Monday, 17 October 2016

October Nightmares II #17: Silent Hill 3 (2003) (Guest Review) - It's Not My Birthday...

Talking about this game is like slacklining on garrotte wire in the middle of a Eastern European minefield. One move and I'm fucked, and even if I survive, I'm still in Eastern Europe. It's a number 3. That dreaded entry that's always a binary outcome. There are no 3's that are 'just alright'. Alien 3, Mad Max 3, Terminator 3, Dead Space 3, Van Halen III, love' em, or hate 'em, but you can't just be on the fence.

3 is where the creators have to make a big choice: change the format or do what they've always done. For me the most logical setup goes like this:

  1. - The original. Lays the groundwork.
  2. - Retreads the original, but builds and develops the premise.
  3. - Changes the format.

Harry Potter got it smack on when they decided to stop being so Scooby-Doo.  Fuck knows what you're supposed to do with 4. Well, Fury Road I suppose.

Silent Hill 3, made by Team Silent before Team Silent were just lamented words on some dude's CV, was in the unfortunate spot of following what is still ranked as the greatest horror game of all time. No easy feat. Still, the Jason Newsted of horror games tried its best. For many it's a welcome addition to the original 4. For me though, it's the bastard offspring conceived from a drunken tiff at the Konami office party.

Heather is the main heroine. She's plucky and feisty in all the ways the Japanese love their underage girls to be. She sports a body-warmer (showing my age not calling a gilet), an Aaron Carter haircut, looks a bit like Ellen Page, and has just enough freckles to make you want to not let the damned creatures smash her into a wet mess.

After having a nightmare about Silent Hill's theme park, Heather wakes up at the mall and gets apprehended by the monsters of Silent Hill and stalked by PI Douglas Cartland doing his best Mike Hammer impression. It's worth noting out at this point that a good half of the game isn't even set in Silent Hill. Rather, the next town over. Eventually poor old Heather finds her way to Silent Hill for proper and bumps into some pretty odd folk by the names of Claudia and Vincent (played by the nowt-knowing Kit Harington in that absolutely God-awful piece of fucking dog-shit film Silent Hill: Revelation). 

Twists and turns aside, turns out Heather is the reincarnation of Alessa Gillespie: Chief MC of Silent Hill's ghastly turn. Oh and Harry from SH1 got the good ending after all, because he raised Cheryl 2/Alessa 3 as his own, renaming her Heather and introducing her to a bottle of peroxide. Claudia et al want Heather to come back home so she can become the mother of God and screw the world up more than Donald Trump and the Catholic Church ever could. Heather decides she'd rather not live in this horrific nightmare world, so she shoots God in the face...'Murica.

If that sounds weird and disjointed to you, it's because it is. First play through I had no idea who anyone was, or what was going on. The whole 'mother of god' thing from SH1 was hard to follow at best. Besides Heather, the characters are cut-out cliché's. Claudia talks like a 1st year English Lit student who's just discovered Dorian Gray, and Vincent comes across as a middle-class paedo. The biggest insult  in SH3's story however is that they murder Harry Mason. The original gangsta from SH1 bites it off-screen like a chump at the hands of some generic blob monster. Bitch, he killed God. Shot her in the fucking face with a hunting rifle.  Heather drops to her knees and cries, and does so for all of us who feel that Harry's awesomeness was mopped under the table, never to be discussed like your parents' infidelities. Isaac Clark wouldn't be subjected to this kind of cheap bullshit.

Being a direct sequel to SH1 was a strange move. A backstep really, considering the accolades number SH2 got without referencing any of the cult goings on. In Silent Hill 2, the evil came from James. The town was a conduit for the repressed emotions he carried. It became his own personal hell, designed by his own subconscious to inflict a more intimate level of torture. In Silent Hill 3 a bunch of robed baddies want to make a monster. Oh, and they pissed off a psychic lass. See what I mean?

The cult stuff served in the original, because it needed some explanation. SH3 was just nonsensical. They'd already set up the town to be an evil town that preys on the weak and the wounded, but they didn't carry it on. Even SH 4 is about the cult again. The cult was just nonsense in SH3 though. The majority of the game didn't even have a plot. It was just 'get to the next cutscene where they explain nothing'. SH2 made it all about James. You are James, so you get invested in his story. In SH3, you're as confused as Heather's haircut. In SH2 you go to the places Mary and James spent time together; places that had resonance in their tragic tale. In SH3 you go to a theme park, a building site, and a hospital, just because.

There are some positive elements to the game.  The look of SH3 is on par with SH2, and some new elements certainly do send a chill up your spine. One room has a massive two-way mirror in it. All looks fine until Heather's reflection stops moving. You try to leave the room, but the door's locked. In that instant, it's shit-your-pants time. The reflection starts to rot and becomes drenched in blood and all the sickness of the town. Finally you can leg it, but stay too long and real Heather dies from the reflection's sickness. A nice allegory for her dual nature as reincarnated Mother of God and sassy teenager.
Another section has you run down a long corridor to find a lone wheelchair basking in the light of the doorway next to it. Facing it, as though somebody's just got out of it and entered the room. This scene was first used in the 2001 psychological horror film Session 9, which I'd recommend to anyone. If not for the slow-burn plot, then for David Caruso's hammy acting. There's a subplot regarding a character called Valtiel. He pops up every once in a while in the background and looks like a plastic army man after too long under a magnifying glass and all he does it turn cranks and cogs. Supposedly he's Alessa's protector, but he's not very good at his job. He could just stop all the monsters trying to kill her, but where'd be the fun in that?

All in all though, the design lacks innovation. Sure, it looks cool, but apart from the aforementioned scenes, it's a lazy retread. In SH2 the monsters were designed to be part of James' torture and repressed emotions. In SH3 they look like walking cancer. Oh you could argue that the dogs with the split down their heads could represent duality, but most of the beasts are massive, shambling things that look like meaty bollards. It tries to have its own main monster in the form of Robbie the Rabbit – a rabbit teddy that looks like he doesn't mind when the painters are in. The problem here is that it doesn't do anything. They litter the amusement park, but they are nothing but scenery. What a robbery. I wanted to blow the Energizer Bunny away.

SH3's main issue is that it plays it safe with story and design. Afraid to veer from the path SH1 set it on. History rewards a risk taker. SH2 may have raised the bar a little too high (the entire franchise, possibly the entire genre, is still under its shadow), but its lofty concepts imbued the franchise with a high-brow expectation. I honestly believe that if this game was SH2, then the 2 we got came after, it'd have been much better received. As it is, in this genre, Silent Hill 2 is the king. Following in its footsteps, Silent Hill 3 is the guy left to clean up Silent Hill 2's spunk off the wank booth windows.