Review: “Silent Hill 3” (PC Version) (Computer Game)

A few days before I originally wrote this review, I was in a nostalgic mood. In particular, I was nostalgic about a game that I played on the Playstation 2 when I was about sixteen – the one and only “Silent Hill 3”. But, since my PS2 sadly no longer works, I realised that it would be best to re-play this game on the PC.

But, although I’d found a demo of the PC version of this game on the internet a few years ago, copies of the full version were slightly on the pricey side of things. Not only that, at the time of writing, the game seems to be on neither GOG nor Steam. The only way to get this game is on DVD.

This DVD to be precise. Still, it’s good not to have to wait ages to download game data.

So, when I noticed that a second-hand copy of the game was going for about £13 (plus postage) on Amazon, I decided to splash out on it. So, let’s take a look at the PC port of “Silent Hill 3”:

Before I go any further, I should warn you that this review may contain some mild SPOILERS and GRUESOME/DISTURBING IMAGES.

Even the game itself warns you about this!

“Silent Hill 3” is a survival horror game from 2003. Although it can theoretically be played on it’s own, it is a direct sequel to the first “Silent Hill” game and the game’s story will make more sense if you’ve played that game.

Anyway, “Silent Hill 3” begins with a teenage girl called Heather finding herself trapped inside a rusty old fairground filled with nightmarish monsters. As she tries to escape the fairground by climbing a rollercoaster track, she is promptly run over by a carriage.

Waking up in a cafe in her local shopping centre, Heather is relieved to discover that it was nothing more than a nightmare. But, since it is getting late, she calls her father and begins to walk home – when she is startled by a rather dishevelled and dodgy-looking man who wants to talk to her.

After running away and hiding in the bathroom, she climbs through a window into a nearby alleyway and prepares to go home – only to discover that the alleyway has been blocked!

Luckily, a backdoor to the shopping centre is still open. So, she goes through it – only to notice that the centre is completely deserted and slightly gloomier than usual. Still, after a bit of searching, she finds a shop that is still open.

Well, that was lucky! I’m sure there’s nothing horrible in HERE!

When Heather enters the shop, she finds an unearthly monster feasting upon a mysterious corpse. Shocked and horrified, she looks around for a weapon and finds a mysterious pistol lying on the floor. Picking it up, she kills the creature and begins to explore the rest of the shopping centre. But, something isn’t right….

Oh right! This is a “Silent Hill” game! How could I forget?

One of the first things that I will say about “Silent Hill 3” is that it is a lot scarier than I remember! It could be because I’m less familiar with the horror genre than I used to be, or because I was playing it on the PC with headphones (rather than on a tiny TV screen) or even because I’m not comparing it to “Silent Hill 2“. But, this game is scary! It is a game that will make your heart pound at a hundred miles an hour and it will make you feel slightly jumpy for a while after you’ve finished playing.

The game’s horror works on so many levels. Not only is Heather a somewhat vulnerable character who has limited weapons, but the game has a uniquely dark and creepy atmosphere.

And this is one of the “safer” areas in the game!

Add to this all of the symbolism inherent in the monster design (more on that later), the game’s pacing, the sheer sense of bleakness throughout the game, the claustrophobic camera angles, an utterly terrifying soundtrack, some grisly location designs, some disturbing set pieces and a few well-placed jump scares and this is the kind of game that will leave you feeling at least mildly traumatised after you’ve played it.

But, the game’s main source of horror is probably suspense. A lot of the game will be spent nervously exploring dark buildings (and methodically checking everything in sight), with the camera carefully positioned to ensure that you never quite see everything around you at any one moment.

Not only that, when there’s a monster in the general vicinity, the game’s soundtrack changes slightly (with the creepy music varying depending on the monsters). So, you know that something is there, but you don’t know where.

So, there’s a lot of suspenseful running and/or nervously waiting for monsters to appear.

The game’s monsters are all suitably disturbing too. A lot of this has to do with the symbolism inherent in the monster design. Many of the monster designs revolve around the theme of disease – such as undead nurses, mosquito-like creatures, bandage-covered zombie dogs, giant tumour monsters etc..

This is pretty creepy in and of itself. But, more than this, at least a couple of the monsters in the game also have a somewhat phallic appearance – which adds an extra level of disturbing symbolism to the game.

Another thing that makes the monsters scarier is that you can’t fight them all. Not only does the game carefully ration the amount of ammunition it gives you, but even the game’s array of melee weapons aren’t that powerful (and you’ll probably end up getting hurt if you use them).

Since Heather isn’t a soldier or an action hero, the combat in the game reflects this fact by deliberately being slightly clunky and imprecise. So, expect to flee in terror more often than you draw your gun.

And, this emphasis on fleeing in terror is one reason why the classic “Silent Hill” games are scarier than the classic “Resident Evil” games are.

