While Alone in the Dark can be credited for creating the survival-horror genre, there are two games that I believe are responsible for really giving it definition: Resident Evil and Silent Hill. While the former is awesome at getting under your skin and providing many “BOO!” type of scares, the latter has always been regarded as the more psychological thriller. Things will jump out at you often enough, but it’s more about getting in your head. Silent Hill 4 claims to deliver psychological horror more than any other iteration of the series; and while the game is certainly fun and entertaining, it failed to deliver on its promise.
The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice about the game is the graphics. The engine used in Silent Hill 4 is arguably the best used in the series so far, and it’s easy to see why. The game easily shows off its high production values with fabulous textures, haunting environments, and absolutely stellar character models. In particular, you will constantly find yourself staring at the face models of each character, as they are able to vividly echo their dialogue that is spoken. When a character is afraid, you will be able to see fear etched into their features. Another aspect that sets the graphics engine apart is the exceptionally smooth animation. Running, walking, fighting, getting hurt? all of these animations are well done; and I often found myself moving around the world just to watch my character motions as he reacted to the environment around him. Most impressive of all is the apartment you live in?
SPOILER ALERT!! If you don’t want to ruin any of the game for yourself, skip the next paragraph!
As you progress through the game, your apartment begins to devolve; decaying and becoming all the more? well, dead, essentially. It adds a lot to the drama and horror aspect of the game, and is very well done. The graphics in this game set standards, and even the most jaded fans should appreciate them. After all, getting spooked in video games has a lot to do with how the graphics relay the environment and creatures that haunt the landscape.
The sound effects and background music really help add to the atmosphere of the game. The music is understandably slow and eerie; which is absolutely essential for a game such as Silent Hill 4. The sounds you hear around you, coupled with the great graphics, can really suck you into the game and keep you on the edge of your seat. One aspect of the sound that really stood out to me was the voice-acting. Typically, survival-horror games have less than stellar performances provided for the characters. Some feel that this is to add a B-movie aesthetic to the game – some even think it contributes to the overall feel of the game. I happen to think it sucks, plain and simple. Silent Hill 4 bucks the standard and really has talented actors providing dialogue for all of the characters. (Not that there are many, but the few characters in the game are very well done!) While I always play with subtitles on in any game that gives the option, I was able to sit back and watch the excellent character models while listening to the great voice-acting. Again, that’s not something we survival-horror gamers are very accustomed to in the genre, so it was a breath of fresh air.
So let’s recap, shall we? The graphics are great; they’re very vivid and well done, and succeed at drawing you into the Silent Hill 4 experience. The sound effects, voice-acting, and background music are also well done, and are able to pull you into the game right along with the graphics. So what are we missing? Ah yes, the overall game play.
You’ll find that much is different in Silent Hill 4, and by “much” I mean almost everything. There’s a new save game system that’s closer to Resident Evil‘s; the menu system is brand new, and is actually a bit more intuitive than in past versions of the series; and essentially everything else has been given an overhaul. In fact – as in all Silent Hill games – the story is completely different. Although this time, Silent Hill doesn’t come into play until later in the game. You start in a town called Ashfield, and eventually? well, I think you’re capable of seeing for yourself should you be so inclined.
The combat system has also been revised; but this actually presents one of the biggest problems for the game: it’s almost too simplistic! I’m not trying to imply that a combat system should be overly complex, but it should be complex enough to allow the user to say, “Okay, I’ve got a basic overview and can even do some rather cool moves. However, I know there’s more to see, and I’d love to delve deeper into this combat system to do even better moves.” That’s just not the case here. You walk up to an enemy, press the appropriate button to attack, and you get a generic looking swing type animation to hit the enemy. It’s pretty disappointing from a visual perspective, especially considering the graphical prowess in all other aspects of the game.
Because of the rather boring combat system, it’s a sad fact that Silent Hill 4 really isn’t all that scary. Now that’s not to say it isn’t creepy at points, or more than a little unnerving; but compared to past installments, Silent Hill 4 leaves a lot to be desired in the fright department. What’s more, there are no real logic puzzles in the game to speak of. Most of your quests are simple errand-running tasks that quickly grow old and tiresome. So not only does the combat become mind-bendingly tedious, but the quests seem consistently boring.
There is one saving grace: the story. The story is what really drives this game and wants to keep you playing. It’s like a good book. You know you’re tired and need a break, but you have to turn the page to find out what happens next. You just can’t resist the allure of the tale! The Silent Hill series has always put forth a decent storyline, but this is one of the best. That’s all I’m going to say here, because I don’t want to give anything away if possible.
While I did enjoy Silent Hill 4, I have to be honest and say that the game is nowhere no close to being the best in the series. If you’re a fan of the games and have been waiting for this one, I don’t necessarily think you’ll find it to be a disappointment; but I do think you’ll be disappointed overall? if that makes sense. Overall, Silent Hill 4 is a good game, but if you haven’t liked any of the previous installments of the series, you’re not going to change your mind with this one?and for fans of the series? Again, you’ll enjoy the game, but it probably won’t stand out as your favorite.