There’s not a whole lot to say about the unveiling of Silent Hill 3. After the success of the first two games both Konami and horror game fans were more than ready for a third jaunt into the by-now famous town. Shortly after Silent Hill 2 came out they got their wish when the third instalment in the franchise was introduced with all the familiar trappings- monsters, rust, blood, occult imagery….. and a girl?????
Yes, Silent Hill 3 broke new ground by introducing players to Heather, a 17 year old protagonist whose main distinguishing feature (if you listened to the game’s marketing machine at any rate) was a pair of ovaries.
Heather Last-Name-Mysteriously-Absent wakes up from a horrible nightmare involving an amusement park full of monsters. She’s at the mall doing whatever hip teens do at malls when she’s approached by a private detective named Douglas, who wants to talk to her about the circumstances surrounding her birth. Heather doesn’t want anything to do with the guy and escapes into a nearby bathroom, emerging to find that the mall is now devoid of people and filled with monsters and Shakespeare-themed number puzzles. Also there’s a creepy woman named Claudia
WoofleWolf who insists that Heather is some kind of messianic figure destined to “lead us to paradise with blood-stained hands”. Heather understandably has no idea what any of this is about and just wants to get home, which is easier said than done as whatever twisted monster-dimension she’s stumbled into doesn’t seem to want to let her go.
I’m now going to spoil the big plot twist that comes halfway through Silent Hill 3 both because it’s impossible to talk about the story without doing so and also because you can see it coming from a mile away.
So Heather really wants to get home to her Dad…. who as it turns out is none other than Harry Mason! That’s right, this is a direct sequel to the first game. Remember that baby Harry got in the good ending, the one with Alessa and Cheryl’s souls in it? Yep, Heather is her
allnearly grown up. And of course that means the Order, who are still dead set on the whole “bring our God into the world and create paradise” thing, are pretty keen to get at her and complete what they started more than two decades ago. In fact Harry and Heather have been running from them ever since the events of the first game, always moving from place to place to stay one step ahead, but it looks like their luck has finally run out.
One thing you’ll notice about my synopsis is that I didn’t actually mention Silent Hill. This is because around half the game doesn’t actually take place anywhere near the titular town. Instead it seems that Heather herself is the source of the paranormal weirdness, creating a precedent (sadly not used very much by later developers) that you don’t necessarily have to set a Silent Hill game in Silent Hill itself. The thick fog, another series trademark, is also absent from the game’s first half, which takes place almost entirely at night and mostly in interior locations. This is a sign that as early as the third game Team Silent were looking to deviate from a formula that they already recognised was getting stale. Between the first two games the entire town had actually already ben explored and I distinctly remember reading early on that Silent Hill 3 wouldn’t make you go back there at all, although this may just have been an attempt to hide the twist, which obsessive Silent Hill fans worked out almost instantly by noticing that Heather’s natural hair colour is visible at her roots (Cheryl and Alessa both had black hair).
So to get back onto the topic of Silent Hill and women: as I mentioned Silent Hill 3’s big departure from the previous two games was the inclusion of a plucky teenage girl as playable protagonist instead of thirty-something year old guy. This wasn’t actually the first time the series put the player in the role of a woman- the director’s cut version of Silent Hill 2 came with a bonus side-game where you play as Maria, Jame’s magically resurrecting companion- but it would be the last. All five subsequent main franchise titles were firmly dude-centric. This may not entirely be the fault of the people making the games, however. By combing through interviews and production materials I’ve unearthed some evidence indicating that the post-Team Silent franchise producers may have ben trying to get another female protagonist in a Silent Hill game for quite some time, only to be rebuffed by Konami. I’ll talk more about this in future posts.
I still remember reading magazine articles before Silent Hill 3’s release wherein the developers talked about how they wanted to make Heaher ~vulnerable~ and that the player should want to protect her. I find this pretty galling in hindsight considering that a) Harry and James were both plenty ~vulnerable~ already, particularly by the standards of the day, and b) Heather is arguably the biggest badass in the franchise, willingly striding into the horrors of Silent Hill of her own volition just because she really, really wants to murder someone very badly. But she also cries a few times, so I guess that means she’s ~vulnerable~ and I should want to give her a hug (for another prime example of a developer not getting their own character due to weird gender bullshit see the new Tomb Raider reboot).
Exploration, combat, two parallel worlds that the player segues between, nothing to see here folks, move along.
Actually wait, there are a few notable gameplay changes. Silent Hill 3 features a machine gun that the player collects in the latter half of the game, a feature that was hyped up mightily as a big deal even though it’s so inaccurate and chews through ammo so quickly that it’s almost useless. Also of note are the ludicrous number of new game + bonuses this time around. Both previous games featured extra stuff like powerful weapons (chainsaws, flamethrowers etc) the player could collect after beating the game once and starting a new file; for some reason there are a metric fuck ton of these in Silent Hill 3, ranging from different outfits and hairstyles to not one but two different anime magical-girl modes that let Heather shoot pink lasers out of her forehead. No, seriously.
