The first 4 Silent Hill games are an astounding mix of terror, great characters, heartbreaking feels, searing honesty, and beautifully grotesque atmosphere. One through Three three are utter masterpieces that transcend their medium and should be recognized as art (the originals, not the terrible HD rerelease), while SH 4: The Room is just really, really good.
If you only know Silent Hill through the movies, be warned. They resemble the games in the same way I resemble my cat that died a few years ago.
If you ask the average SH fan which one is the best, most will say 2. Rightfully so, it’s packs an emotional wallop, has one of the most iconic characters in horror with Pyramid Head, and a killer, nine-hanky gut-punch tear jerker of a line (“James, you made me happy”). The director set out to make it the Crime and Punishment of the horror genre and succeeded perfectly.
In my own not-so-humble opinion, Silent Hill 2 is the greatest work of horror. In any medium. Of all time.
And 3 is every bit as good. If 2 is Crime and Punishment, then 3 is The Brothers Karamazov.
Tragically, 3 was almost ignored on it’s release—from the numbers I can find, sales actually dropped. My cynical side says it’s because the player character is a girl, something that wasn’t that common at the time outside of Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, and parts of Resident Evil (FF and CT sold even less than SH). On top of that, 3 appears to return to the plot of the first game, and upset fans by not answering the questions Team Silent already answered or had no intention to answer.
Which is a shame, because Heather is one of the best protagonists in horror. She’s the measure by which I judge all YA horror protagonists. She’s snarky, smart, complicated, flawed, courageous, and deeply wise in that disconcerting way teenagers have of seeing past the caked-on layers of adult BS.
Silent Hill 3 is long overdue for a critical reassessment. So here’s mine.
In 2, Team Silent told a simple story in the subtlest, most symbolic way they could. In 3, they do the opposite, they take a complex story and make it dense and convoluted, like you’re surrounded by a crowd of people all yelling at you at once.
The game demands the player pay attention to every little detail to understand what’s happening. Heather’s story is an up-close and personal tour of the devastation left by spiritual and physical abuse, and how the characters react to the abuse. Like The Brothers Karamazov, the story compares and contrasts the characters and leaves the player to judge their every action. Heather is the Alyosha, a Christ-like figure who’s untying the knot of the other character’s sins through her symbolic death and resurrection.
The world of Silent Hill 3 seethes and ungulates with more overt sickening and grotesque imagery than all the games before it. The world itself tells a story all it’s own, one beyond the player’s comprehension. But it’s not grotesque for the sake of the grotesque. Is there a better expression of the agony and suffering abuse victims experience than ‘the whole world writhes in agony’?
Through all the dense story telling and themes of suffering, religion, fatherhood, and abuse, the game can be summed up by a line from a song that plays during Heather’s moment of doubt.
You were made for joy.
This is what Silent Hill 3 get right where everyone else who asks the big questions gets wrong. On the surface, it seems 3 is asking why bad things happen to good people. Nope. 3 says suffering is a reality we can’t escape, but when we suffer, we can find joy.
Your circumstances govern if your happy or not. Joy is a choice. Even in the nightmarish horror of suffering, the beauty of joy shines all the brighter. Silent Hill 3 nails that truth, utterly, honestly, and perfectly.
This is what so many people missed the first time around. While so many searched for clues to support their pet Silent Hill theory, they missed the heart of the game.
Aren’t we all guilty of that when the people closest to us suffer?
And that’s why Silent Hill 3 is a masterpiece that’s every bit as good as 2.