When it was first released, the Silent Hill franchise was considered a bit of a black sheep of the survival horror genre. At the time there were relatively few games in that particular genre, and the more action approach of the Resident Evil series tended to be the more popular one, with most other games that tried to make a space for themselves in the genre emulating that series.
Whilst over the years more games have begun to take the Silent Hill approach, of pushing the weird, psychological horror side over the action, and a fair few games in the genre now even discourage combat altogether, back at the turn of the millennium Silent Hill was still something unusual. As such, a third game in the series was considered something of a risk at Konami.
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It’s strange now, when Silent Hill 2 is considered to be one of the greatest horror games ever made, to think that the franchise were considering giving up after the second game. But, when it came time to continue the series on after the first sequel the folks at Konami looked at the initial low sale, and some fan criticism in Japan, and some plans were put in place to alter the series quite dramatically. Silent Hill 3 initially began life as an on-rails shooter game, one that would have had little connection to the first two games, and would focus almost entirely on action over horror. Little is known about this situation, and it was only revealed five years ago thanks to tweets from one of the game’s lead staff, so we don’t know why the decision was made to go back to the traditional survival horror setting, but whatever prompted it was a good thing.
With things now back on track for the game, though some time and budget had been wasted already, the decision was made to address one of the big criticisms of Silent Hill 2: that it wasn’t a direct sequel to the first game. The choice was made to follow on the plot of the first game, but that the setting would jump forward a number of years. Instead of being put in the role of Harry Mason, the lead character from the original game, you’d take on the role of Heather (Heather Morris), his daughter. This marked the first (and so far only) time in the franchise that players would get to take control of a female protagonist.
The game begins with Heather at the mall, where she awakens from a twisted, disturbing nightmare. When she’s approached by a private investigator, Douglas (Richard Grosse), who wants to talk to her about the circumstances of her birth, Heather sneaks away from him and tries to get out the back of the mall. However, she soon finds herself in a strange, nightmare version of the mall, filled with decay, blood, and monsters. It’s here that she meets a mysterious woman named Claudia (Donna Burke), who tells Heather that she will be instrumental in bringing about paradise on Earth. Finally escaping this Otherworld, she manages to get home, where it turns out her father has been murdered by Claudia. Determined to get revenge, Heather and Douglas head after Claudia, into the town of Silent Hill.
Whilst the game initially drops you into the role of Heather with no hint that there’s something more to her than any of the other protagonists of the series, players will learn pretty early on that Heather’s father is Harry, and that that makes her the baby that he finds at the end of the first game; a baby who’s the reincarnation of Alessa Gillespie, one of the main antagonists/monsters in the first game, and the person responsible for much of the series. Whilst this does play into some very muddy waters of Silent Hill lore and confusing plots, it makes Silent Hill 3 the direct sequel that fans were clamouring for.
The game mostly sticks to the same kind of game-play and action that the first two games were known for, providing the player with a flashlight and radio for navigating the environment, and a variety of melee weapons and firearms for dealing with monsters. The game did introduce a couple of new features, such as being able to lure monsters away using beef jerky in order to get past certain creatures, and avoid combat.
One of the ways that the game improved over past entries was by introducing variable difficulty settings. Players would be able to choose game-play difficulty and puzzle difficulty individually, tailoring the game to suit their play-style the best. This feature was heavily praised, thanks in part to the sharp increase in difficulty in puzzles on the different settings. For example, a puzzle on medium difficulty featured pattern recognition, whilst on hard mode would require the player to have knowledge of the works of Shakespeare.
Upon release the game received mostly positive reviews, with the story and atmosphere receiving accolades. It was liked for its approach to horror, and the game design was held up as being some of the best in the series for the environments. Sadly, it failed to produce anything as memorable as Pyramid Head from the second game (but to be fair, none of the games have). The music, produced by Akira Yamaoka, was heavily praised thanks to its eerie quality and nightmarish tracks. The music was popular enough to receive a release as an official soundtrack globally, and was also heavily featured in the Silent Hill film.
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Speaking of films, the plot for the game was adapted into the second movie, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, which starred Adelaide Clemens as Heather, and Carrie-Ann Moss as Claudia; it also saw Sean Bean return as Harry Mason and featured Kit Harington and Malcolm McDowell in supporting roles. Whilst the first film was generally liked by fans, the second was hated.
Silent Hill 3 could have been a big turning point; it was the game that almost changed what Silent Hill is all about, but instead it cemented the series. It ticked a lot of boxes for fans, and after Silent Hill 2, gets held up as the best of the sequels. With the series having somewhat failed to recapture the magic since Silent Hill 3 it remains to be seen if the newly revealed slate of games in production will manage to break the curse, or if they’ll fall into obscurity too.
Silent Hill 3 was released in the UK on 23rd May 2003.