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Silent Hill 3 Review

publisher: Konami
developer: Konami
genre: Adventure

PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: Dec 02, 03
» All About Silent Hill 3 on ActionTrip

Let's face it, there aren't that many scary games out there. In the old days, the horror genre was pretty much reduced to classics like 7th Guest, Gabriel Knight, Alone in the Dark, Phantasmagoria, and even Doom. (Ed. - Hurray for Satanism!) The following years saw the birth of new gaming technologies and with it came Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and, eventually, Silent Hill. All three were huge sellers, but what made the horror genre so appealing? Well, when you think about it, the reason is obvious, the average gamer enjoys action, but they also enjoy a bit of creepiness to go with it. Therefore, being scared stiff while killing zombies and the shambling undead seemed like a perfect addition to an addictive gaming experience. Enter the horror elements: echoes, screams, bloody footsteps, creepy alleys, darkness, and so forth. Konami, a publisher and developer mostly recognized for numerous successful console titles, decided to once again treat PC gamers to a new installment in the horror-adventure series, Silent Hill.

Silent Hill 3 puts you in the role of a new female character, affectionately named Heather. After a rather disturbing nightmare, which took place in an eerie-looking amusement park, Heather awakens in what appears to be a deserted shopping mall. Shaking off the sense of fear and dismay caused by the upsetting dream, our heroine strolls through the mall trying to resolve her enigmatic visions. No matter where she goes, Heather has to confront swarms of unfriendly weird-looking creatures, all of which have an unwavering desire to eat her alive. Tormented by nightmares, your character constantly ventures through both the real world and dark world. As you move on, other characters are introduced, eventually revealing segments of the story. Sadly, the long-drawn-out prologue and a somewhat vague story altogether make for an uninteresting start for a horror journey. You know that all the characters are somehow involved, but it takes way too long to find out why. You'll basically know that something bad is afoot and that's supposed to be enough. (Ed. - Zombies and mutants strolling around shopping malls, sounds like Christmas to me.)

Even though the slow opening may offset the thrill factor a bit, Silent Hill 3 does feature sporadic sequences that are scary, or at least give you a few cold chills. For instance, when you rush down into the hospital basement and the camera suddenly cues to a tipped-over wheelchair... its squeaky wheel still spinning and a fresh trail of blood leading away from scene. Such horror scenes are made even eerier by the successful use of ambient noises. The enhanced sound engine now presents a few cool additions to the in-game audio. A great portion of the game takes place in uninhabited and claustrophobic areas, like murky hallways, dark basements, and underground passageways all of which are filled with nothing but dead silence and darkness. The long silence is often broken by strange cries that echo in the dark. The soundtrack effectively combines ear-piercing ambient sounds with chilling horror-like tunes. On a side note, each character was professionally voiced, which is why dialogues come as a nice break from gunfire and add even more human emotion into the mix.

But even with all this, to actually feel frightened was a rare occurrence during the game. The in-game ambiance doesn't fully convey the gruesomeness of Resident Evil and the sheer spookiness of titles like Fatal Frame. Fair enough, some of the monsters are grotesque, but that doesn't necessarily make them scary in my book. So, in terms of originality in overall design the game doesn't really feature any noteworthy aspects.

Silent Hill 3 possesses several visual improvements over the previous installment. Primarily, the developers tweaked the grainy camera filter, which now looks way better, while characters and creature models feature additional polys as well as improved animation. On top of that, you'll see some impressive visual effects that have been mixed excellently into the gameplay. For example, when Heather passes into the dark world, blood will be found almost every step of the way and the walls and floors will look like they were made out of human flesh. The gameplay was streamlined with nicely coordinate cut-scenes, although the lip syncing doesn't exactly work the way it should.

