The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 3

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Silent Hill 3 is a mean-spirited game, but then that was
always the point. In order to value her future, Heather Mason is
dragged, kicking and screaming, through the muck and mire of her past.
Yes, she’s given the tools to fight back, but the overwhelming numbers
in her way serve as reminder that it’s easier to flee from destiny.
Overall, it’s an exhaustive experience; the only relief coming from a
goofy swerve, seconds before the end.
Despite what we know now, coupled with the foreshadowing of The Room, Silent Hill 3
always felt like a natural conclusion. Rather than a reflection of its
audience, the definitive storytelling is more indicative of a
development team coming to the end of the road. The hints are all there –
the deconstructive dialogue, the mandated-from-the-top gameplay, and
the tongue-in-cheek Easter eggs – and none of it is ever hard to find or
But the most striking truths are found in its violence. Whereas its predecessors were content with subterfuge, Silent Hill 3’s themes were delivered like the killing blow of a rusty steel pipe.

At its heart, Silent Hill 3 is about a girl coming of age.
From the opening nightmare sequence, we’re treated to very familiar
horror iconography: blood red hues, a fascination with blades, of
something foreign inside the body, and a cute mascot in disturbingly
lifeless poses, all set in an abandoned amusement park. Heather’s
journey home takes her through teenage hangouts and public places, their
dark sides brought to the fore, all the way to Silent Hill and deep
within. Little Red Riding Hood by way of Dario Argento, if you will.

Her survival depends on a reconciliation between childhood and adult life, with her former selves
being these literal, separate slices of life. By the end, Heather is
not Alessa, nor Cheryl, but its through their remembrance that she
ultimately becomes her own person, able to make her own decisions in
life. On the other side of the coin, there’s Claudia Wolf, the story’s
misguided antagonist; a colourless imitation of a reasonable young adult, preferring the comfort of blind faith over autonomy.

Adulthood, or at least what we find of it in Silent Hill 3, is
represented by the messes of men. Douglas Cartland is a walking list of
mistakes, whereas Vincent Smith takes a perverse pride in belittling
the ignorant few. One seeks redemption, the other deals in exploitation.
The cast might be minimal, but it works for the duality on display.
Lines are drawn and lesson are learned. Douglas, himself, finds
redemption through parental guidance, something he thought he’d lost, a
lifetime ago.

As a direct sequel to a fairly obtuse original, past events are
recalled and plainly deconstructed. Riddle speak is deftly cut down by
barbed tongues, infallible fathers are shown to be weak and vulnerable
(breaking down our own hero worship in the process), and The Order is
explained in definitive detail. It’s this clarity that ends up being
vital to Heather’s character growth. Particularly telling is how her
descriptive texts turn from dismissive to thoughtful, reflective and
empathetic, along with the bloodstains that are eventually splashed
across her pure white jacket.

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The Otherworld returns to its original form, now a higher-definition
of improbable locations, foetal-like defects and rattling heads (for his
final game, Masahiro Ito’s designs were part-freakshow, part-macabre
fairytale). It’s a harsher world, full of abattoir tiles and maddening works of art, an intensity that almost goes overboard in places; bringing back the surface level scares that were missing in Silent Hill 2.

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It’s visceral, but it needed to be that way. The Otherworld doesn’t
adapt, it grows with its protagonist. And it’s most obvious in the way
the skeletal walls and beasts of raw flesh develop rippling layers of
skin as you progress. The Otherworld is a fearful representation of
pregnancy and birth, all of which ends with an abortion of sorts.

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For a series that prides itself on subversion, Silent Hill 3
is rather transparent with its humanist values. Both pro-choice and
nihilistic towards religion, the messages come through clearly at the
most shocking of times and even breaks the philosophical fourth-wall
when needed (note how Vincent usually addresses the audience through POV
angles). At one point, the player is asked to forgive or condemn
Claudia’s actions, and the answer doesn’t lie in the usual act of

Silent Hill 3 will always be most famous for the line, “They look like monsters to you?” but that’s always been a sly misdirection at best, or a love letter by a dev team on their way out. Personally speaking, it’s a symptom of why Silent Hill 3 never crawled out from Silent Hill 2‘s
shadow; the constant post-modern distractions took focus away from the
bigger picture. But you could also argue that it was down to a waning
interest in survival horror, or an emphasis on unrefined combat, badly
paced locations, or even the re-use of assets for a quick turnaround.
And none of these would be wrong, either.

That said, especially after replaying it for this retrospective, Silent Hill 3
is a game in need of re-appraisal. The tired, introspective tone from
the developers is actually more relevant now than on release. Heather
Mason also manages to be a strong female character, one that earns
that title, rather than put on a pedestal from the get-go. And this was
in 2003, remember. The Otherworld was as close as we were ever going to
get an HD remake, complete with so many hidden details and huge
advancement in character design. And it’s rarely said enough, the
haunted house section is completely underrated in the way it pulls the
rug from underneath the player.

Hey, maybe, ironically, it’s a reconciliation with the past speaking.
In any case, no matter where you place it – best, mid-tier, worst
(personally, mid-tier) – Silent Hill 3 signaled the dying days
of “Team Silent,” but there was one more oddity that would send us
tumbling down the rabbit hole and into a realm of existentialism that
hasn’t been explored in video games since.

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