Reviewed: November 25, 2004
Released: September 7, 2004
The Silent Hill franchise has had a long and successful history with the PS2 with it’s chilling visuals, sinister storylines, and downright creepy gameplay. Now Xbox gamers can experience the latest chapter in the survival horror saga as Silent Hill 4: The Room arrives for the Microsoft console.
In this latest installment Konami has changed up the gameplay a bit to include a new first-person mode for a whole new perspective on your sinister surroundings, and the story element is perhaps the strongest yet in the series. While no prior knowledge of the series is required, those who have played the other games will appreciate some strong ties to the overall story of the Silent Hill universe.
You assume the role of Henry Townshend, a man haunted by terrifying nightmares to the point where he becomes trapped in his own apartment. His only escape is a portal in his bathroom that leads to some evil underworld, a parallel dimension that has some mysterious connection to his apartment.
Henry is trapped in some surreal netherworld where his neighbors or landlord can hear his cries for help. His only escape is into the dimensional portal where most of the adventure takes place, yet you will always return to your apartment, the mysterious nexus of this underworld. The interesting thing is that your apartment is continuously evolving. These changes can be rather disturbing and you need to pay special attention to these changes for vital clues to completing the game.
There is also an interesting facet of voyeurism you can explore by peeping in on your neighbor, Eileen. Despite the M rating for sexual themes the peepshow never gets that “bad” and you basically watch her do boring everyday stuff like housework or watching TV.
My biggest complaint with Eileen is that for much of the second half of the game she becomes an NPC that decides to tag along. That means you have to keep her alive. At least her pathfinding is pretty good and she talks to you but come on, if I want to play Ico I’ll play Ico. Let’s leave the “protect” missions out of the franchise and certainly don’t make them 40% of the entire game experience.
As previously mentioned, the “room” is the hub of the entire game and to that end you are required to return there to save your game or manage your inventory. Yes, it does get clunky and annoying real fast. It’s now just like Resident Evil where you have limited inventory slots and you are constantly juggling your items, unloaded excess equipment back in your room, and freeing up slots for anything new you might find. This is certainly a step back from the previous games, which weren’t nearly this restricting. It’s all just a not-so-clever ploy by the designers to force you back to the room more often than you should have to go there just to see the subtle environmental changes.
The good news is the revamped inventory system doesn’t “break” the gameplay; it’s just an annoying intrusion on the flow of the game that you can probably overcome with some preplanning before you leave the room.
The game itself has an entirely different style to it. The first half of the game is almost an adventure with little to no chance of even dying. You simply explore your surroundings, collect everything that isn’t nailed to the gorgeous (yet creepy) scenery, and make frequent trips to your room. About halfway into the game’s story things take a turn for the sinister. Your room become possessed, bosses start to appear and things just get nasty.
I did notice a severe lack of puzzles or at least not nearly as many as previous games in the series. It didn’t really bother me, but those who enjoy those cryptic brainteasers might be disappointed. The puzzles that do remain are all fairly challenging.
Combat has been enhanced to make it easier than ever to switch weapons on the fly thanks to the new on-screen menu. You also now have a meter that you can charge by hitting the enemies with normal attacks. When the meter is full you can do a powerful charged attack for extra damage, but the tradeoff is you are temporarily vulnerable to attack after this blow. The action is still the same old slow paced combat with clumsy auto-lock that can’t tell a dead target from an undead target. It forces you to be a bit creative in your combat by dividing and conquering larger groups of enemies.
The weapons haven’t changed much and you have a varied assortment of guns and melee weapons like the bat, axe, and golf clubs. You can also wield a torch but those are more of a warding off weapon than something to actually beat on them.
Despite looking better than the PS2, The Room doesn’t excel past its predecessors or even any of the current competition for that matter. While suitably sinister, the levels and the hallucinations and other supernatural events just aren’t as creepy as they should be, or perhaps I am just becoming jaded with the entire genre. I really haven’t been “scared” since I played The Suffering.
The nightmarish creatures in this game are truly too terrible for words. I can’t imagine where these artists get their ideas from but there are plenty of crazy demons, zombies, spirits, and other fodder for your exorcising and killing pleasure.
The Xbox steps up the visuals of the PS2 version with a heavy use of special effects filters, detailed textures, and improved motion-captured character models with uncanny facial expressions. Between the realistic character movement and lifelike expressions during close-ups, you’d swear this was digital video, even to the point where they add fake film grain to the cutscenes. Sadly, there is no HDTV support but the game looks amazing, even without it.
The soundtrack is outstanding with plenty of instrumental themes that work to eerie perfection. Musical Director Akira Yamaoka put just the right spin on the music to give this a motion picture score quality that is both haunting and emotionally compelling. You really get caught up in it.
Sounds effects range from sinister to funny. You have your stock sounds for moans and groans along with weapon noises that merely work. The only sounds that are noteworthy are the bad ones, like women who “burp” when you hit them and make an even worse sound when they actually die. It’s hard to be scary when you sound this silly.
Not only has the script improved with each new installment in the saga, but the voice work has finally risen to the challenge. Conversations flow much smoother now and while there are still a few instances of odd delivery or awkward pauses, these are few and far between.
Silent Hill 4 delivers 15-20 hours of sinister survival horror goodness and with multiple skill levels and four unique endings based on several variables, namely how many spirits you exorcise, you might find yourself taking out a new lease on your apartment if you survive the first trip through hell.
New weapons and altered locales will also appear when you play through the game a second time keeping things remarkably fresh, so if you really want to see everything Silent Hill 4 has to offer, you’ll want to play it a few times.
Konami definitely got some things right this time like the on-screen menu, the evolving central hub room and a much better story with improved voice acting. The clunky inventory and save system that forces you to return to your room is annoying at first but you eventually learn to live with it.
Most of all, Silent Hill 4: The Room is scary, perhaps not as scary as the first few games. After all, by now we all kind of know what to expect and when to expect it, but the designers still manage to throw us a few curves. I jumped on more than one occasion and that’s why I play these games. If you’re looking for some thrills and chills take up residence in The Room.