STAFF REVIEW of Silent Hill 4: The Room (Xbox)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004.
by RichVGS

Silent Hill 4: The Room Box art While watching horror films are fun ways to spend an evening, it has been many years since one of them has given me any kind of fright. Then around Halloween time the local rednecks get all decked out and overtake some abandoned factory and turn into a haunted house of some kind. Sure, its fun taking a big group of people who get scared easily through, but you?re usually left feeling disappointed. About the only thing scary about these places is the amount you pay to get in, the line you have to stand in and the end of the walk when you realized it only lasted fifteen minutes. About the only other option (unless you want to walk into the middle of the woods at around midnight and get yourself lost) for pulse-pounding, scary fun is video games. For many players, myself included, taking on a role in a game and actually encountering the terrors of the world is much creepier then anything a movie could show me. It?s all too easy to sit in front of a movies and say things like ?I wouldn?t go that way, I?d go out that door? because you have no real connection. In a game like The Suffering, where you are told that as long as you stay in the light you?ll be okay, deciding to go down a hall that is so dark you can?t see to the end can be a nerve racking experience (I had to psych myself up to make that run). Now that Halloween is approaching once again, I find myself searching of the latest spine-tingling survival horror offering in the world of video games. Thankfully I shall find my fill with the fourth installment of what I consider to be the greatest horror game series ever (down with Resident Evil). So turn down the lights and prepare yourselves for the horror that is Silent Hill 4: The Room.

It should be noted early on that it is not necessary to have played the previous Silent Hill installments in order to understand The Room. This is basically a whole new story that has some connections to the previous games, but nothing that will take anything away from the enjoyment of playing a Silent Hill game for the first time. For Henry (the character you will be controlling), the town of Silent Hill is just a memory of a small town he once lived in with only a photograph he took of a church to remind him of his time there. Now residing in the city of South Ashfield, Henry is the typical young bachelor living in a small apartment right in the middle of everything. Only recently Henry has been having strange dreams where he sees visions of terrible creatures and other sights that would frighten even the toughest of men and women. Soon after the nightmares began, Henry found reality and the world of his nightmares beginning to melt into one another. Now, for some unexplainable reason, Henry has become trapped in Apartment 302. The door has been chained from the inside, the windows cannot be opened, the phone, radio and television don?t work and no matter what he does, no one can hear or see him. Someone, or something wants you staying exactly where you are. The only clue as to what is happening takes the form of the words ?Don?t Go Out, Walter? which has been written on your door in what appears to be blood. As the dreams become more and more intense, Henry discovers what could be a way out?a hole that has opened in his bathroom. It is your turn to decide if Henry should remain in his prison, or should he take a chance with whatever is on the other side of that hole?

What makes the Silent Hill series a cut above the rest of the survival horror games on the market is it doesn?t try to make you jump at every turn like the Resident Evil or Clocktower series?. Silent Hill relies more on making the player feel uneasy at all times and making you feel uncomfortable with every single decision you have to make. Sights, like children?s blood hand prints on walls, and sounds, like someone running away from someone the floor above you and then suddenly a body falls, will make you nervous and make you ask yourself ?Can I continue on?? The question isn?t is there something around that corner? Whether you go down that corner or not is the question. Thankfully before any major enemies or situations are encountered, you?ll usually come upon a hole in a wall, which will teleport you back to your ?home? in Apartment 302, which will find you waking up in your bed and questioning what is reality and what is the dream. In addition to looking out your windows and through the peephole of your door to see what?s going on in the world around you, your apartment acts as the only place to save your game and a place to heal up before your next romp through your nightmares.

If you?ve played previous installments of the Silent Hill games, there have been some major changes made. First, for fans of the series, you?ll quickly notice a lack of annoyingly difficult puzzles. The previous versions of Silent Hill would be sixty percent puzzles that would involve going to multiple parts of the town, collecting certain objects and placing them somewhere in order to collect a necessary object or open a new area. Instead of that, Konami has made it at times difficult to determine where you are supposed to go next, which only adds to the tension, especially when you?re trying to escape enemies. Second, there seem to be others besides Henry that has been drawn through the portal into this nightmarish world. Some of them will look to you for help while others have just accept their fate and wonder aimlessly towards their death. Don?t worry too much about the others. For the most part, the only thing you need to worry about is self-preservation. Third, your health is connected not only to the amount of hits you can take, but your fatigue level that is lowered from hitting combinations with your hand-to-hand combat weapon. The more big swings (advance two paragraphs ahead for more info on big swing attacks) you perform, the more energy you?ll expand. Finally, in addition to encountering creatures spawn from the underworld, you?ll have to fight your way through spirits that can?t be killed, only stunned which only lasts a minute or two if you?re lucky. So hit and move is the best strategy whenever encountering these phantoms. Don?t worry about people accompanying you. These spirits aren?t interested in the tag-along people.

