bshirk's Silent Hill 4: The Room (PlayStation 2) review

I'm Glad My Room Isn't This Terrifying

 

Have you ever felt scared during a lonely night at your apartment? If you've ever lived in a dangerous area, have had difficulty breathing, or have been robbed before, there's a good chance that you've felt true fear. Even if the scariest thing you've experienced is an unexplainable noise, it still doesn't feel good being trapped in your own home. If you've ever wanted to face those fears, there's a game that literally traps you in your own room called Silent Hill 4.

Like other Silent Hill titles, Silent Hill 4: The Room is about providing scares, but it does so in a significantly different way. Instead of revolving around the town of Silent Hill, Silent Hill 4 takes place outside the city, but it does have its connections.

While trapped in the room of Henry Townshend, you'll learn that his place of residence is somehow tied in with the dark religion native to Silent Hill. It takes awhile to unravel the mystery surrounding the force keeping Henry locked in his room, but there are plenty of things to do in the meantime.

When you begin the adventure, you'll notice that Henry has just awoken from a nightmare. For five days, he's been having the same terrible dream, and he imagines that it's connected to his recent entrapment. After Henry climbs out of bed, control of the game is given to the player.

Unlike previous Silent Hill experiences, Silent Hill 4 is initially played from a first-person perspective. The player uses the left analog stick for moving, and the right stick is used for looking around. In Silent Hill 4, aiming and moving is quite slow when compared to movement in a first-person shooter such as Halo. The control set-up also isn't truly analog (a button is held to run), but this control scheme is functional enough to carry out your objectives.

While in this perspective, you can search nearly every object in Henry's small apartment building. You can explore a laundry room, bathroom, bedroom, and living room, and each has several unique objects to examine. While in these rooms, you can peer through windows to observe what's happening outside, you can peer through a peep hole, you can use the telephone, and you can open a box that's used to store items. There are many more objects, but it's not necessary to exam all of them for the journey to proceed.

Once you've examined a number of objects and realize that there's no way for Henry to break all the locks surrounding his apartment door, a large crash occurs. After exploring every room, Henry notices that a gigantic hole has been produced in the bathroom. In the hopes of finding an exit, he decides to explore it. What he finds at the end of the tunnel is a portal of sorts that leads him into a familiar subway.

While in this mysterious subway that appears to be a doppelganger of the one in his town of Ashfield Heights, Henry encounters a woman who he saw walking into a subway earlier from his window. This attractive woman claims that Henry's inside a recurring dream of hers, and pleads him to help her escape.

Towards the end of this unusual dream, Henry and the woman are separated. When he finally discovers her, he finds that she's been brutally murdered, and a numbered tattoo has been inscribed on her back. Shortly after, he wakes up thinking it was a dream, only to discover that this woman had been murdered on a radio broadcast. From this point on, Henry enters many other locations trying to discover the connection between these dreams, reality, and his room.

Segments of the game that occur in Henry's room are always played from a first-person perspective, and they involve no actual combat. While in his room, the player searches for new occurrences, such as cracks in the wall that allow Henry to observe residents of neighboring apartments and notes that have been placed under the door.

Despite the relatively poor first-person controls, these segments are often quite fun due to the new mysteries that regularly arise. After awhile, you'll have some understanding of what's going on, but the story has enough twists that you'll likely make some wrong guesses too. The intriguing plot generally makes these segments exciting, but a later event changes things.

Eventually, Henry's room will be overwhelmed by curses that deplete his health, and the only way to negate these pesky curses is by wandering around with holy objects. Earlier, Henry's room was a sanctuary that would restore his health after missions, but the curses make it just as dangerous as a battlefield. The curses are certainly an interesting change since they destroy what was formerly a safe haven, but I found them to be more of a nuisance than anything (especially since these items could have been removed from your inventory by accident).

Portions of the game that occur outside Henry's room play similarly to a standard Silent Hill title. While in subways, forests, water towers, and other environments, you'll control Henry from a third-person perspective. You'll move around the game's various locales from this perspective, and this is also how you'll engage in combat.

Movement has been slightly altered in this Silent Hill, however; your character can now rotate quickly. Henry is significantly more agile in Silent Hill 4, which makes combat and avoiding enemies easier. Combat is not only enhanced by improved control, but it's also made better by the fact that you only have to stomp enemies once after you've knocked them on the ground. This improvement alone makes Silent Hill 4's combat significantly better than that of its predecessors.

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to Silent Hill 4's revised combat as well. The inventory system was completely revamped, which is nice in a way since you can switch weapons without having to enter a menu, but it also detracts from the experience because there's now an inventory limit. You don't have to collect quite as many keys in Silent Hill 4, so space isn't always an issue, but in the game's later dungeons, you'll need space for weapons, healing items, key items, and curse removing items. Silent Hill 4's inventory limit makes it difficult to carry all these items, so you'll sometimes have to drop curse-removing items, which will make returning to your room a pain.

Another addition makes up for Silent Hill 4's lack of inventory space, however. In Silent Hill 3, save points were infrequent and hard to find, so it's nice to see that Konami remedied that problem by allowing you to save every ten minutes in Silent Hill 4. When saving in Silent Hill 4, you'll no longer find markings on the wall; instead, you'll have to travel through a portal that takes you back to a save journal in Henry's apartment. This might sound like a hassle, but it's much more convenient then the sporadic save points of previous Silent Hill adventures.

From my description so far, you've probably gathered that Silent Hill 4 is an amazing survival horror title, free of blemishes. It's true that many of its components are great -- the music, sound effects, improved controls, plot, and voice acting are well done, but there is a significant flaw. What I'm referring to is not the inconsistent visuals that range from great to bland textures, but rather, the tedious backtracking that comprises the second half of the game.

Silent Hill 4 forces you to revisit every environment you thoroughly explored earlier. Even though there are new puzzles, enemies, and cut-scenes, you'll still notice that you're plowing through the same dungeons. Instead of artificially lengthening the game by reusing old assets, it would have been nice if only one of those dungeons were revisited, and   an extra dungeon or two were explored in place of the other familiar areas.

Also, I didn't feel that the use of the 'Other World' was quite as creative in this Silent Hill. I'm sure that it was difficult to come up with new material after exhausting so many ideas in Silent Hill 3, but it would have been nice if a little more time was spent making the 'Other World' feel fresh.

Silent Hill 4 is often considered the beginning of the downfall of the Silent Hill series, and I can't understand why. I realize that there were some changes to the gameplay mechanics (the first-person segments in particular) and there was some unnecessary backtracking, but when thoroughly analyzing the earlier titles, there were repeat areas there as well. While I didn't fully appreciate Silent Hill 4's first-person controls, I felt that being trapped in a room provided for a refreshingly scary experience that was a necessary departure from what could have been just another journey to Silent Hill. Hopefully Konami will learn from Silent Hill 4 and take another risk if they ever decide to internally develop another Silent Hill title.

Pros:

·          Creepy sound effects

·          Being trapped in an apartment is a refreshing setting

·          Features an intriguing storyline that'll keep you entertained throughout the experience

·          You now only have to stomp on enemies once

Cons:

·          Too much backtracking during the second half of the game

·          Inconsistent visuals

·          Curses in Henry's room are a nuisance

.          Not enough inventory space 
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