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Review: The scariest video game around

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Fighting sequences pit Heather against a slew of bizarre creatures.
Fighting sequences pit Heather against a slew of bizarre creatures.

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Video games

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

Heather Morris, back to the wall of an alleyway, clutches her knife and peeks around the corner to see what was slithering after her in the abandoned amusement park.

She swallows, and breathes a sigh of relief. The coast is clear. She slowly turns back -- only to stare in the face of a creature that looks as if its skin has been turned inside out. It screeches then lunges for her.

Such scenarios can be found in "Silent Hill 3," the latest "survival horror" video game from Konami that is not appropriate for kids. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rates the game M for Mature.

Nail-biting action

The sequel doesn't stray much from what made its predecessors oust the once-popular "Resident Evil" franchise from its perch as the scariest game series around, but seasoned players and newcomers alike should enjoy this title's nail-biting game play, gorgeous (if not gory) visuals and a haunting musical soundtrack.

Without giving away much of the story, "Silent Hill 3" places the young heroine in spooky locations such as a deserted subway station, shopping mall, hospital and amusement park -- each populated by nightmarish creatures.

Through exploration, combat, puzzle solving and interaction with mysterious characters, Heather travels to the town of Silent Hill to uncover its disturbing secrets. The story is slow at first but ultimately becomes one of the game's stronger features.

Thrilling fights, logical puzzles

Fighting sequences pit Heather against a slew of bizarre creatures, each with their own movement pattern and attacks. As in past games in the series, the protagonist has a radio that emits noise whenever a monster lurks nearby, so the player can pause, enter the inventory screen, pick a weapon (such as a steel pipe, shotguns or knife), check ammo levels if necessary and then resume the action.

More ammo, weapons, health and important items can be found by exploring rooms and alleys.

Puzzles are fairly straightforward, such as using a nutcracker to break a chain or bread tongs to fish out a set of keys trapped under a grate, but some require the player to combine items in the inventory. One example: Placing a few volumes of Shakespeare's works beside one another in the proper order to reveal a numeric password.

The PlayStation 2 thriller is played from a third-person perspective, so Heather is seen on the screen at all times. This helps the game achieve its cinematic look, reinforced with slow and dramatic "camera" changes, a number of cut-scene movies and a lengthy audio soundtrack. Konami also has slipped a bonus CD inside the "Silent Hill 3" box to accompany the game.

A few dislikes

There are a few minor beefs with "Silent Hill 3," but none that really affects the game play. These include some finicky controls that take getting used to. Plus, because the tale takes some time to get rolling, some players may lose interest in it before the fun really begins.

That said, with its high production values, fun game play and impressive visuals, "Silent Hill 3" is not only the best game in the series but may be the finest survival horror game to date.

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