About a month ago, I saw Silent Hill: Revelation, and shortly thereafter wrote of my (massive, crushing) disappointment with the film. As a big fan of the Silent Hill franchise (the first four games at least – I haven’t yet played much of the titles beyond The Room) and speaking from a position of having enjoyed the first film, I was disheartened to find that despite the filmmakers getting many of the details right, the film as a whole was poorly conceived, and often downright cheesy.

Two positives came out of the experience, though; firstly, the end-credits music led to my ‘Musical Mondays’ piece (linked at the bottom of this article), and secondly, it made me want to replay Silent Hill 3, if only to banish the memories of the film from my mind. Armed with the much-maligned Silent Hill HD Collection (PS2 games tend to look pretty damn horrible on an HDTV, even with a component cable), I set to work. It goes without saying that spoilers may follow – I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, but if you’ve never played Silent Hill 3 before (where have you been!?) and are planning to do so, avert your beady eyes.

The first thing that hit me upon loading up the game is the main theme, ‘You’re Not Here’. I mentioned in my piece about the music of Silent Hill that I couldn’t really remember any of the game’s soundtrack, so it was a surprise when this song came storming back into memory upon hearing the first few bars. I’m not sure how I ever forgot it.

The second thing that I picked up on was also to do with audio – the new voice artists. Heather’s voice is vastly different from the original game – she sounds much older, and seems to possess a petulant attitude that the original artist didn’t convey. The original delivery is also more natural – the phone call to her father at the beginning of the game is a good place to see this; the original voiceover sounds like an actual, believable two-sided conversation, whereas the new track sounds more like someone reading lines with little direction – a little flatter in terms of emotion, or perhaps more specifically emotional attachment. You can see the differences in the video below.

Not all changes are bad though – Douglas Cartland’s new VA sounds appropriately grizzled and world-weary, and at first I wondered if it was Richard McGonagle (Uncharted‘s Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan). I have since found out that he is voiced by Kirk Thornton, who also voices Harry in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which I have yet to play. Anime/jRPG regular Yuri Lowenthal is also present in the cast, here voicing Vincent, and Claudia Wolf’s VA does a pretty decent job too.

Considering Heather’s is the voice you’ll hear the most, it’s a bit annoying that her new track isn’t up to the standard of the original release, but the VA does grow into the role more as the game goes on, and it’s not too difficult to ignore after a while. It’s a shame though, that the HD Collection doesn’t allow the choice between both the original and the new casts, as it does for Silent Hill 2.

Getting to the game proper, it’s interesting to note quite how much of a change in pace Silent Hill 3 is from the big budget, set piece-led action games that dominate the current gen. In a climate where the relentless forward momentum of Call of Duty seems to permeate every facet of gaming (even the producers of Final Fantasy XIII admitted to being influenced by the FPS, hence the pace of that game’s battle system and the claustrophobic linearity of much of its world), it’s refreshing to get dropped into an environment where progress requires that you check every corner of every corridor, carefully cross-referencing your in-game view with your map and searching for a door you may have missed. Puzzles are also a feature of gameplay that appears to be missing in many genres these days. On normal puzzle difficulty, they don’t offer a massive challenge, but they are generally logical and need to be thought through, without making you feel too dense or frustrated. One puzzle comes to mind that requires you to use three very disparate items – before you discover the final element, it’s likely that you won’t even realise that the other two pieces need to be used together. As with most things in Silent Hill, exploring your surroundings thoroughly will often see you through.

It’s also refreshing to play a game that holds you in thrall thanks to it’s atmosphere, rather than a succession of flashy set-pieces, and it’s telling that, when you check a door, you find yourself hoping that it won’t open so that you don’t have to deal with whatever might be behind it. Instead, you find yourself hoping for a broken lock so that you can mark it off on your map and move on.

Look at all those lovely blocked doors...

Look at all those lovely blocked doors…

A couple of things struck me upon playing Silent Hill 3 again for the first time in many years. Firstly, enemies are far more abundant than in either of the preceding games in the series. Of course, this being a survival horror title, it’s usually best to run right past the bizarre monsters that inhabit this twisted world, and that’s what I did, wherever possible – this strategy also helps with item management, another big piece of the survival horror pie. Some enemies in this game are more difficult to run past unscathed, however, either due to fast movement speed or a wide reach to their attacks, meaning sometimes it’s best to clear them out, especially if they’re milling about in an area you will have to backtrack through a few times.

This lends the game more of a combat focus than previous games (which is amplified by the inclusion of weapons like the submachine gun), and given the more linear nature of Silent Hill 3, which I’ll touch on later, it makes it a bit harder to find alternate routes to avoid combat in some instances.

