The PlayStation 2 is my favorite console of all time. Not just because of the amazing classic exclusives like Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, the Jak and Daxter Trilogy and Final Fantasy 10, but because of the insane amount of third-party titles and underrated Japanese classics as well. Desert island scenario, give me a PS2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 and I’m golden. By the time that Silent Hill 3 came out in 2003, the PS2 was not only smashing sales charts worldwide, but it had already amassed an insane library of classic games. Despite this, Silent Hill 3 was the first game in the series to release on a non-Sony console as it was the series debut on the Xbox as well.
Coming off the back of the massive success both critically and financially that Silent Hill 2 was, Team Silent and series Director Keiichiro Toyama stated that they wanted to stick with the identity that Silent Hill 2 had created for the series without leaving the new title devoid of fresh ideas. In SH3, you play as Heather Mason, the daughter of the protagonist from the original Silent Hill, Harry Mason. She wakes up after a nightmare and must travel to the town of Silent Hill.
Right off the bat, I have to say that the core gameplay in this game is massively improved from previous iterations. Yes, there’s still tank controls and stiff combat that’s like trying to control a drunken elephant in an expensive china shop, but there’s way more variety in weapons here. You have the choice of multiple types of melee weapons. Some are shorter and have faster start up times, while some have more range and do more damage but are slower. Same with the guns. You have the standard pistol which is quick and accurate but weaker than the shotgun which is slow and cumbersome but deals more damage. Then you have the Uzi which is powerful and fast, but ammo is really scarce, meaning most players will save it for boss fights. In addition to this, the puzzles and riddles are vastly superior to 2’s and aren’t following bizarre point-and click adventure game logic as much.
The atmosphere of this game is exceptional, maybe even more so than 2. While you don’t really get to explore the titular town all that much, the areas like the mall and the amusement park are really great, and give off the cramped, claustrophobic feel of the previous games effortlessly. This is enhanced by the amazing graphics, textures and character models in the game. This is easily one of the best looking PS2 games and it really adds to the creepiness of the environments and enemies, and the lighting effects are amazing. This is a huge graphical leap, even compared to 2. I know that fear is a purely subjective emotion; you might be afraid of gorgeous Russian women with nice thighs while I’m certainly not, but this is definitely the scariest game in the series, at least for me. While 2 and 4 definitely have more consistent feelings of dread, I think there are specific moments in 3 that are absolutely terrifying. I won’t spoil them for people who haven’t played the game yet, but if you’ve played the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Story-wise, 3 is definitely a step back from 2, at least in terms of overarching narrative. The cult business is back from the original, and like I said in my review of that game, I’m really not a fan of this plot direction that occasionally works its way into the series. While it’s definitely handled a lot better in 3 than in the first title, it’s still just not as interesting as some of the stories in the other games, specifically 2 and 4. It’s less convoluted here, but I also feel like you have to of played the first game to really get the full impact of the story, and considering the fact that a lot of people are going to skip over the first one since it’s a lot more dated than the other entries in the series, this can be a huge sticking point for getting the full enjoyment out of the game for newcomers.
But overarching narrative as we know, is just one aspect that makes Silent Hill games great. It’s the lunar-narrative synchronicity and symbolism that is a huge part of what makes Silent Hill Silent Hill, and 3 might be just as strong in that regard as 2 is. While Silent Hill 2’s symbolism was more about guilt, lust and punishment, Silent Hill 3’s symbolism has to do with coming of age. Heather is a teenage girl, and the game reflects that period of life masterfully in her journey. Being a teenager is all about growing into your own body, transitioning into adulthood and having more responsibility without being fully in control of your own life. Especially for a young woman, it’s about going from being an innocent child to being seen as a sexual object. This like in 2, is reflected well in the enemies. Most of the enemies are deformed horrors that border on body-horror like imagery. The sexy nurses return, but they’re more like porcelain dolls with bloody lipstick than Silent Hill 2’s nurses which are akin to shambling human beings. It’s a good call back without completely being there just because they were a thing people liked in the other games, not to name any Homecomings… I mean… Names.
The sound design in this game is also incredible. Yes, the voice acting is still riding the line of intentionally odd to create a sense of surrealism and unintentionally awful, although it is a lot better about this than in 1 and 2. Soundtrack-wise Silent Hill 1 was more focused on guttural ambience with some melodic songs where appropriate, while 2 has much more melodic instrumentals mixed in with occasional industrial soundscapes. 3 is the perfect mix of both of them, while also adding in some more upbeat, post-rock like guitar songs that really fit Heather’s character and the general themes of the game without sounding at all out of place. This soundtrack is probably my favorite in the entire series, which is saying a lot since every single one of these games has a brilliant soundtrack.
SH3 is the first game in the series to have only 1 “real” ending available on your first playthrough, which at first might be kind of odd, but considering the fact that this is the first game in the series to feature a dedicated New Game + mode, I think it was a good choice since players will be extra motivated to replay the game again with this mode. It’s especially cool that in this mode, they added in some really cool easter eggs like a lightsaber, the series staple UFO ending and even new costumes, one of which basically turns Heather into a Sailor Moon character.
Overall, I would say that most people playing through the series are going to say that either 2 or 3 are the best. No, 3 isn’t as inventive or ambitious as 2 was, but it’s not very far off quality-wise. I prefer the themes and overarching story of 2 more, and 4 is definitely more unique in both concept and story, but 3 is absolutely different enough that it can’t be called a rehash. Silent Hill 3 remains a classic, and one of my favorite games of all time.