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Posted on Oct 31st 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Silent Hill, Konami, Survival horror


While I have always been a huge fan of the survival horror genre, when it comes to the Silent Hill series, I have generally played it safe and stuck to the first three titles which are almost unanimously praised. Although many of the later Silent Hill games are almost universally disliked by fans, the fourth entry is probably the most divisive title in the series, with a seemingly equal number of people who either love or hate the game. After playing it for myself, it is easy to see why opinions are so mixed, as I too had a sort of love/hate relationship with it. Good or bad, it is definitely one of the most interesting games I have played in a long time.

** Note: Due to the nature of the game, it is impossible to discuss all pertinent gameplay mechanics without giving away some mid-game spoilers, although I will try to keep things as vague as possible. **




Developed and published by Konami and released on September 7, 2004 in North America, Silent Hill 4: The Room is an action/adventure/survival horror game and the fourth title in Konami's long-running survival horror franchise. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, but it was conspicuously absent from the Silent Hill HD Collection which only included the second and third games in the series. It sold fairly well despite its mixed reception upon its release. Contrary to popular opinion, it was always conceived as a Silent Hill title and was not developed as another IP entirely with the Silent Hill name and themes tacked on late in development.

The game begins with main protagonist Henry Townshend stuck in his apartment for five days with no means of communicating with the outside world. His front door has been locked and chained from the inside, and Henry keeps having recurring nightmares. After crawling through a large hole that has mysteriously appeared in his bathroom wall, serving as a portal to random Otherworld locations, Henry finds himself in an abandoned subway station where he meets Cynthia Velasquez, who believes she is dreaming. Shortly after, Cynthia is killed, and after Henry wakes up in his apartment, he learns that Cynthia has been found dead in the real world.


That's it, no more Taco Bell for Henry!

As is typical of the Silent Hill series, the story of Silent Hill 4 is strange and disturbing, and aside from going off the deep end a bit towards the end (like most horror games do), I would say that it has one of the better stories in the series. In fact, there were many times while playing that I thought the game's story elements and themes would have made for a great horror film, and there were a few times when the game's events reminded me of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. There are many references to past Silent Hill titles, and even the identity of the main antagonist is taken from a seemingly irrelevant newspaper article from Silent Hill 2, which helps tie things together nicely. While the majority of the story is presented through cutscenes, most of the backstory, especially that of the main antagonist, is told through journal entries.

Much of the gameplay experience is similar to previous games in the series in that you will explore large environments, find items and solve puzzles needed for progression, and defeat monsters along the way. One major addition to Silent Hill 4 is the inclusion of the first-person segments while exploring Henry's apartment. The apartment mostly serves as a hub environment that will transport the player to the next major area via the aforementioned hole in the bathroom wall. You can inspect many objects in the apartment, as well as take a glimpse of the outside world via the windows or the peephole in the door, or take a voyeuristic look at your neighbor through a hole in the wall. Henry's apartment will also heal him during the first half of the game, so it will be important to return here often since healing items are extremely limited during the game's first half.

While I enjoyed the inclusion of the first-person segments and the room itself, they do have an impact on the rest of the game that I found to be less appealing. Unlike previous games in the series, there are no save points scattered throughout the environments, nor do you have unlimited inventory space. Instead, every time you want to save or manage your inventory, you will have to travel back to the apartment via the occasional hole in the wall that you will find scattered about. Inventory space is limited to 10 slots, and items do not stack at all except for ammo which stacks in extremely low quantities, so you will need to return here often. There are also a few occasions in which you will have to return to the room in order to solve a puzzle, which are admittedly clever, however having to return to the room so often to complete menial tasks (and waiting through the corresponding loading screens) can become tedious.


These holes will take you back to your apartment.

Like previous games in the series, the environments are fully 3D but the camera cannot be freely manipulated by the player. Instead, the game opts for more cinematic camera angles and shifts, and while this often creates some great looking and creepy shots, it can sometimes make navigating the levels clunky and cumbersome. Where previous Silent Hill games gave you the option of choosing between camera-specific movement controls or character-specific "tank controls," Silent Hill 4 has removed the tank controls entirely. I know many people do not like tank controls, but as someone who has complete ambidexterity with both movement styles, I can say with 100% certainty that tank controls work much better for games with fixed and cinematic camera angles. It is the only way to avoid the awkward and unintended change of movement direction when a camera angle suddenly changes, so their exclusion was sorely missed by me personally.

The combat is mostly similar to previous games in the series, but there are a few changes that set it apart. Henry can swing most weapons in a short combo, which gives the combat a faster feel than previous games. There is also a charge meter that when fully charged causes Henry to strike with a more powerful attack. Some weapons are also limited in their use and will break after hitting an enemy with them about a dozen times, although I usually just stuck with the infinitely usable axe for most of the game. There are also a couple of firearms present in the game, but ammo is extremely limited, so they can't be relied on for every enemy encounter. There is an increased focus on combat in this game than in previous entries, and I found it to be more frustrating most of the time due to the increased number of enemies in the game. Although the combat system is improved overall, it is still not equipped to deal with the hordes of enemies this game will sometimes throw at you.


