Silent Hill 3 Impressions

We try out the PC version of Konami's PlayStation 2 survival-horror game.

The so-called survival horror genre, which has generally consisted of games that let you control a single--though very vulnerable and slow-moving--character from a third-person view, arguably started with the classic 1992 adventure game Alone in the Dark. Survival horror games have become most popular on consoles, thanks to games like Capcom's Resident Evil and Konami's Silent Hill series, which generally have you exploring creepy environments and defending yourself from creepier monsters. The latter game has made a name for itself because of its atmospheric environments, good use of sound, and its truly grotesque monsters. Since last year, Konami has quietly started to bring over its console games to the PC, including the upcoming Silent Hill 3, which was recently released on the PlayStation 2. We were able to try an early version of the PC game, which seems to remain true to the original console version.

Heather's troubles are just beginning.

In the game, you play as Heather Morris, a seemingly normal teenager who has such normal hobbies as chatting on the phone and hanging out at the local shopping mall. However, Heather isn't your average teenager. She's being followed by a mysterious detective who suggests that there might have been something odd about her birth. Then again, you find out about all this only after the game's strange introductory sequence, during which Heather must explore an abandoned amusement park littered with garbage and bloodstained toys. Throughout this introductory sequence, Heather and her surroundings are covered with an unusual, grainy camera filter that's supposed to resemble television static as though she were trapped in a TV show. In this sequence, she first encounters some of Silent Hill 3's monsters, including a doglike creature whose head splits open like a worm's. She also encounters a scrawny, lumbering homunculus made of oversized lumps of flesh. Unfortunately for Heather, this experience is just the beginning of her troubles.

As you might expect from a game that's being ported from older console hardware to the PC, Silent Hill 3 seems to take good advantage of PC hardware. The game supports onscreen resolutions of up to 1920x1440, as well as texture resolutions of up to 2048x2048. It also features graphics options, like dynamic shadows, that can be toggled on or off to improve performance. The graphics in the PC version look noticeably sharper than those in the PlayStation 2 version, especially for the game's detailed character models. Japanese console adventure games, which tend to focus on key characters with dramatic camera close-ups, have continued to focus on creating highly detailed characters with animated facial expressions. This focus is evident in Silent Hill 3's character models, who have fully articulated mouths that are synced with their full audio speech. The PC version also retains the original game's detailed animated shadows, which lengthen and deform realistically as Heather steps into and out of the light.

The game has highly detailed character models, complete with facial animations.

If you're familiar with Japanese survival horror games, you'll know that they're famous, infamous even, for their use of fixed camera angles in specific areas. They're also well known for their restrictive control schemes, which often limit the speed at which your character can walk and turn--presumably to heighten tension when monsters are lurking around a blind corner. Silent Hill 3 stays true to both of these conventions, and the PC version's default control scheme seems extremely complex. Though you can opt for "2D control," which lets you assign four keyboard keys (W, S, Q, and E by default) to move forward, backward, left, and right--like a console controller--the default "3D control" scheme, which lets you move and strafe as in a standard first-person shooter, seems a bit more intuitive. Either way, we still had to remap a few control keys, since we found ourselves reaching across the keyboard for the B key (which lets you ready your weapon to defend yourself) and the space bar (the action and fighting key). The default control setup seems to require some getting used to, especially since, as in other survival horror games, your character is slow to move, turn, and fight when attacked by monsters--though you can run from your enemies by pressing and holding the shift key. The original Silent Hill 3's control scheme worked well enough with the PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller, and the PC game might also be better served with a good gamepad.

With the exception of its unusual control setup and improved graphics, Silent Hill 3 for the PC seems largely unchanged from the PlayStation 2 version, and, for survival horror purists, this may not be a bad thing. The PC version of the game is scheduled to ship toward the end of this month, just in time for Halloween.

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