I have never played the original Silent Hill. I'll get that out of the way now. So the overly-familiar plot of Silent Hill 3 is less of an issue for me than it is for Matt. I do, however, recognise a clichéd, fractured and dull storyline when I see one. I'll refrain from dishing out another lecture on effective storytelling, but I feel duty-bound to point out that for anyone unfamiliar with this game's prequels the plot is cripplingly convoluted. First-timers will no doubt resent having to work so hard at making sense of the flaccid plot developments just to piece together a wayward and pointless religious fable. I know I did.
Turning to more obvious concerns, Silent Hill 3's nuts-and-bolts adventure game design should rightly come in for criticism. Or should it? Admittedly, it feels pretty ridiculous in this day and age to be pushing your character along walls, desperately pressing 'X' just to try and get a reaction out of the scenery, but, by and large, it's a system that works. There's a kind of anally-retentive charm to be had in the necessarily methodical and thorough exploration of multi-roomed corridors. Perhaps such middle-of-the-road gameplay alone does not make the game "a worthwhile experience" (as Matt puts it), but, coupled with the directorial flourishes and aesthetic flair of Konami's immensely skilled development team, Silent Hill 3 is never less than compelling right through to its conclusion. Any tedious backtracking, for example, actually becomes a masterclass in how to pitch a genuinely expressive atmosphere—thanks in no small part to the continued excellence of series composer Akira Yamaoka. And personally, I found great pleasure in negotiating the satisfyingly skew-whiff camera angles: Some of the more unexpected and unconventional viewpoints offer wondrous shots of the remarkable detail and near photo-realistic textures that make up each area—all illuminated, of course, with the help of some magnificent lighting effects.
In fact, the sheer dark beauty of the game is one of Silent Hill 3's trump cards. The game underscores its well-crafted environments with a keen sense of realism, and when Heather enters the horrifying "other realm," her world transforms into a sensational mesh of murky reds, clotting blood and blurry walls. Personally, however, I was less impressed than Matt with the game's often re-hashed and occasionally formulaic choice of imagery. Maybe a rabbit costume covered in blood at an abandoned fairground should be scary, but it just isn't. Everything's technically nightmarish, but it won't give you nightmares. And in contrast to its predecessor's expertly judged allegories, Silent Hill 3's purely literal level of representation infuses the imagery with a kind of horror-for-the-sake-of-it feeling where any real insight or deep meaning is scarce. Add this to the rather flat gameplay, and at times it seems like Silent Hill 3 is part of that disconcerting new breed of videogames which showcase outrageously high (and expensive) production values even in the face of so little substance. At its worst, it recalls SCEE's horribly misguided gothic adventure Primal, with an ostensibly slick, big-budget feel airbrushing a catalogue of errors.
Crucially, however, where Primal was dragged down and defined by its individual failings, Silent Hill 3 rises above them. I am inclined to summarize in a positive tone because in spite of its frailties, and to some extent because of them, Silent Hill 3 offers an experience that feels quite unlike any other game on the market. This experience is far greater than the sum of its parts, and the fact that it grips you by means other than established gameplay tenets is, if anything, all the more impressive. That any mainstream videogame is committed to exploring such dense, esoteric themes with this level of care and professionalism is refreshing and highly laudable in itself. So as long as Silent Hill remains one of the only genuinely mature game series to succeed by appealing to the players' emotional sensibilities, its implicit potency and continued significance are assured.