|Silent Hill 3|
Release Date: Out Now
So you go to a theme park, and every good roller coaster has a 4-hour queue for it. Even the teacups have a queue longer than a first day PS2 purchase queue. And then you realise that it's because the schools broke up yesterday. Good timing. So, you end up on the ghost train/house, because there's no queue for that. Before you go in though, you see a sign at the entrance that says: 'People of a nervous disposition are advised against going on this ride'. Why? Everyone knows the ghost train isn't scary. No, they should have a warning like that on something that merits it, like Silent Hill 3.
But more about that later. Silent Hill 3 is another 3D horror adventure, in the same style as the other Silent Hill games, or somewhat like Resident Evil. You play as Heather, a teenage girl, who suddenly becomes part of what can only be described as a living nightmare. I can't really say anything more than that, or I'll spoil the plot, but suffice to say that when these monsters attack, you don't want to be around - they're as real as Heather - or are they?
First things first, you will struggle without a gamepad to play this with. Make no mistake; although they have done a little work on it, this is definitely a PS2 port. I guess you could play it with a keyboard, but it's hard work, and made a lot easier by a PS2-alike pad, where the button configuration is pretty much as good as it gets. The game is seen in third person, with a roving camera for most parts, although in odd spots, the camera will switch viewpoint to a static one, usually to highlight an object you may need. The camera doesn't get stuck generally, but it has an annoying habit of ending up in front of Heather, so she runs towards the screen. That's great as long as you want to watch what you're running away from, but annoying when you can't see what you're about to run into. There is a button to put the camera behind Heather, but it can take a good 2-3 seconds to swing 180 degrees right round behind her.
The game does look good though, it looked good on the PS2, and with the higher resolutions and rendering rates, the game looks nice (if you like a sense of decor that means that all the walls appear to have been smeared with poo). All the textures in the game are superbly used, along with a good amount of real time shadowing to create completely disgusting, and incredibly creepy environments. If the surfaces had been bump mapped, the game would almost be touching photo-realism (for a nightmare). The monster design is also straight out of your worst nightmares, which is just one way that the game builds a superbly creepy atmosphere. Through the design, and most notably, the superbly sampled soundtrack for the game, SH3 will make anyone nervous when played in the dark, on one's own. For the best effect, wear full ear headphones, and play at 1am when slightly tired - it's guaranteed to weaken the fittest of hearts. The game only occasionally resorts to the 'boo' tactics of some other games, but when it does, it will have cranked the atmosphere knob up to 11 before doing so…
However, the game does feel tired. Although the combat is the best of the series, it's still rubbish. When monsters attack (if you've got any sense), you'll mostly just run around them instead of fighting, and when you do have to fight, or choose to, it's a case of running away, then turning, holding the auto-aim button, and firing, or running behind the monster, and hitting it with your melee weapon. Either way, it's boring, and the camera rarely does you any favours either.
Secondly, and like the Resident Evil series with which Silent Hill is inevitably compared, the game mechanic is getting a little too long in the tooth - you explore, you find the next locked door, and get past it. Luckily, the unlocking door concept isn't as contrived as Resi's key-finding-fest. Instead, getting the key, or the objects needed to progress, will require several stages, and only by careful exploration will you find everything you need. Sadly, this can easily become a point of frustration, I must admit to asking a friend for help on two occasions, because I simply didn't know what the hell I was supposed to be doing. On the other hand, puzzle fans may well love the riddles that need to be solved, although those at the hardest level will require the user to be the sort of person that can single-handedly finish the Sunday Times crossword.
Finally, the game's plot (no spoilers, I promise). It does carry on from Silent Hill 1, and is quite a lot more straightforward to understand than the previous games (especially SH2), I guess that's a good thing for most people, but it does feel a little lightweight compared to the previous instalments.
To summarise, SH3 is a good game. The atmosphere and style is second to none, but the game is let down by an ageing game mechanic, and a poor combat system.
- Spooooky (well, it scared the crap out of me).
- Interesting (although rather mystifying) plot.
- Nice graphical style.
- Amazing soundtrack.
- Rubbish combat (although it's better than Silent Hill 2).
- Players that haven't played Silent Hill 1 will miss the plot's intricacies.
- Friends/girlfriend/wife might think that you're weird when you start up the PC at 1am, in the dark.