Silent Hill 4: The Room
System: multiple :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 08 September 2004
By Morphine Jim
Imagine waking up one morning to find you can't leave your apartment. The door to the outside world is covered in chains and locks, the windows won't open and nobody can hear you, no matter how hard you shout. You can't escape. But in a world with Rosie O'Donnell in it, you have no complaints. So you go back to bed and await starving to death with a smile on your face.
Some people, however, are asstangoes, and seem to think that the outside world actually has something to offer them. One of these people is Henry Townshend, a man who coincidentally becomes trapped in his own apartment and star of the fourth entry into the Silent Hill series, Silent Hill 4: The Room. The Room is a game that manages to be very different from it's brethren, yet at the same time sticks to some rigid similarities. The atmosphere is spot on and the classic fear factor is just as prevalent as it always was. It does, however, need a little fan-love to forgive its frustrations and problems.
The story starts off without giving much away but soon evolves to become a very deep, involving tale. As Henry Townshend, you have no clue as to why you're locked up in your apartment, or why you keep having disturbing, grotesque nightmares (which provide us with a wonderful intro to this game). After a while moping about and strangely not starving to death, despite having only a bottle of chocolate milk in the fridge, Henry finds a bizarre hole in the wall of his bathroom. This hole is a portal to a dark and disturbing reality, the reality of Silent Hill. From then on, it's up to Henry to trawl his way through a series of vile, creepy locations, meet the other members of his apartment block who've been sucked into the nightmare, and ultimately discover the truth about Apartment 302 — his room.
The story to SH4 is incredibly strong. Like Silent Hill 2, it's a plot bubble, standing apart from the Harry/Heather Mason story of the Silent Hill cult and its God. Despite standing alone, however, the story really is for fans of the series. With a lot of reference to the aforementioned cult and the story of Silent Hill 2's James Sunderland being brought forth a little more, there's plenty for followers to get giddy at. Plus, the emerging main plot of The Room revolves around one of the best Silent Hill backstories and certainly, my favourite character to have not actually appeared in the series until now. Many of the iconic themes of the series are prevalent — guilt, repression, a battle between realities — along with some familiar imagery that should live in the memories of all fans. It also tries to strike out as well, providing a different experience. For instance, the staple hospital level now takes place in an alternate version of South Ashfield's emergency room, not the familiar Brookhaven Hospital or even the first game's Alchemilla. This has had certain purist fanboys up in arms, but I say sod 'em. It's good to see a bevy of new locations, all of them just as unnerving as ever. You'll get to visit a nightmarish rendition of the train station outside your apartment, a forest by Toluca Lake near Silent Hill complete with abandoned cult orphanage, a haunting child prison and a twisted alternative version of your own apartment building, each one as horrendously realized as any seen in previous installments.
The game is split between two perspectives. Much of your time will be spent inside your actual apartment, where you'll be navigating in the first-person. This is a brand new idea for the franchise and actually quite a bold undertaking, as horror games seem difficult to do in a first-person perspective. Despite what the majority of reviews say, however, I think the Silent Hill team pulled it off quite well. Yes, control is rather clunky, but this isn't Halo — you won't be blasting away Imps in Henry's kitchen, so once you get used to the controls, which'll take you under a minute, you won't notice anything. Spending time in your apartment is important, especially during the first half of the game, as it's where Henry will be regaining his lost health and collecting things. There are a variety of interesting things to play around with, too, such as looking out of the peephole in your door, or spying on your neighbor. All of these can become pretty engrossing, especially as the loneliness of your room always tempts into seeing if the girl next door's up to anything interesting whenever you have to return from the outside world.
When you're not in you're room, you'll be in one of the fabulously bright and cheerful locations accessed through the weeping portals that now contrast the decor of your room so nicely, and it's here that the familiar third-person adventure style takes effect. Gameplay is familiar to those who've played the previous titles, and indeed the core basics of any survival horror game are there in effect — except that the actual analog stick is now the default method of movement for Henry as opposed to the awful lift-truck operation of most other horror titles. This does lead to a distinct lack of dynamic fixed camera angles, but really, they're not missed with such passion that I wept for their demise. The camera is pretty darn good and the 2D control scheme is handled well, with less problems than Onimusha 3 faced when it made the change to proper controls.