Unlike the open-world design of the previous two “Silent Hill” games, Silent Hill 3 has more of a level-based structure. However, since the levels themselves are non-linear areas that require exploration and puzzle-solving, this change doesn’t feel too limiting.

Not only that, this structure also helps to keep the game slightly more focused too. Even so, you do get to explore the town of Silent Hill a little bit in one later part of the game.

Ah, ominous fog! I’ve missed you! 🙂

The game’s puzzles are also reasonably sensible too – and they never quite reach “point and click game” levels of randomness (although they occasionally come close).

Best of all – if, like me, you’re terrible at puzzles – then the game even has separate difficulty settings for combat and puzzles. For the most part, I was able to solve the puzzles on my own – although I had to consult a walkthrough about five times whilst playing.

In terms of the lighting and location design, this game is magnificent! In addition to wonderfully gloomy lighting that is shadowy enough to be ominous, without being too dark to see anything – the game’s location designs are exquisitely creepy. As you would expect from a “Silent Hill” game, many of the locations appear in both a “normal” form and a dark, rusty, nightmarish, diseased and grisly “otherworld” form.

This is probably one of the least disturbing parts of the “otherworld”.

Plus, in addition to lots of nightmarish interior design, there are beautiful paintings too!

As always, this is absolutely terrifying. Not only that, like in previous “Silent Hill” games, even the “normal” versions of various locations will still feature creepy background details in order to ensure that there is little respite from the game’s unnerving terror.

For example, this place has seen better days!

One particularly outstanding location in this game is the “Boreley Haunted Mansion”. This is a carnival ghost house with a bit of a macabre twist to it, and a Vincent Price-style narrator who manages to be both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Seriously, this small segment of the game is a perfect blend of old-school horror and more modern horror. However, it is followed by a somewhat frustrating running-based segment (but, more on that later).

Seriously, it’s only a small part of the game but it is brilliant! It’s classic 1950s-style horror with a grisly modern twist!

Although I don’t want to spoil the game’s story too much, I will point out that this game is a direct sequel to the original “Silent Hill”. But, the themes from that game are explored in a slightly different – and creepier way – with more emphasis on the horrors of religious fanaticism, more emphasis on the series’ backstory and a darkly memorable scene featuring a character from the first game.

On the plus side, there are some cool little references to the first two games, like this “Silent Hill 1”-style notebook.

The game’s writing and voice-acting is fairly good. Although some of the dialogue is a little bit on the melodramatic side, this works well with some of the game’s creepier characters (Vincent and Claudia spring to mind). However, some of the in-game text is slightly clunky – but in an endearing way. The voice-acting is surprisingly good too, with no glaring examples of “bad voice acting” or anything like that.

And, yes, the conversations with Claudia can be ridiculously melodramatic!

In terms of the controls, the PC port allows you to configure them to your own liking. Plus, it also contains two alternative movement schemes, with the “2D” option being very similar to the movement scheme in the classic “Resident Evil” games.

Yes, the movement in this game can take a bit of getting used to if you’ve never played a survival horror game before – but the slightly unwieldly controls and unusual camera angles are designed to impart a feeling of vulnerability and confusion. Most of the time, this works really well – although it is annoying as hell when you have to outrun a cloud of mist through a series of narrow corridors at one point in the game.

Seriously, it took me about seven attempts to get past this part of the game!

Best of all, the PC port of this game also includes a proper saving system. Although the save points from the original Playstation 2 version of the game are still there, the people behind this port have realised that this is a computer game and, in a good computer game, you can save (almost) anywhere. Seriously, this tiny change makes the game so much better!

Ha! I don’t need YOU any more, save point! You’re nothing more than a source of mood lighting now!

Another cool feature of this game is that, after you complete it, an “Extra New Game” mode is unlocked (which, depending on how well you play the game, can include extra weapons).

In addition to this, completing the game also unlocks an option to enter codes that allow you to unlock an array of alternate costumes – some of these codes can be found in-game, but there are also lists on the internet. Surprisingly though, some of the codes from the PS2 version (eg: the OPS2 magazine T-shirt code etc..) don’t seem to work in the PC version. Plus, you can also unlock an extra options menu that allows you to do things like change the blood colour, give yourself extra ammo etc.. So, this game has at least a slight amount of replay value.

Finally, I should probably mention the game’s amazing soundtrack. As I mentioned earlier, the game will play a different piece of disturbing music depending on which monsters happen to be nearby (eg: when zombie dogs are nearby, the music will include howling. When giant mosquitos are nearby, the music will include buzzing etc..).

This in-game music is, in a word, terrifying. It is also beautifully counterpointed with some hauntingly relaxing acoustic music during a number of cutscenes too. Seriously, the soundtrack in this game is an integral part of what makes “Silent Hill 3” so incredibly creepy!

