Spoiler Warning: This article contains plot spoilers for Silent Hill 3 and the original Silent Hill
Some weeks ago I made the long train journey to London to check out the London Gaming Market. It’s something that I originally wanted to do waaay back in 2020, but we all know what scuppered those particular plans, so I finally decided to face my crowd-apprehension and check it out.
… luckily for me I didn’t have to face the crowds alone as I’d arranged to meet up with Kim, Pete, and Co. from LaterLevels at the gaming market. I had a fantastic day picking through the stalls and boxes at all the different sellers and enjoying some great catching up and long overdue gamerery chat. Really hoping that we’ll be able to do it again soon.
Despite pawing over many many titles, I finally decided to splash out and pick up a copy of Silent Hill 3 (PS2). The second in the series is one of my favourite games on the system, but I haven’t really explored the other outings to that small town too much. Weirdly enough I recently replayed the PS1 original (Heck, maybe that’s what finally convinced me to pick up no. 3), but despite owning it for many years, I think I may have only played that game fully twice. I also used to own Silent Hill 4 back when it was a ‘current’ game, but sadly I traded it in due to gameplay frustrations before ever making it to the finish line. My investment in 3 goes way above the normal amount that I’d outlay for a retrogame, but it’s also one that I’ve lost many eBay auctions for, so seeing a good looking copy right there was too much of a temptation.
Since then, Silent Hill 3 has occupied the PS2 disc tray in the retronook over here at the Hundstrasse homestead and a few evenings ago I watched the final credits roll on a title that many fans list as their second favourite Silent Hill title. I’ve tried to avoid asking myself the question “Is this game worth the price on the retro market?“. I mean, yes, there are obvious reasons that some games shoot up in value, but I think this is more that, well, it’s a Silent Hill game. The more interesting question is “Does it deserve the praise that it seems to get in the series?“.. and for that I’ll need to go over how it fits with the earlier titles (So if you didn’t pay attention earlier on, there are spoilers from now on!).
Despite a few passing nods to the second game, Silent Hill 3 sits firmly in the territory of being a sequel to the original Silent Hill outing that saw Harry Mason head into town on vacation only to lose his found/adopted daughter who then tuned out to be some personification of the mother of a creepy reality warping religion’s “god”. Having dispatched the … evil-half?.. of that god the game closes with ol’ Harry being handed a brand new found baby (the reborn version of the original child/his own lost daughter.. it’s a cyclical thing) and leaving town.
Along with serving as a warning about planning a vacation without reading up on your destination, Silent Hill laid the groundwork for staples of the series: the reality shifts between the real/foggy/nightmare versions of the town, creepily symbolic nightmare monsters, tricky puzzles, janky combat, and an array of corridors chock full of locked doorways.
Silent Hill 3 picks up 17 years later and pops the player in the shoes of a seemingly normal teenager, Heather, who is having a nice day out at the mall when she finds herself wrapped up in the same sorts of shenanigans. It’s a game that splits neatly in to two halves. The first sees Heather, starting at the mall, and trying to work her way home through various locations which takes twice as long as usual because they keep shifting into nightmare versions of themselves. There’s a little light plot here an there, but that doesn’t really pick up until she gets home to find her Dad, the aforementioned Harry Mason, has been murdered by Silent Hill cult lady. At this mid-game moment there is a plot heavy interlude where we discover that Heather is the child that Harry scarpered from Silent Hill with and now those cult members have lured her back to the town as she looks to avenge her father’s killer.
… oh, and she gets a ride from a P.I. who was originally charged with tracking her down. He serves as a kind of father figure and one of the least believable plot points in this game of nightmare creatures and occult practices.
From here on the game plays out much as you might expect. Essentially retreading the first game with the cult members trying to get Heather to once again (I guess) birth their God, which she ends up defeating before leaving town.
.. and yeah! I liked it! It’s more Silent Hill. It sits in that magical number 3 of a series spot where the concept has been firmly established but the developers haven’t yet decided to ‘mix-it-up’ by changing gameplay. It’s not a game that’s going to win any new fans for the series, but it’s an easy sell to the fans that already exist. Heck I even enjoyed some good ol’ fashioned sarcastic millennial dialogue from Heather who seemed perpetually unimpressed with the whole nightmare realm thing.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t suffer from a few weak points here and there. Being the third in the series, and as most players will already know the whole ‘Silent Hill deal’, Heather’s dimensional daytrip doesn’t waste time with building tension. It drops the player almost immediately in to a nightmare version of the mall, complete with all sorts of walking abominations, and tells the player to go nuts with a length of pipe. Then there’s a concrete tunnel trifecta as the stages run subway, underpass, and sewer, but it’s almost as though the game is just trying to get those out of the way before hitting some classic building-full-of-puzzles style level design.
There are some neat nostalgic revisits with the Brookhaven Hospital and a romp through the funfair, complete with a carousel boss fight giving some strong echos of the battle with possessed Cybil from the first game. It’s also suitably nightmarish with unsettling distortions of each location in its nightmare form, superb soundtrack, and a general tension that raised my heartbeat without resorting to cheap jump scares (I mean, there are a couple, but mostly that’s not what it’s about).
Gameplay mechanically is pretty similar to game number 2. Take that as you will. Some people (myself included) will feel pretty at home with a tank style control scheme, but I know that others would see it as dated. I found the “woooah” when Heather meets the edge of one of the infinite abyss precipices as kind of charming, but apparently on the hard ‘action’ level she will happily fall to her doom meaning that the player can’t just use the invisible walls to help them steer. There’s a distinct focus on combat, from the hefty numbers of enemies, combat stats at the end of the game, and that the alternative ending requires a good amount of abomination bashing. I can’t say that I took too much notice, preferring to slide past enemies where possible and mainly taking out the few necessary ghouls with guns rather than the more traditional melee option.
I guess this is the part where I go predictably off topic and start talking about Resident Evil because I can’t get away from drawing parallels between the third numbered entry of both of these series. Ol’ RE3 was a more action driven affair, reverted back to following on from the plot of the first game, and served really as an excuse to just do more Resident Evil. Again, not a bad thing, and both games do “more” well, but it’s also worth being aware of that for anyone starting the series from scratch. It foregoes the backstory and lightens up on some of the aspects that made the originals memorable for the sake of catering to series fans.
Bringing this back to where I began; yes, yes I think Silent Hill 3 probably deserves the praise it gets as being a good entry into the series. Not sure I’d place it above 1 or 2. Let’s face it, 2 is a masterclass, and despite its failings, the original is… the original. It has wet my appetite as a player and collector for some of the others in the series, so I have recently picked up Shattered Memories for Wii. Quite a different game, but hopefully I’ll be able to let you know how I got on with that once it’s played.