There are not too many games that really give me a good scare. Silent Hill 3 is one of the best I’ve encountered. I have always enjoyed the Silent Hill series because it relies on both actual things to scare you, like monsters jumping out of the bushes at the right moments, and also more imperceptible means, like a far-off noise or the odd setup of a room. It keeps you on edge even when you are in a completely safe environment within the game. The game is a horror survival game, and other than perhaps Fatal Frame, Silent Hill 3 really is the new top dog in this arena. It caused me to jump out of my chair several times during play (once admittedly when my cat decided to pay me a midnight visit while I was exploring a dark subway tunnel). When I was not jumping out of my chair, I was on the edge of it.
Graphically, there is really nothing on the PS2 that can compare. The facial animations are incredible. Even the minor characters in the game are rendered perfectly. A grizzled old detective, old way before his time, bears the markings of a harsh life. The game’s lead antagonist is a perfect blend of sophisticated beauty – complete with a British accent – with a large dose of madness behind her eyes.
The main character, a young girl named Heather, looks incredibly real right down to her pale skin, freckled face and careless blond hair. Most people who see her describe Heather as a "sad young girl" but for me it was pretty easy to identify with her. Perhaps it was the excellent voice acting or the fact that Heather bears a striking resemblance to a childhood friend of mine, but it was easy to understand her motives and actions in all the cut scenes.
The game is however extremely gore-filled. There is blood on nearly everything, either fresh following a battle or dried up at the scene of some atrocity you constantly run across. Faint of heart – you have been warned.
The game ships with a soundtrack CD and I am so glad that it did. The music in this game runs the gamut from creepy environmental filler to rock songs that if you heard on the radio would make you wonder who the new hot group in town was. All are included on the soundtrack CD. I especially liked the theme song "You’re not here." When performed by vocalist Melissa Williamson, it sounds like a Chrissie Hynde song. There are hardly any game soundtracks that are worth listening to when not playing the game, but this is one of them.
The general game audio is good too. When monsters get close to you, a radio you carry begins to belch static even if you can’t see the beast. It’s a great early warning system, but is also a very creepy audio effect. Couple that with footsteps on hallow wood floors or steel walkways (yours and the monsters) and you have an audio sound wall that really contributes to the mood.
The game follows the life of main character Heather, and starts right when things begin to go wrong. You actually start playing in a bad nightmare, and then are transported back to reality, having fallen asleep at a diner in the mall. The problem is that the nightmare follows you it seems, and soon the mall is reduced to a scene that is part Twilight Zone and part Tales from the Crypt. You spend the rest of the game moving between reality (which is not all that cheerful anyway) and the deadly, bloody otherworld. You never quite know for sure which one you are in, though it matters little because both are extremely deadly.
There are several different monster types that try to kill you along the way, from giant mosquito-like flies to devil dogs to giant walking mounds of flesh. The monsters are all pretty scary, though there is one that looks a bit too much like Gumby on steroids for me to take him too seriously.
You fight the monsters using a variety of weapons you find from a steel pipe to an Uzi. My favorite weapon in the game is a katana you pick up in an art gallery because it is extremely quick and powerful. All firearms have bullets or shells, so you will need to find stashes of them around and conserve your ammo. I mostly used the bigger firearms on the boss-level monsters. I LOVED the shotgun.
The controls for the game are a little bit weak. The 3D controls require you to turn Heather around and then move her forward. The 2D control option I thought was better because you just point the way you want to go, so I could turn a lot quicker. The camera angles were adequate, but a lot of times the camera forced you to look in directions you did not want too, like away from the powerful monster just off-screen trying to eat your head. I fought an entire boss-level monster without even seeing him once due to bad camera angles. I guess this was done to increase the tension in the game, but it’s a technique I think most gamers dislike.
You can kind of rotate the camera to a better angle, but not very easily. It requires that you hold down a button and move Heather, which depending on the circumstances, you might not want her to move into the unknown just to improve you vision.
Despite the minor camera angle annoyance (let’s face it, horror games back to Alone in the Dark do the same thing) the game is extremely fun to play. In addition to just combat and gross scenery, there are also puzzles to solve. These puzzles are extremely well done. They are difficult, but not unsolvable with a little bit of brain power. I never got stuck on one, though I did work on some for 10 to 15 minutes before figuring the solution.
You can also change the difficulty level for BOTH combat and riddles. So if you like to fight instead of think you can set the game that way, but if getting pummeled by monsters is not your idea of a good time, you can tone them down. Pretty much any type of gamer can get through the game when set to their proper skill and preference level.
Silent Hill 3 is one of the best, and best-looking, games I have ever played on the PS2. It has the right mix of action, thinking and horror. It’s as good as or better than any horror movie and will suck you right into the middle of the action. It will have you looking over your shoulder and fearing the things that go bump in the night.