Like many of you, October (or as I call it, Scary Month) is one of my favorite times of the year for theming my gaming habit. Generally, I tend to enjoy playing a small pool of games that are scary or perceived to be scary by others, but I've been doing this a long time now, and I do believe a change is in order. So I will play some Scary Month-themed games that I either haven't played in years or that I am completely new to, with the idea being to play as much as I can and pound out articles as time permits. In the end, hopefully something coherent will come out of this effort. Well, no point in beating around the bush. Let's go.
Game 1 - Silent Hill 4: The Room
I first picked up Silent Hill 4
on release day (that being, September 4, 2004) and remember enjoying it (more or less), enough so to recommend it to friends as a good, if not great, horror game. It had the same strangely realistic faces from SH3
, but overall the game felt different. A popular Internet rumor spread in years past (especially on podcasts) was that SH4
was originally a game called, The Room
, but the Silent Hill
name was tacked on by Konami to give it wider appeal. It turns out that this is false, and according to an interview I read featuring several of the devs from Team Silent, originally taken from Wikipedia (stick that in your pipe, college professors), SH4
was developed at the same time as SH2
, with the intent of trying something new. The plot also reflects this truth, as one of the main characters (Walter Sullivan), is mentioned in newspaper clippings that you can find in alley trash at an apartment building in SH2
. Discovering this was something of a revelation to me at the time, and really kept me moving forward in the game.Silent Hill 4
has you in the role of Henry Townshend, who for the last few days has been trapped in his apartment. Not in a post-earthquake kind of way, or in a hoarder trapped under magazines kind of way, but in a front door is wrapped in chains kind of way. Nothing works properly in the apartment, and for all intents and purposes, Henry is isolated. With a little exploring (interestingly done in first-person), you find Henry is able to observe his neighbors (not interact with) by looking out the peephole in your front door, the windows, and eventually through little holes within the apartment. The only apparent way out is a mysterious hole in the wall of his bathroom that occasionally appears to signal a new level being opened (which dumps you in third person). After you complete the level you come back to your apartment. This replaces the Otherworld mechanic used in the previous games, which honestly is pretty refreshing after using the same schtick for the better part of three games.
There are a lot of surprises awaiting you when you leave Henry's apartment, especially if you only played the mainstream Silent Hill
games. First of all, you now have a limited inventory, which is a huge shock after the unlimited space from the pervious titles. Combat is also wildly different, in that there is a ton more of it, but poor ol' Henry is just not made for this. Sure, he can swing a pipe just as well as Harry, James, or Heather, but he now has to contend with a "charge up" mechanic, which adds a bit of timing to it all. After a bit of bashing, you do get used to it, or at least I did, but then everything changes when the ghosts show up (literally ten minutes into the game).
Being swarmed by ghosts
Much like the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3
, the ghosts are nigh indestructible, though like Nemesis, you can damage them with weapons, but not kill them permanently (though there is a limited way to immobilize them). But unlike Nemesis, the ghosts in Silent Hill 4
are genuinely disturbing, as they float through levels as if hanging from hooks. Some ghosts will always been in certain areas, while others will follow you throughout areas by phasing through walls (which looks like they are being birthed through the wall, another disturbing element). Getting too close ends up causing damage to Henry, so your best bet is to avoid them entirely, drawing and kiting them to different areas so that you can maybe have a scant few additional seconds to look for items, or escort a character through a level safely. As this is a main gameplay element of the game, you will be doing this a lot, which can be either frustrating or exhilarating, depending on the type of gamer you are. Me? While it is fairly unique and interesting in theory, this was my least favorite part of the game.
The apartment is also an interesting part of the game. It serves as your refuge, and you get to go there and save (sometimes), as well as refill your health, in the middle of levels. Often other subtle things will have happened while you were gone, such as a piece of furniture that moved, or something outside of your apartment that you can see through a peep-hole or a window. Some of it will help you eventually solve the mystery of the plot, but a lot of it serves no real purpose outside of simply being there, or maybe trying to scare you. Parts of it were scary, at least back in '04, before I had kids. While I won't speak for all, having kids really contributed to the deadening of my ability to experience horror and dread as I once did. Where once a darkened hallway or room had the potential to contain any matter of ghoulish lurkers and monsters, now only contain the relief that I can finally have some silence (and maybe finish those dishes, too).
The front door in Henry's room. Overkill?
One word about the music: Good. Perhaps not the best for the series at that point in time, but a passable soundtrack by Akira Yamaoaka (the sound designer and composer of most of the Silent Hill
games) is still better than most others. There is a larger amount of lyrical music versus ambient music than in past games, though at least some of the lyrics actually are relevant to the game. A thirteen track CD was packed in with pre-orders in some territories, though I don't think that the packaging of the game reflected this bonus.
But as I played SH4
throughout this week I really questioned my suspiciously glittery memories. Was this really the title that I once recommended so heavily to my friends? Initially I blamed my own inability to acclimate myself to the dogged persistence of the ghosts as simple rust and dry rot, but as the hours slowly passed I began to consider the possibility that I didn't enjoy the game anymore. I don't want to discourage you from playing Silent Hill 4
, especially considering that it is a well rated game that has a lot of good ideas, that genuinely gets progressively more interesting and disturbing as the game progresses (especially when you learn more about the ghosts, and then again at the finale), but in the end I really didn't have very much fun with the game. So, I'm split on my opinion. It is good for what it does, but if you aren't interested in trying something new in the Silent Hill
universe, or just don't give a rip about Silent Hill
(or just hate survival horror games), you should probably steer clear.
The game is available on PlayStation 2, original Xbox, and PC, though its non-inclusion in any digital format or re-release (HD or not), the price is perhaps a little high ($40 plus for PC and around $35 for PS2). Because of this, I highly recommend the original Xbox version, which supports 480p and Dolby Digital sound, as well as backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360, all for less than $15 CIB.
Thank for reading!