Silent Hill 4: The Room

Year: 2004
Platform: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Developer: Konami
Genre: Horror
Review Date: 10/23/04
Rating: ***

More psychological terror surrounding the cult activities in the sleepy little town of Silent Hill. This time around, the protagonist is Henry Townshend, a dull and completely non-descript single male in his late 20's or early 30's. He lives alone in an apartment in a town just south of Silent Hill, and one morning he wakes up to find huge locks and chains covering his door - on the inside. His windows are sealed shut and no one can hear his desperate cries for help, so he decides to crawl through a strange hole that mysteriously appeared in his bathroom. This transports Henry to an alternate reality full of ghosts and hellish creatures, where he starts putting together the pieces of a serial killer mystery.

Like previous "Silent Hill" games, this one is full of symbolism and freaky imagery, and the underlying theme concerns abandonment. While it looks and plays like previous titles, SH4 makes some radical changes. First of all, Henry's apartment serves as a central hub and contains the only save point in the game. Also, the game switches to a first person perspective inside Henry's apartment, which helps to establish a feeling of claustrophobia, voyeurism, and helplessness. Unfortunately, getting around and interacting with things in first person mode is a bit clunky. Secondly, Henry's inventory has been limited to ten items (and each box of ammo counts as one item), with a storage chest located in his living room. This "Resident Evil" style inventory system adds unwanted complexity to the game and requires numerous trips back home to swap items out. Fortunately, portals are usually easy to get to and monsters don't respawn when you backtrack, but it can still be tedious. The classic flashlight and radio are missing, and there's hardly any inpenetrable fog to be seen. The lack of fog and a flashlight makes the game look MUCH better, as you can actually SEE the environments. You still can't look around very well, but at least everything is well lit. SH4 is much more combat oriented, and not having the radio means that enemies can sneak up on you without any warning. Sadly, the bloody footprints feature has also been removed.

Presentation wise, the game looks fabulous and the lighting is spectacular. The character models are highly detailed and well animated, and they all look rough and dirty like they did in "Silent Hill 3" (2003). The familiar blood and rust art direction is very good, and not nearly as trippy and disorienting as SH3. The creature designs are generally better than SH3, but not nearly as good as the superb "Silent Hill 2" (2001). Naturally, there's a hospital to prowl around in, but the sexy zombie nurses have been replaced with sentient wheelchairs (?!?) and bizarre patient monsters that belch when you hit them. Unlike the previous games, there are no riddles in SH4, and everything is pretty clear and straight forward. Lots of references are made to the previous games, and the notorious Silent Hill orphanage plays a key role. The story itself is the most straight forward of the bunch, and I kept expecting some psychological twist to occur. In fact, for the first half of the game, I was convinced that Henry was the serial killer and that the chains on his apartment were the symbolic representation of his innocence and sanity being locked away. What a surprise it was to find out that Henry wasn't really crazy afterall! In another nod to SH2, this game requires you to protect and escort an attractive young woman, which allows for more character development and interaction. One area where SH4 falls short, however, is in its cut scenes, which are full of jerky and out-of-focus action, and are generally uninteresting and unattractive. Overall, "Silent Hill 4" is another enjoyable outing for people who enjoy the series, but much like "Resident Evil", the series is starting to feel a little stale.