All in all, this is pretty much a perfect horror game! Yes, there are a couple of slightly frustrating segments but the game is overwhelmingly brilliant. Best of all, the PC port is surprisingly well-made and runs really well on an ancient computer like mine, although I don’t know how it would handle on more modern PCs. Yes, this game is a little bit difficult to find these days – but it is well worth doing so! Just remember, don’t play it at night!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six hundred and sixty six.

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Four Basic Things That Horror Writers Can Learn From Classic Survival Horror Games

Well, although I had planned to write about webcomics (since I’m preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month), I thought that I’d talk about the horror genre again.

This is mostly because I’m still playing the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that classic-style survival horror games can teach horror writers.

1) Backstory: Even the less scary examples of survival horror games (eg: such as the original “Resident Evil) tend to include a lot of backstory. This backstory puts the events of the game into a larger context, in addition to being a potent source of horror in and of itself. However, backstories in survival horror games are usually relayed in brief and subtle moments – often with at least some details left chillingly mysterious.

Sometimes, the player will get to read a short document, but backstory will often be either relayed through a short comment when examining something or it will be relayed purely through background details. In other words, classic survival horror games provide plenty of examples of how to use the old “show, don’t tell” technique in a chilling way.

For a visual example of this, just take a look at this screenshot from “Alone In The Dark“:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

Even if you’ve never played the game before, you can instantly tell from the pentagram on the floor that this room has something to do with magic or mysticism. Then a glance at the skull on the shelf will probably tell you that this probably isn’t a good type of magic or mysticism. The narrow corridor outside the room and the stark stone floor also imply that the room could be a hidden room (it is!). All of these details instantly tell the audience something about the room without spelling everything out to them.

So, a few short visual descriptions that subtly hint at a much larger backstory can be a great way to add some extra horror to your story.

2) Symbolism: In many classic survival horror games, the monsters are just monsters. However, the “Silent Hill” games do something really interesting, which can be instructive to horror writers. In these games, the monsters are significantly scarier because they often have some kind of underlying theme or symbolism – which allows them to tap into other sources of horror.

Whilst the symbolism of the monsters in “Silent Hill 2” can’t really be discussed without spoiling the story of that game, the monsters in “Silent Hill 3” provide a great example of how to add extra depth, meaning and horror to monster design.

One way that “Silent Hill 3” makes it’s monsters more disturbing is through disease-related symbolism. These disease-based monsters include giant spinning mosquito-like creatures, undead nurses, bandage-covered zombie dogs and creatures that look like giant sentient tumours. Even monsters that are meant to symbolise other things still have a somewhat “diseased” appearance. This allows the game to tap into a realistic source of horror (eg: diseases) whilst still being a slightly fantastical game about a nightmare-like parallel world filled with monsters.

So, one way to make your horror fiction more disturbing is to think of a disturbing theme and then find a way to subtly hint at this through the way that the main source of horror in your story is presented.

3) Atmosphere and subtle horror: The scariest parts of classic survival horror games often aren’t the parts where a monster jumps out of nowhere and attacks the player. They are either the general atmosphere of the game and/or a few relatively subtle moments that, whilst often not directly threatening to the player’s character, help to stop the player from getting too complacent.

These can include things like a phone suddenly ringing, something scrawled on a wall, a creepy piece of background music, chaotic locations, something being subtly different when the main character returns to a familiar location etc… Although subtle moments of horror aren’t extremely scary in and of themselves, they help to maintain a feeling of suspense by creating a mysteriously threatening atmosphere.

And, yes, atmosphere matters a lot in the horror genre. Leaving aside technical limitations, there’s a reason why many classic survival horror games are set in places like old mansions, derelict buildings, coldly futuristic laboratories etc…

So, subtle horror and a creepy atmosphere matter a lot more than you might initially think.

4) Vulnerability: One of the main reasons why the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot scarier than the first three “Resident Evil” games is because the main characters are presented as being more vulnerable.

Out of the five playable characters in the first three “Resident Evil” games, four are military/police characters (eg: Jill, Carlos, Chris and Leon) and one (eg: Claire) rides a motorbike and is related to one of these characters. In other words, they all seem like tough, fearless characters who are knowledgeable about handling dangerous situations. As such, these games are less scary.

The three main characters in the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot more vulnerable. Harry from the first game is a father who is searching for his missing daughter. James from the second game is a bereaved man who has seen better days. Heather from the third game is a teenage girl who goes shopping and finds herself plunged into a series of nightmarish events. None of these characters have any military training or experience with weapons (and the combat in these games reflects this fact). As such, these games are considerably more scary.

So, the lesson here is that – if you want to make your horror story scarier – don’t make your main character a tough action hero! The more of a threat that your character is to the scary things in your story, the less scary those things will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Things In The Horror Genre Can Be Scarier Than You Remember

Shortly before I originally wrote this article, I had a rather surprising experience. My second-hand copy of the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” had finally arrived in the post and I was eager to re-live some nostalgic memories of playing the game on my old (and sadly no longer functional) Playstation 2 when I was a teenager.

Plus, when I found and played a demo of the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” a couple of years ago, I’d felt nothing but wonderful nostalgia. So, I was expecting a lot more of this from the full version of the game. But, after I’d finished the introductory segment from the demo…

…The game was about ten times scarier than I remembered! I’d always thought of “Silent Hill 3” as the least scariest of the classic “Silent Hill” games, yet I could feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and an icy shard of fear in my chest. Nervously, I found myself torn between the urge to explore more of the game’s nightmarish world and the urge to just find a monster-free area and hide there because I did not expect to feel actual fear whilst playing “Silent Hill 3”.

This is a screenshot from “Silent Hill 3” (2003). A game that is scarier than you might remember it being!

This naturally made me wonder about time, nostalgia, memory and the horror genre – since this experience just didn’t make any logical sense. I’d played the whole game before when I was younger. Surely, if I was going to be scared by it, it would have happened back then. Yet, my only memories of the game were nostalgic ones of how cool I thought it was and how it was associated with rose-tinted memories of my youth.

1) Perspective and maturity: One reason things in the horror genre can be scarier when you revisit them at an older age for the simple reason that you’re more likely to actually think about them deeply. You’ll have had more life experience and be at least marginally more mature, and this will influence how you think about horror games, movies, novels etc..

I mean, when I played “Silent Hill 3” at about the age of sixteen, I probably just thought “Cool! It’s a gruesome horror game with monsters. AND it isn’t as utterly terrifying as ‘Silent Hill 2’ 🙂 “.

But, when playing the shopping centre-based parts of the game a while before writing this article, I actually found myself thinking more deeply about the events of the game and wondering what actually being in a situation like that would be like. I started thinking about it less like a “game” and more like a story.

Likewise, I also started to wonder about the parts of the game’s nightmarish “world” that aren’t shown to the player. What lurked behind the myriad locked doors that are everywhere? How did that mysterious bloodstain end up in this room I’m hiding in? Why are there monsters lurking in the shopping centre, and how creepy would it be to go shopping and suddenly find that the shopping centre was abandoned?

So, gaining the capacity to think about things more deeply can be one reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

2) Practice: Another reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier when you are older is because your tastes tend to widen with age. I mean, when I was a teenager, I was absolutely fascinated by the horror genre. I used to love reading splatterpunk novels, watching late night horror movies etc…. It was a genre that was rebellious, emotionally cathartic and considerably more “cool” than anything else.

But, as time has gone on, I’ve found other genres that interest me. And, as a result, I’ve got somewhat “out of practice” with the horror genre.

So, a relative lack of exposure to “serious” things in the horror genre over the past few years can also explain why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

3) Fan culture: If you haven’t directly experienced a particular work in the horror genre for a long time, then you can sometimes end up remembering the affectionate fan culture that surrounds it than the actual film/game/story etc… itself.

It’s easy to get dazzled by nostalgic references on the internet and adoring odes to games/films/novels etc.. from fans on the internet.

Because fan culture often tends to include a lot of humour and a lot of focus on the more stylised elements of something (eg: Freddy Krueger’s glove, the crackly voice from the “Saw” films, the mask from the “Scream” films etc..) , then it can be easy to mistake this for the actual work in question. Since fan culture exists to celebrate things, then it is going to focus on instantly-recognisable things that provoke feelings of warm affection.

So, fan culture isn’t going to reflect that moment in a horror game when you’re walking down another gloomy corridor and can hear something lurking nearby. Fan culture isn’t going to focus on that really bleak moment in a horror movie when a character realises that all hope is lost etc….

So, yes, confusing fan culture with the actual work in question can be another reason why something in the horror genre might be a lot scarier than you remember.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (17th March 2017)

Well, a couple of days ago, I planned to make some “Silent Hill” fan art but ended up making an original painting instead.

Still, due to a combination of my imagination levels fluctuating wildly and suddenly thinking of a hilarious idea for a parody of the content warning screen in “Silent Hill 3“, I finally ended up making some “Silent Hill” fan art 🙂

This picture required more digital editing than I expected (eg: amongst other things, I initially messed up the shading in one part of the picture) and, for compositional reasons, I ended up cropping it to a somewhat smaller size than the original painting (eg: the painting had a much larger border).

Since this is fan art, this painting is NOT released under a Creative Commons licence of any kind.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Fan Art - Silent Hill 3 - Lead Pipe" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Fan Art – Silent Hill 3 – Lead Pipe” By C. A. Brown