Like its predecessors Silent Hill 3 features separate difficulty settings for puzzles and combat, so if you’re a real brain box but just want to get past the monsters as easily as possible you can tailor the experience to your preferences. Except this time around the “hard” puzzle difficulty is massively, hilariously difficult, to the extent that the very first puzzle in the game requires a familiarity with the works of Shakespeare that most English professors probably don’t have. I don’t know of anyone who managed to finish the game like this without a walkthrough.
We get to add another illustrious Silent Hill long-timer with the third game. Drum roll:
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
For Silent Hill 3’s soundtrack Yamaoka decided to add more vocal tracks. The original Silent Hill had actually had a Spanish-language ending theme song (recorded in Buenos Aires with a local singer) that I forgot to include in the music section for that post but now Yamaoka decided to get in on the act as well. To do the singing he teamed up with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, now a fairly prolific voice actress, screenwriter and ADR director who works on American localizations of anime and video games (her most recognizable role is probably Major Kusanagi in Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex). She wasn’t really known for singing at the time though, which makes Yamaoka’s decision to work with her slightly quixotic.
As it turns out it was a smart move- McGlynn’s scratchy vocals fit with Yamaoka’s raw musical style perfectly and she quickly became a Silent Hill staple. The multiple theme songs she performed were an instant hit with fans, who quickly came to anticipate new McGlynn-powered tracks almost as much as the games they were associated with. Her involvement with the franchise has actually outlasted Yamaoka’s, as she contributed to the two Silent Hill games he didn’t work on. The two still rock out together, both on games such as Shadows Of The Damned and for fun.
Before we get off the topic of musical talent I should mention that most of the lyrics for the Silent Hill vocal tracks were written by one guy, Joe Romersa, who also did the vocals for one of the songs in Silent Hill 3.
Being a sequel to the first game Silent Hill 3 dives straight back into the realm of occult horror, arguably even more so than its predecessor had. The psychological themes are at their lowest ebb in Silent Hill 3. Enemy symbolism is for the most part absent unless you really go digging for it and the game is much more concerned with telling an epic (and sometimes kind of idiotic) horror yarn. Occult runes, magical artifacts and unexplained psychic powers are back with a vengeance. At one point it is blithely asserted that Claudia, who grew up with Alessa, can see into the future. They must be putting something in the water in Silent Hill that’s creating all these psychic kids. At one point it’s even implied that certain characters can control the game’s monsters to a degree and summon the appearance of the Otherworld.
The Order are front and center once again and while they remain a largely off-screen presence various documents and notes delve into their history and culture to a much larger degree than before and establish that they’re a larger organization than the handful of weirdos in a basement you see in the first game.
The visual style of Silent Hill 3 could be described as the visual style of Silent Hill 1 cranked up to 11 and with blood poured all over it. Many of the same horrifying Otherworld designs from the first game are recreated with shiny new graphics, alongside a whole boatload of fresh horrors. The Otherworld sections start off pretty terrifying with a mummy-dog infested decrepit mall and then proceed to consistently top themselves as the game goes on. I have vivid memories of playing this game with my brother and a friend of ours and saying “okay that has to be the scariest area…. alright, that one…. no, that….” and each time we were proven wrong. If Silent Hill 2 sought to make the player feel as though they were losing their grip on reality then Silent Hill 3 tries to simulate the expereince of descending slowly into hell, creating an almost Lovecraftian fish-hooks-in-your-brain feeling of slow-burning horror. After you defeat a boss in this game the screen fades to a brilliant, pure white, the first bright colour besides red you’ll have seen in what feels like hours; I remember audibly sighing with relief the first time I saw it.
Which is why Silent Hill 3 earns my personal recommendation as the scariest game in the entire franchise.
For the monster designs Team Silent really cut loose, giving rise to an series of grotesque flesh mannequins that are often so strange it’s difficult to even make out what they’re supposed to be. One of them has a vagina for a face, because. Another one is wearing back to front boxer shorts, also because.
The idea of a recurring “boss” monster you meet throughout the game was carried over from Silent Hill 2, although this time it just shows up in the background doing scary shit instead of actually attacking the player. Meet Valtiel, hanging out just below the freaky legs:
He(?) is intriguingly mysterious and is my most favourite of Silent Hill monsters. Note the rubber gloves and fingerless hands, which were borrowed from Pyramid Head’s design.