If you've played any of the other three, you'll know what to expect as far as actual gameplay goes. You wander the dark, twisted confines of various locations, using items you pick up to solve a variety of puzzles, as well as uncovering the usual bevy of keys for the usual bevy of locked doors. There are also a motley collection of brilliantly conceived monstrosities that lunge out at you from the dark, more deadly and dangerous than ever before. Combat has, in fact, been played around with quite a bit to become more in depth and melee based. The collection of guns and rather unbelievable weapons from Silent Hill 3 have been replaced by a considerable array of blunt objects such as golf clubs, shovels and pickaxes which are satisfying to see used, especially after the rather silly additions of a katana and medieval mace seen in the last title. Guns are used, but not entirely useful this time around, being somewhat weak and a pain to carry around, for reasons that shall be explained.
Despite the fine tuning to the combat, it remains an especially frustrating part of this title. The less than responsive nature of Henry's attacks coupled with the downright ferocity of some of the monsters couple to form a very annoying team. Every enemy seems designed for maximum irritation. There are long tongued, fleshless dogs that like to surround you and get knocked out of your attack range every time they hit you, allowing them to counter quite efficiently. There are two headed baby ogres that, while utterly terrifying and brilliant in conception, charge at you with such speed and attack with such strength that taking on two at a time becomes an utter nightmare. Highly annoying ghosts float around every level, sapping your health just by being near you, trying to pull out your heart and, naturally, being invincible, just to piss you off more. Worst of all are the little buzzing bastard-shits that swarm you every chance they get. It wouldn't be so bad if combat wasn't so clunky, but as it stands, the survival horror approach to fighting is still evident — only the enemies are now on steroids and the balance has been thrown.
Indeed, frustration comes with the territory when playing The Room. Taking a leaf from Resident Evil's book, you're given only a limited amount of item slots which can get filled pretty quickly. In order to pick more things up, you have to find a portal back to your apartment and put what you're carrying into a chest. This wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that buzzing back and forth between the Otherworld and your room equals looking at plenty of loading screens. Add in to the fact that every single clip of ammo you carry takes up one whole item slot, and you've got a lot of resource management that you just shouldn't need to think about. Your room is also the only place in the game where you can save your progress, so again, it becomes a hassle to find a portal, go into the portal, watch the portal animation, wait for it to load, get an animation of you waking up, wait for it to load, make your way to the door to the main room, again, wait for it to load, then make your way to the book on the cabinet that lets you save. This becomes doubly excruciating halfway through the game, when your room no longer becomes a safe-haven but starts to be taken over by Silent Hill's nightmare reality and not treading carefully could lead to you losing a lot of life.
It's not all bad though. I can see exactly what the developers where trying to do with this, so it comes as some comfort that The Room's problems don't stem from slapdash design, but a positive attempt to bring new ideas to the horror genre. Despite the irksome nature of SH4's combat and features, a genuine sense of fear is maintained throughout. The ghosts for example, always fill you with a sense of dread as they fly toward you, you pick and choose items carefully simply because your room's become so twisted you don't want to go back in there. The creators said from the start they want to give the player a sense of being stalked and chased, and that oppression is there in full force. SH4 tries a new type of fear, abandoning the dark alleys and radio static of previous titles. In fact, you don't even use the staple flashlight and radio. This leads to less of the creeping, shadowy terror, but it's replaced with a new frantic type of horror. It's still very psychological, despite this being the most visually revealing game of all, and still manages to avoid throwing cheap schlock scares at you, and that's high praise indeed. It's just a shame that a balance between paranoid fear and cheesed off irritation couldn't be better.