I was also surprised by how long the opening of the game is. In my hazy memory, I remembered Heather reaching her apartment to make a grim discovery less than an hour into the game. At the start of the game, Heather wakes from a horrible nightmare to find that she’s somehow nodded off in the middle of a Happy Burger establishment in Central Square Shopping Centre. According to my (clearly unreliable) memory, there was a short section in the otherworld mall before Heather left and reached her apartment, which would then prompt her to visit the eponymous Silent Hill.

Boy did I remember that wrong! There were a number of other environments between Heather and her home, and it was three hours of solid gameplay before I got her there. I’ll admit that the opening few hours did at times drag for me, but it’s entirely possible that it’s because I was expecting to get to Silent Hill earlier and really get stuck in to the story of Heather’s origins. A player coming to this game fresh likely won’t have the same issues and expectations.

I mentioned earlier that Silent Hill 3 is more linear than previous instalments, so I’ll go into a bit more detail on that. In the first two games, you eventually have the entire town of Silent Hill to explore; granted, many places are closed off to you thanks to roads that drop off into a dark abyss, or for the simple fact that not many buildings are open for exploration, but you have a map of the town, and you can run along the vast majority of it, scouring the streets for items or clues, or just generally running away from skinned horrors. When you finally reach the foggy town in Silent Hill 3, you can only go to the your next destination – Brookhaven Hospital. Sure, you can enter the Heaven’s Night bar from Silent Hill 2 along the way and score a few items, but it’s a momentary stop on your short run to the hospital. Should you wish to explore the shrouded streets any further, you’ll come across either a road-block of some kind, or Heather will simply tell you that that’s not the way to go, and turn back.

The more linear nature certainly lends the game a greater sense of focus, though it also feels shorter – my save file came in at around seven hours – but it’s hard not to miss the sense of atmosphere that comes from wandering the streets of the town.  The atmosphere is often saved, however, by some fantastic, almost abstract environments, like the otherworld Brookhaven, where the walls seem to be pulsing and flowing with blood, or sections of the otherworld chapel near the end of the game where the walls appear to be set aflame. It’s these otherworld locations that tend to be at the heart of how the game makes you feel uncomfortable – they’re dripping in the series’ signature blood and rust aesthetic, and the sense of creeping dread they instil, coupled with bizarre, unexplained sights such as Valtiel appearing every now and then, turning mysterious valves, gives Silent Hill 3 a different, though no less unsettling atmosphere than the depression and isolation often felt in Silent Hill 2.

Valtiel, always turning valves...

Valtiel, always turning valves…

So it’s a subtly different game from it’s immediate predecessor, whilst being recognisably of the same series. This is a good thing – Silent Hill 2 is excellent, arguably the best psychological/survival horror game yet made. Re-treading it would only produce a lesser copy. Silent Hill 3 isn’t massively dissimilar in it’s central mechanics, but it walks a different path from the same starting point, and serves as a great follow-up/companion piece to the original entry, and giving those that care to look a greater insight into the world and the dark Order at the heart of all that lurks in Silent Hill. It’s the perfect antidote to those games that whiz by in a flash of explosions and gunfire – something to unsettle you, absorb you, and make you think.

And with the nights closing in and darkness falling like a shroud, now is the perfect time to play it.

A note on the HD Collection: It’s impossible to avoid the negativity surrounding this collection upon release. I can’t speak much for the version of Silent Hill 2 contained herein, as I played just a few short hours of it when it first arrived. My biggest gripe with Silent Hill 3 is Heather’s voice, which I’ve already covered. I did encounter one or two audio bugs where a sound file seemed to abruptly stop, but this happened maybe two or three times across seven hours of play, and they were always small ambient audio samples. There were also a couple of instances of massive slowdown where the game literally ground to a halt and I wondered if it might crash. It never did, and these issues only ever cropped up after defeating a boss, and so never interrupted actual gameplay. Also, the streets of Silent Hill are as lacking in fog effects as Silent Hill 2, but considering those streets take up about five to ten minutes total of your playtime in Silent Hill 3, it’s much less of an issue here.

For the vast majority of my playtime, Silent Hill 3 ran smoothly and looked great, and if you’ve wanted to invest in this collection but were put off by the negativity, I’d say go and grab a copy. As a final note, I played the 360 version, which is supposedly the worse of the two thanks to the PS3 version receiving a second patch that Konami refused to release for Microsoft’s console. If you have a choice, buy a PS3 version, but I don’t think you should be too put off the 360 version if that’s your only choice.

Read my Silent Hill Music Special: