Silent Hill 4: The Room
By: Tristan Jones on December 26, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: PS2
Also available on: PC, XBox
Developer: Konami
Players: 1
Year: 2004
OFLC Rating: MA15+
What would you do if one day, you inexplicably found yourself locked into your own apartment, unable to escape no matter how hard you tried, and as each day goes by, strange things begin happening? Things like chains suddenly barring your only exit, your television and radios turning themselves on and off at will but receiving nothing but static, strange notes appearing at random, receiving ominous phone calls only to discover someone has cut your phone line or every time you go to sleep, finding yourself in someone else's dreams? And if an ominous hole suddenly appeared in your bathroom wall, presenting your possible freedom, would you take the chance?

Silent Hill 4: The Room is the most recent instalment in the acclaimed Silent Hill series of games from Konami, the company also behind the Castlevania and Metal Gear series. From the very beginning, it's clear that Silent Hill 4 is a fairly drastic departure from its predecessors. The Room, like Silent Hill 2 before it, is really only a sequel by name, and it bears no relevance and very minor reference to the games before it, making it a pretty good jumping on point if you can't get your mitts on either the first or second instalments. Those who've played all three thoroughly will pick up on a number of very obscure references (some so vague they may not even be anything really – was the drawing of "Daddy" one of the Red Pyramids?).

You awake to find yourself in your apartment, only, as you walk around; everything seems to baffle the protagonist in an anachronistic way. Where a record player should have been stands a new television, furniture isn't yours and has been shifted around, etcetera. The apartment is also saturated in blood and coated in grime and rust. So what? Sounds pretty standard for Silent Hill… except it's all in first person. Now, for those who've played the others but not this one and are concerned about the perspective change, don't worry. You enter the first person point of view only when in your apartment, the rest of the game plays out similarly to the others.

The final differentiating point that must be noted is that The Room is not set in Silent Hill. You never go to Silent Hill. The closest you come is a confined section of woodlands on the other side of the park you cross in Silent Hill 2 to actually get to the town border. Hopefully these points will have your ears pricked, if not, if you're an obsessive purist that can't let go of the past, then you should probably switch off now.

You can always rely on the Silent Hill games to have excellently paced and thoroughly thought out storylines. Every time I play these games I come away completely satisfied, it's like watching a really good film, and every time I finished one, I was hungry to find out where the next would go. Silent Hill 3 linked directly to the first with it's story and Silent Hill 2 had a story that retained trace elements of the first but stood on it's own. Silent Hill 4 deviates from all the stories that came before it and presents a completely original story that, as I said, isn't even set in Silent Hill. You play as Henry Townshend, living in an apartment block in South Ashfield, a town the next city over from Silent Hill. You start receiving mysterious notes around the apartment as though a presence inside it was trying to talk to you. They talk of murders from years ago and a man named Walter Sullivan, and very quickly you find a strange portal opens up in your bathroom, leading you to particular places for what are surely destined meetings with particular people. Silent Hill 4 becomes more of an occult thriller than a survival horror, but still retains the key elements of the games before it.

Each time you travel through the hole in your bathroom, you are brought to a very particular place, each bearing significance to the greater story, and though they may seem bizarrely disjointed at first, their true purpose is revealed later in the game. Each area you are drawn to is eerily reminiscent of the earlier games, but still very unique to this one. They are presented almost like chapters of a book, and though they may seem unusually short at first, it's usually the second pass through that will deepen them. Each of the Silent Hill games before it presented the gamer with a feeling of agoraphobia as you explored Silent Hill openly, The Room manages to drag the same sense of dread, but makes it a claustrophobic dread, which isn't usually done very well in these games. It's the sense of isolation that separates it from other titles. The claustrophobic environments somehow manage to capture the same expansive isolation of the prior Silent Hills and make it more intense. You feel completely and utterly alone, even when you are accompanied by Eileen, who you find beaten and disoriented in the South Ashfield Hospital (another destination the hole brings you to).

Noticeably, the psycho-sexual monstrosities have been completely removed from this game, and what you face are the tortured spirits of those murdered by the game's antagonist, one for each of the environments you visit. Aside from the dogs, the only prominent creature you run into is a bizarre creature that seems to be a torso that walks on it's hands, is covered in black fur or feathers and bears the faces of twins murdered in the past. You come across 'patients' in the hospital, but their appearance is brief in comparison, and the only other threats presented are in the form of grotesque, phallic 'plants' that sprout from the ground in certain areas. The effects surrounding the appearance of the ghosts are very cool to watch, and something I've never really seen done before either on film or in games (the 'skipping' ghost with the hammer is cool, the burning one is pretty disturbing), and the nature of each ghost is specific to who they were and how they died.

Thematically, Silent Hill 4 is well and truly on par with the second. Dealing with the natures of extreme religious cults and religion itself, child abduction, abuse and neglect, murder (which are brutal in every sense of the word), the sexual elements explored in Silent Hill 2 have been left. The only vaguely sexual intimations made by The Room come from the strangely voyeuristic situations you are forced into, being locked in the apartment. You'll find yourself having to watch people on the street and in their apartments through your windows, looking into Eileen's bedroom through your wall (one of the most disturbing sights the game has to offer lies in her bedroom later in the game), and through the spy hole in your door.

Graphically, Silent Hill 4 is on par with the rest of the series, but after the wow-a-thon that was Silent Hill 3 (in terms of graphics and presentation) Silent Hill 4 doesn't pack quite the same visual punch. This isn't to say the graphics aren't good; they're a damn sight better than most games out there at the moment.

Audibly, the game isn't quite as good as the rest. The sound director is once again Akira Yamoaka, who worked on every other game in the series and will be scoring the upcoming film too, but the music isn't as impacting as it was in the earlier games (especially 2). The sounds are less disturbing, and seem to juxtapose the visuals. Recognisable noises feel a little out of place, such as the 'cougar' cry when the dogs are attacked, and the belching noise that occurs when you connect blows to the 'patients' are slightly off putting. However, the sounds that accompany the natural environments and the spiritual phenomena are extremely effective, and red herring noises are plentiful (the wooden object in the toilets is a nice touch).

Silent Hill 4 introduces a number of new gameplay changes to the series as well. You now have a limit to what you can carry, and must to and fro between a storage box in your room should you want to hold on to something or exchange items. This may prove to be tedious for some, but after a while I didn't mind. You also get the aforementioned first person perspective, but you now also get to arm the person accompanying you (when they do). This is something to be careful off though because depending on how much damage they take will drastically alter how the final part of the game plays out. It retains the multiple ending option the previous ones had, which is always welcomed and well worth replaying the game to see the differences. Attacks can now be charged as well, going from quick, melee attacks, to crushing blows if the attack button is held down.

The only problem I had with this one (aside from the slightly –comparatively- disappointing score) was that on the initial run through of the game, the characters aren't as likable as they are in the other games. It could be because of the subdued nature of the protagonist, and his intentions are never really made clear to the gamer until far into the game. There's just not as much personality to these characters as there was in the previous titles. However, retrospectively the game has grown on me considerably. The first play through lets you get used to the change in the series, and once you're used to it the game really is an awesome addition to the franchise. It will be interesting to see where the next game goes, given that it's been said already that Silent Hill 5 will be completely different to any of the previous games and taking into consideration the clear differences and steps between 3 and 4.

Takes a little getting used to, but well and truly worth it.
Movie Score
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