The idea of the Otherworld as a subjective construct of the mind takes something of a back seat in prominence this time around, but the idea is played with a few times. Near the middle of the game Heather meets a supposed ally casually hanging around in the Otherworld version of an office complex who claims to find it “fascinating”; whether or not he’s seeing something completely different from Heather or he just really likes bloody metal and giant fans is never established. When Heather asks about the monsters he replies with “They look like monsters to you?” raising the tantalizing possibility that Heather and possibly the other Silent Hill protagonists have been killing humans the entire time. He claims to be joking immediately afterward but this character is later revealed to have been lying about a whole lot of stuff so who can say. Like much else about Silent Hill it’s deliberately left ambiguous.
Once again Team Silent do the whole “take scenes from horror movies you probably haven’t seen and stick them in our game” thing. Jacob’s Ladder gets another few nods while the spooky wheelchair you can see above is from a criminally under-appreciated movie called Session 9.
There isn’t really a whole lot more to say about Silent Hill 3’s inspirations, as Team Silent were basically going back to the same well as they had for their debut effort this time around. I did want to point one more minor and somewhat surprising source of inspiration. Back in the first post I mentioned some famous artists, and this game is where that influence comes through in places. In particular, some of the freakier paintings of Francis Bacon feature figures enveloped or encaged in strange vertical lines that appear to be either bars or some kind of transparent fabric. This effect shows up in polygonal form a few times in Silent Hill 3, such as the monster in the fifth screenshot above (note the black “bars” coming from the top and bottom and a scene where you descent underground on a spooky carousel covered in transparent curtains.
Silent Hill 3’s soundtrack can be differentiated from those of its two predecessors mainly by the amount of rawk present. First you’ve got “You’re Not Here”, the song that plays over the intro sequence I posted above and which doesn’t really sound like it would fit a horror game but somehow totally does.
But we can’t have only one song! This game established the franchise tradition of including multiple vocal tracks that don’t appear anywhere in the game or its marketing and appear to have been produced just for the hell of it. An example of this is “I Need Love”, which has some endearingly stupid lyrics (“THE SWISS CHEESE HEART KNOWS ONLY KINDNESS CAN FILL ITS HOLES”):
A personal favourite of mine is “Letter From The Lost Days” which does actually play over a car radio during a cut scene:
If you’ve been paying close attention to the music I’ve been posting you’ll notice a recurring guitar riff showing up repeatedly (you can hear it at around 2:30 in I Need Love). This became sort of like Yamaoka’s audio signature and shows up in a lot of Silent Hill tracks, although I don’t think there’s any particular reason for this.
Let’s get a few things out of the way here.
No, Silent Hill 3 isn’t as sophisticated or deep as Silent Hill 2. Yes, the plot is often dorky as hell. As a sequel to the first game it’s not entirely necessary. The first half of the game before you get to Silent Hill itself is padded out and takes longer than is strictly necessary.
But damn it, I love it anyway.
A big part of this is actually Heather herself. After two games spent playing as bland thirty-something year old dudes a protagonist with an actual personality is a massive breath of fresh air. Even the text descriptions of objects and puzzles that appear on screen are identifiably written in her voice as opposed to the impersonal narration of the previous two games. The actual plot may be convoluted and hokey at times, but having a well written and relatable hero traipsing through it all turns out to be an effective counter-balance.
And then there’s that visual style. Silent Hill 3 is Team Silent’s art department firing on all cylinders, conjuring up a succession of beautifully macabre and horrific images that will likely stay in my head until the day I die. If you’re playing a Silent Hill game to explore surreal, horrifying otherworldly locations then Silent Hill 3 gives you far more than any other game in the franchise. There’s a sense of style here that no other Silent Hill game, or for that matter no other horror game period, can beat. Even the fog world locations show an impressive attention to detail, really conjuring up an immersive exploration experience.
Should you play it?
Except if you’re going to get the most out of this game you really need to be familiar with the plot of Silent Hill 1 in more detail than my synopsis in the first post went into. I recommend reading a detailed summary or watching a Let’s Play or something first. Because this requires familiarity with a previous game I’m going to reiterate what I said last time about Silent Hill 2 being the ideal entry point to the franchise.
As for getting your hands on it the same story applies here- HD version was botched but is still the easiest way to get the game, you might want to try looking for the PC version instead and tweaking it a bit to play nice with high resolution monitors.
Silent Hill 3 isn’t remembered as fondly as Silent Hill 2 (based on my scientific assessment of how many memes each game spawned) but it played a major part in solidifying what people think of as the “Silent Hill style” and it’s certainly gone down in history as a good example of the horror genre.
After hitting it out of the park with three successful titles it looked like Team Silent was on top of the world and primed to continue the franchise they had created long into the future. No one knew it at the time, but Silent Hill 3 was to be the second last game Team Silent ever produced. Before we move onto the tumultuous period after their breakup we have to talk about their contentious and hotly debated swan song, Silent Hill 4: The Room.