Unfortunately the improved combat won't help much in situations like this.

Silent Hill 4 also sees in the inclusion of a brand new enemy type with ghosts. Ghosts appear as lifeless floating corpses that fly around the area and attempt to attack the player. They will often crawl out of the walls and, unlike other enemies, will pursue Henry across multiple rooms. Ghosts are impervious to damage and will only be stunned or knocked down when attacked. Items called Sword of Obedience can be used to permanently pin a downed ghost to the floor, but these items are limited to only five for the entire game. Holy Candles can be used to temporarily incapacitate ghosts, and the Saint's Medallions can be equipped to protect Henry from their attacks, but these are limited in their use. While the ghost enemies are definitely frightening and help improve the horror aspect of the game, they are usually just frustrating to deal with.

Around the halfway point, the game introduces some changes that significantly impact the gameplay. For starters, your apartment no longer heals you, and various 'hauntings' will appear in your apartment that can harm you if you stand close to them for several seconds. There are about 15 different hauntings that can randomly occur and include things such as blood pouring from the sink and creepy messages coming from the phone. These changes take the one safe haven in the game and turn it into an oppressive environment, and this does a great job of heightening the horror element of the game. Fortunately, the amount of healing items that can be found greatly increases at this point, and the hauntings are easily dispelled with either the Holy Candles or Saint Medallions which are commonly found also, so these changes don't negatively impact the gameplay.


A haunting, or just an intrusive neighbor?

Another major change occurs in the form of Eileen Galvin, Henry's neighbor who now accompanies him for the rest of the game. Yes, the second half of the game is essentially an escort mission. Due to her injuries sustained previously in the game, Eileen moves much slower than Henry, so you will have to move much slower than usual or constantly wait for her so that she is not left behind. Eileen can be equipped with weapons that she will use to defend herself, but I found that this caused her to recklessly attack any enemies on screen, so I chose to leave her unequipped for the entire game. Although she cannot be killed by enemies, if Eileen sustains enough damage, she will become temporarily 'possessed' which causes her to blindly attack both Henry and any enemies on screen. The game's ending is also influenced by the amount of damage Eileen receives throughout the game.

Many of these elements work together to make Silent Hill 4 easily the hardest game in the series. Between the limited inventory space, fewer resources, higher enemy count, as well as ghost enemies which cannot be killed, players will have to be as efficient as possible with resources in order to complete the game. In fact, I have heard stories from people who have said that they simply weren't able to complete the game due to expending all available healing items and not being able to progress past enemies without being killed. Just for reference, I played the game on Normal difficulty, but setting the difficulty to Easy may make the game a less stressful experience.


Silent Hill 4 continues the series' tradition of having creepy enemy designs.

For a game from 2004, the visuals of Silent Hill 4 hold up fairly well. Being a horror title, the game has an intentionally drab appearance, and there is a ton of grotesque and disturbing imagery throughout. Most of the enemy designs are good, particularly the Twin Victims, a large and deformed enemy with twin baby heads. The sound design is also great. Veteran series composer Akira Yamaoka returns and once again delivers an excellent soundtrack. Enemy sound effects and ambient noises are appropriately creepy and do a great job of ratcheting up the tension. The voice acting is also surprisingly good except for Henry himself, who sounds a bit flat and lifeless.

Silent Hill 4 introduces many new concepts to the series, and while they are all interesting, they don't always translate to better game mechanics. However, despite the rocky start and the many frustrations I had with the game, I still really enjoyed it overall and had a hard time putting it down once I got past the opening sections. It is a tough game to recommend because it definitely earns its mixed reception, but if you're a fan of survival horror and/or have a fair amount of patience when it comes to games, I think Silent Hill 4 is definitely worth playing. Either way, it is likely an experience that will stick with you long after the credits end.


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Comments
 
You are certainly right about the difficulty, DH.  I don't think I really had too much of an issue with the combat or the inventory management (Lord knows why, as they are serious obstacles), but rather the ghosts.  Maybe I had fallen into some sort of slumber with SH games in general, where I would leisurely the environments.  The ghosts in SH4 made this impossible for me, as once spotted they would relentlessly follow me from room to room, so that I would sometimes have to run back to another room, wait for them to phase through the wall, then run back and explore a bit.  I also think this is the hardest game to get a good ending with.  Took me many tries back in the day.

Thanks for the review.  While not the best SH game, it is certainly fun with some interesting ideas and worth a playthrough in my opinion.  Hopefully we can get some more converts on board to at least give it a try.

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