Silent Hill 3 sets a slightly different tone from the previous game with an overall emphasis on action and occasional adventure elements, such as collecting keys and notes, puzzle solving, etc. If I'm not mistaken, in Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears players had to tangle with a lot more riddles along the way. (Ed. - That's right, the game was a series of riddles and clues.) This time though, puzzles don't come very often during the game, but rather just in time for you to take a breather from shooting and running. Therein lays the problem. By the time players are through with the first segment of the game, the action becomes the center of gameplay, therefore the puzzle solving will suddenly appear more like a hassle instead of a decent addition to the gameplay. We've also noticed the same old slow ups in the gameplay, as players are forced to consult their maps practically every 20 seconds in order to find their way around. The same thing goes for the somewhat impractical and old-fashioned inventory, which has to be accessed each time you need to combine items or reload weapons. This inventory problem creates a rather sluggish routine analogous to the one we've seen in the Resident Evil series.

The most frustrating aspect of playing Silent Hill 3 on the PC is getting used to the controls and camera movement. Yep, the exasperating console controls are back again to give you a hard time. Most PC gamers are sure to encounter problems while mastering the basic movement, even after several hours of intense gameplay. Getting used to the camera takes even longer. Undoubtedly, the most annoying aspect here is that in certain areas the camera simply refuses to budge from its default view, which sometimes creates a pickle during combat. Sometimes, when you get cornered by your enemies, the camera angle simply fails to center on the action. Unless you find a way out of this awkward position, chances are Heather will be dead within minutes. This is not something one likes to experience in a game that emphasizes monster-bashing combat.

At first glance, the AI appears to work just fine. Enemies will sometimes work together, so Heather is usually forced to fight multiple adversaries at once. Also, every so often our heroine will come across opponents equipped with long-ranged weaponry. Handgun-wielding monsters are very accurate, which indeed makes it more challenging for players. The first AI glitch came to my attention when I saw certain creatures jam in an attempt to pass around a simple corner. These weird movement patterns are rare, but at times they can turn your foes into easy targets.

On a positive note, the game features a commendable variety of hand-to-hand weapons and a decent choice of different firearms to boot. During her adventures Heather relies on various stabbing weapons, such as the knife, steel pipe, and even a sharp cool-looking katana (oh yeah, I gotta find Bill!!). Since ammo is pretty scarce, you'll often resort to close range weapons, hence the katana should be one of your first choices. A few jabs left and a poke to the right... and just watch your enemies fall to the ground. As you progress through the game, you even get to swing a huge maul at your foes. This baby is heavy, but an extremely effective weapon against larger foes. Long-ranged firearms will get their fair share of the action. Players get to wield a handgun, shotgun, and sub-machine gun, all of which require you to seek out ammo refills. You shouldn't worry though, 'cause ammo was evenly distributed throughout levels. As soon as you empty your shells, it's likely a new supply will be lurking nearby. Perhaps the only weapon snag I noticed was when Heather's handgun and shotgun simply missed their targets at pointblank range.

The level design in Silent Hill 3 is not impressive as I hoped it would be. Trotting through gloomy underground passageways and murky sewers is all very well, but it doesn't take too long to become fed up with such repetitive surroundings. The subway level for example, was extremely tedious, mostly showing off similar looking corridors and subway stations. Granted, in reality you wouldn't find such areas interesting either, but it would've been nice if the developers threw in an additional detail or two in the background. The finishing chapter of the game takes you back to good old Silent Hill and its foggy streets. Die hard fans will surely appreciate the reminiscent moment, but, frankly, this aspect doesn't bring any particularly appealing refreshments to the gameplay.

In a nutshell, it might not be a good idea for players to spend their money on this one, especially if they expected radical innovations in the genre. Although the game does show some improvements, which include better graphics, excellent sounds, and an action-packed gameplay with a sample of new weapons to try out. Truehearted Silent Hill fans should probably stick to playing the console version. But even then I'm not sure if they will be pleased with some of the changes made by Konami. Also, I'm afraid that once you're done with the game, you won't find any reason to come back to it. And, need I remind you that Silent Hill 2 failed to deliver a truly lasting horror experience on the PC. To our disappointment Silent Hill 3 doesn't expand on that aspect any further.


6.5   Above Average 

Visual improvements, good sounds and character voicing, occasionally fun thanks to the constant action and balanced weapons;

Not all that scary, weak plot structure, the map and inventory seem impractical, sporadic puzzles hinder the gameplay, minor AI issues, jerky camera.



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