You know, I have a lot in common with Silent Hill 4’s main character; it seems we both rarely shave, both sleep in our dress clothes, and both can’t leave our apartments. Although my reason is that I play too many video games, his reason is that someone bolted his apartment door from top to bottom with chains.
Thus, this is the scenario in Konami’s latest game – Silent Hill 4: The Room. Those who are already familiar with the Silent Hill series already know that it is not like other survival horror games. The Silent Hill series prides itself on being a psychological thriller, rather than using quick scares to attract gamers. The PS2 and Xbox versions were good, but not great games and, unfortunately, the PC version doesn’t breathe any fresh life into the quailing genre.
In Silent Hill 4: The Room, you return to the damned town as the unlucky protagonist, Henry Townsend. Henry has been having nightmares, terrible dreams of his apartment being haunted, and to top it off when he wakes up he finds that it’s true. After exploring the room Henry discovers a mysterious portal in the bathroom. I have some of those in my room and, believe me, they lead to no good, not good at all. This portal leads to both different areas for Henry to explore and various hell spawn for him to kill, so that he can solve the mystery of what is going on in his apartment and why he can’t get out. There’s also a murderous cult involved somewhere along the line. In games such as these, story and plot must rise above all other aspects. To scare the player and give an experience like no other was the initial agenda of survivor horror games – at least it was. Somewhere between all the sequels the thought of scaring gamers while they were playing the game has seemingly been lost. Silent Hill 4 is no exception to this unfortunate trend. Now, don’t get me wrong, Silent Hill 4 has some truly scary moments, but those are few and far between. But Silent Hill 4 does have a sense of creepiness and a cinematic feel that no other game in the genre can offer. The morbid and twisted plot is the only thing that delivers this game successfully from its lack of scares.
Another thing that redeems Silent Hill 4: The Room are its remarkable graphics. Each environment is superbly detailed and the lighting effects are similarly executed. The greatest aspect of the graphics is by far the character design. The character details are some of the best realized in video games today. Henry looks amazing; to the point where his skin pores are even visible. Henry looks as though he’s been through a meat grinder. Facial details really illustrate the hell that Henry has been though during this whole ordeal – and yet he still gets hit on by women! There’s great graphical detail on the apartment as well, especially later in the game as the room starts to decay. The graphics on Silent Hill 4 already looked awesome on the Playstation 2 and Xbox versions, but what makes the PC graphics really shine is the ability to raise the resolution of the game – in effect making the colors appear crisper. The only bad thing about the graphics is that the resolution cannot be raised all that much. Even on an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, I could not raise the graphics higher than 1024×768. The graphics have not been improved from Silent Hill 3, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
However, what is a bad thing is that the controls have not been altered from the days of Silent Hill 3. Although an improved combat system has been employed, moving your character around is still somewhat of a pain. Combat, although necessary, seems misplaced in a game that does not focus any real emphasis on fighting within the story. Combat is an improvement over Silent Hill 3, though. Henry will auto-target to the closest enemy in range, and when using melee weapons on creatures of the damned, there is also a strength gauge. When the gauge is filled your character executes a mighty swing that would make Barry Bonds seethe with jealousy. I enjoyed nothing more than putting away zombies and other hell spawn with my 9-Iron (Tiger Woods has got nothing on me). Henry also has a handy ?jump back’ feature when targeting enemies, which allows for some aiming room. The fighting is fun for a while, but it quickly becomes very repetitive and uninteresting later in the game, especially when you are trying to find out where to go next. Another interestingly crafted feature is the addition of a first-person perspective. In some areas, mainly those offering little movement (like Henry’s apartment), you will see everything through the first-person viewpoint. This is a great idea, but not one exploited to its full potential. Indeed, it perhaps should have been made available throughout all areas of the game. It would have helped a great deal if switching between first and third-person views were possible so you could always see where you were going. Speaking of that, moving Henry can really be a pain at times. I can’t count the number of times I was running from zombies and ploughed straight into another batch because I could not see what was ahead. The game also starts out very slowly. The first twenty minutes are spent trying to figure out just what the heck you are meant to be doing. And, after you figure that out, you then spend another ten minutes figuring out where you are meant to be going. And, if that was not good enough for you, Silent Hill 4 is DVD only. On the bright side, the game offers four multiple endings, so a little bit of replay value has been put into the game.
Silent Hill 4’s quality sound effects and voice acting were another surprise to me. Other games of this genre have what I like to call ?a mild case of Shenmue Syndrome’. No, it’s not some kind of viral disease, but if you are a video game then it’s just as bad as one. Shenmue Syndrome is a disease I discovered when playing the Dreamcast game, Shenmue. Though it was a great game, Shenmue was plagued by some of the worst voice acting in video games – “I’m looking for some sailors.” Resident Evil on the Playstation may have contracted this disease before Shenmue brought it to the fore, but I think that the title Shenmue Syndrome is considerably more amusing. However, the Silent Hill series has been cured from this awful disease as Silent Hill 4 clearly shows no signs of obvious infection. The game’s sound effects are on par with the other series titles, too. Each monster has a distinct sound that lets you know to start running. A real chilly moment occurs when you dial a certain number posted on a billboard outside your room, and zombies answer the phone. It completely throws you off and proves to be one of the few authentic scares this game offers.
Silent Hill 4 has a good story, great graphics, and decent gameplay. However, it really doesn’t offer anything new or different from that which we’ve seen in the previous three series installments – it’s more of the same, and the PC version offers nothing extra to PC gamers. There are no added scenes, no improved graphics, and no nothing. I can only recommend this game to fans of the series that don’t already own a console they can play it on. Ultimately, if you enjoy the series you are going to love this game. If you are getting into the survival horror genre, then Silent Hill 4 is as good a place as any to begin your experience. But, if you are looking to partake in a definitive step forward for the survival horror genre?I’m afraid that Silent Hill 4 does not take it.