vertical split in it’s head. Sure. (I assume that’s a puzzle solution of some sort.)
5. The town of Silent Hill is even MORE foggy, if that’s even possible.
OVERALL: 9.25 (Relative to its time of release, I’d say that Control is probably a bit high; I’d probably say the game’s a high eight, but the score isn’t too far off from what I would’ve thought of it when it came out.)