I had never played a Silent Hill game prior to Silent Hill 3. I've been chasing that thrill of actually being scared, after being disappointed is most modern attempts at horror. Not since Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube has a game actual unraveled my nerves. Most of the horror games are today are action thrillers, like Resident Evil 6. Having tried all the options I was aware of, I turned to Silent Hill, picking up Silent Hill 3 for $20. That thrill I was chasing? I found it.
In Silent Hill 3, you assume the role of Heather. She is a teenage girl and she likes to do teenage girl things, like hang out at the mall. This is exactly what she was doing when she fell asleep in a burger joint, and had an off nightmare about an amusement park infested will hellish creatures. As she tries to leave the mall, she is interrupted by a detective who has been asked to find her. Not trusting him, she ducks into the girls room and escapes through the window, only to find the alley blocked. Going into the mall the backway, she discovers that the mall itself is infested with these strange, mangled creatures from her dream. After a run-in with an odd woman named Claudia, she becomes aware that this has something to do with a cult - what it has to do with herself, however, she does not know.
Silent Hill 3 is beautifully disgusting, and has held up extremely well to be so old. The environments look dingy, and rotten, and I feel like I need a bath after playing this game. The character models, as well as pretty much everything else in the game looks great, especially for it's time, but much like the Gamecube Resident Evil remake, they don't look out of place in this day and time either. Everything has a gritty feel to it, and I was especially impressed by some of the facial animations.
Sound design is an important factor in a horror game, and SH3 hits the nail on the head in this department with the exception of the voice acting. While convincing enough, they still sound a bit like they're trying too hard. The rest of the sound design is fantastic, though. There isn't much music unless enemies are around, in which cause you'll hear a very disturbing tune, as if the otherworldly cries from the monsters weren't enough to give you chills in the first place.
The monster's are downright freaky, and some of them seem to ignore every biology textbook in existence. They'll completely unnatural, and that's what makes them scary. They aren't going to make you piss yourself (probably), but they will certainly get your heart racing.
The game controls much better than many in the genre. While the default settings (called 3D) actually felt a bit too responsive, after switching them to 2D I felt right at home. The game controls in a semi-tank style, taking the blueprints of Resident Evil and then making its own adjustments. It's much easier to turn than in Resident Evil, and movements feel much more fluid. In most areas, you can hold one of the shoulder buttons and use the right stick to swing the camera, and help you see better. By holding the combat button, you will ready your weapon, be it a gun or a steel pipe, and by using their respective face buttons you can either block or attack. It doesn't feel nearly as stiff as it sounds like it might, though.
Your best bet in a lot of situations is to just run. Ammo is limited, and a lot of enemies will clean house with you if you aren't careful. If you do choose to fight, you have some things to take into consideration. First off, do you have enough ammo to use a gun? If you do, is this particularly enemy worth using those bullets? If you choose to fight it with melee weapons, you also have to choose carefully. If a hallway is too narrow, larger weapons will bounce off of them, and you may have to switch to a smaller weapon that does less damage.
Silent Hill 3 has a really cool difficulty setting feature. There are two settings: one for puzzles and one for combat. Setting combat to higher difficulty obviously effects Heather's health as well as monsters, but puzzle difficulty can mean the difference between a puzzle consisting of 3 steps, 5 steps, use of a poem from a few centuries ago as a hint, or even rather you have to do certain puzzles at all. It's a really cool idea, especially if you want to fight harder monsters, but you aren't good at puzzle solving. I had a lot of fun with Silent Hill 3, and it didn't feel dated at all, with the exception of the fact that it was an actual horror game. In my time with SH3, I was creeped out, grossed out, and downright frightened at time. This game gets in your head with its wonderful sound design and disgusting environments, and for that hour or two that I spent in from of my TV, my life was in danger as far as my brain was concerned. Silent Hill 3 is a testament to a bygone era of horror gaming and the only faults I can find are the voice acting and some issues that were ultimately my own fault(not being able to see certain items because they blend in too well). If you're a horror fan, and you've yet to try this game, you're doing yourself a great injustice.