Another thing worth mentioning is that halfway through the game, you play the same levels over again. You get to see a few new locations within each level (very small additions) and you have new puzzles, but it's certainly not awe-inspiring. Had the rerun levels been all new, this would've been the best Silent Hill game yet, easily, but the repetition is a big letdown and certainly doesn't do much to promote replayability.
Graphically, this is the best looking Silent Hill yet, despite losing the terrific flashlight effects. What The Room loses in trickling light effects it makes up for in impeccable detail and some of the most disturbing set-pieces available in a videogame. Some of the hauntings that invade your room during the latter portion of the game are especially harrowing. The animation is also superb, especially on the ghosts. One particular ghost is fantastically brought to life with twisted stuttered animation that's constantly shifting and rewinding, as if he's being broadcast on a mangled cassette tape and terrified all hell out of me. It's difficult to find fault in SH4's visuals. The design of both your environments, enemies and friends are spot on. There is a definite image and identity to this title that sets it apart from its predecessors, while maintaining the same style that made what came before so popular.
Soundwise, again, the nail has been hit on the head. By eliminating the radio static from its prequels, The Room has become even scarier as now every background noise could spell impending doom. You no longer have the warning radio to tell you when a monster's nearby, which makes every clunk, moan or crash ever scarier. Sound has always been important to the atmosphere of the Silent Hill series, so it's no surprise at all that things haven't been skimped on when it comes to setting up that aural mood. Sometimes things will be deathly quiet. Other times you'll be assailed with a deafening, terrifying cacophony of noise. Cats screaming, dogs barking, people crying. There are some instances during this game I actually found it mentally unbearable, but I mean that in the best way possible. Vocally, there are plenty of solid performances from everyone. Henry sounds a little flat, but apart from that, there's nothing to really hate about the acting. There's even a child in it, and he's not annoying, which is always a big plus for me. Music is used very sparingly in this game, but what there is of it is incredibly good. The main theme, "Room Of An Angel," is especially pretty.
— Does its best to add something new to the survival horror genre.
— Really intriguing plot that exposes one of Silent Hill's best backstories.
— Beautifully designed.
— Some of the FPS elements are very creepy.
— Frustrating combat.
— Restrictive item slots.
— Repeats itself halfway through.
— It just... really... bugs you sometimes!
And The Roomy
The elements were in place for The Room to be the best Silent Hill yet. The plot is spot-on, the atmosphere is perfect and the design is delectable. Sadly, the 'fine tuning' made to combat and the unforgiving inventory conspire to create a very unfulfilling experience on occasion. There is no way to dress it up — this game can be and will be one annoying son of a bitch. Once your apartment goes from safe-haven to ghost-infested life sucker, things get even less enjoyable. The fact the game replays itself does little to lift the ill-feeling. There is, however, a superb game just screaming to get out of its own problems, and a superb game is what forgiving gamers will find. Really, you need to be a fan to get the most out of this, as more casual gamers simply won't feel rewarded for their struggles. But for those who stick with it, you will feel rewarded. The little touches that adorn this title, from the references to previous games to the creepy set-pieces and Easter Egg goodies, create a very inspired atmosphere, one you won't find in any other survival horror or indeed, any other Silent Hill. Staunch fanboys will be disappointed that there's not enough of the old Silent Hill in there for them, but I find fanboys to be obnoxious, repellent little runts who hate seeing things go in a new direction anyway, so ignore everything that comes out of their mouths. The Room is to be applauded for trying new things, and when those new things work, they really work. It's difficult to give a final judgment on this game, but honestly, The Room failed to disappoint me, even if it did fail to make me fall completely in love with it. Despite its faults, however, Silent Hill 4 remains an incredibly strong addition to the series, which I enjoyed playing more than Silent Hill 3. Sadly, though I enjoyed it more, it's not a better game. There are just too many niggling, irritating problems.
Because I still love you, even though you hurt me: 80%
"My name's Walter... Walter Sullivan. It's time to complete the 21 Sacrament." — Walter Sullivan (duh)