One of the unique aspects of Silent Hill 4: The Room is the switching of perspectives. During your time imprisoned in your apartment, everything is in first person perspective so you can investigate all the little details of your cell. This adds to the feeling of confinement that your character feels as well as the fear over the fact that the only way out may just be through the portal of the !&%$@#* ed. Once you?ve made the plunge into the abyss headfirst, you will now be in third person few which helps you to know your surroundings, and if there we?ve learned anything from the previous Silent Hill games it?s that anything can come from anywhere at any given moment. Thankfully Konami has included a camera angle feature that will always reset to just behind Henry that eliminates almost any camera angle problems with the press of a button (and believe me you?ll need to be quick about it if you want to survive this one).

Yet another new control feature to the Silent Hill series is the power gage for hand-to-hand combat situations. When not using an all reliable pistol or firearm, you?ll equip yourself with objects that you?ll use to beat the nightmarish creatures to a pulp. These weapons include wine bottles, metal pipes, golf clubs, bladed weapons and just about anything else you can get your hands on. Instead of a simple swing feature, you build up your attack by using combos which lead to a massive horizontal swing that will take out any enemies within three feet of you from any direction (this can be a real pain to deal with if you have someone accompanying you because they usually are close enough to take the hit as well). Everything else control wise is pretty standard for a third person perspective game, except for scrolling through your inventory can be a real pain and not exactly a fast process, so be sure to arm yourself long before entering a combat sitly speaking, there is something creepy and beautiful all at once about this game. Backgrounds, especially around and through the windows of your apartment are simply stunning. Looking out the window and you?ll see a full motion city going through a standard week day with cars and pedestrians going up and down the street, as well as being able to peak into the lives of your neighbors that live in the next building. This city will also change to follow or tie in a storyline that occurs in the nightmare world to the real world. In addition, the balance between light and dark situations gives you a sense that terror is lurking no matter what time of day and where you are. The enemies in the early going are real basic, but as you advance further into your nightmares, the attention to detail is that of both an artistic genius and a complete psychopath. About the only weakness in the design is that it seems at times designers simply used darkness as an excuse to not do major set design, but that good be my high expectations clouding my judgment.

Sounds like?well, this is a coin toss. The sound effects and voice acting seem generic to the survival horror genre, but still get he job done. Never underestimate the power of a distant scream or beastly growl to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. If nothing else, the sound designers emphasized the direction that the sound comes from in order to add depth to the storyline, as well as giving your surround sound system a good work out. Where the sound shines bright is the soundtrack. Composed by Akira Yamaoka, the soundtrack sounds like something out a David Lynch film. While the songs can be relaxing during cut scenes, there is something about the tones used that make them eerie at the same time. The tension of this game is definitely controlled by the music, so much so that you can start to find the ?chill out? moments in the game based on the music (until towards the end when the music will play lots of tricks on you). For those of you who preorder Silent Hill 4, the soundtrack was included as bonus. If you can get a copy from your local game store, it is truly worth your while. Great music to work or study to (listening to it as I write this review) from a very strange source.

Fans of horror games need to drop everything and pick up Silent Hill 4: The Room because aside from being the best in the series, this could be the best of the genre. About the only flaw that can be found is that Henry seems a bit too emotionless at times. This could be because Henry is never a hundred percent sure if he?s in the real world or still dreaming. One thing is for sure; while Henry may not seem scared, you will certainly feel uneasy throughout most of this game. While fans of jump scare games (Resident Evil) may be disappointed by the lack of startling moments, the interesting storyline should keep players locked in. Should you get all the way through, you?ll open up a new weapon, costume and other bonus features. Look for hidden Easter eggs in the form of phone numbers that you can dial from your apartment?s phone. But no matter what you do, be ready for anything when taking a stroll through the portal world because the unexpected will happen. Just remember that the idea of finding safety in your home is shattered by the fact that there seems to be no escape. Will you stay shut in, or venture forward to what could either be a way out or the end of it all. What choice will you make?

From the Inside, Keep on Gaming!

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.2 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10


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