Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.
Silent Hill 4: The Room places players in the shoes of Henry Townshend, a rather reclusive and private individual. He becomes trapped inside his apartment by some unknown, supernatural entity. Henry soon embarks on a demented journey, using a hole that has mysteriously formed in his bathroom wall, through a variety of twisted images of other real-life locations such as a subway. It soon becomes a race to save others, and himself, from the wrath of the game's antagonist, Walter Sullivan.
First, and most importantly with any Silent Hill game, is the story.
Unfortunately, this one is perhaps the laziest in the series. Where Silent Hill 2 focused more on the main character's inner demons, this one is merely a haunting of a single, generic, unlucky individual's apartment. Seemingly everything to do with this game is a reflection of the antagonist's actions and aren't necessarily guilt, like James Sunderland.
However, with this being said, the pacing is consistent and this particular entry knows that it is unlike anything else from the series. In fact, the game started out as a standalone project and was never intended to be a Silent Hill game until late in its development. Personally, I don't mind it. Is it the best in the series? Not at all, but it's also not the worst and far from forgettable. The conclusion is also a very satisfying one and is why I play Silent Hill to begin with.
Silent Hill 4: The Room essentially changed the entire combat and control style of the series, taking on a more combat-focused role that would soon become a mainstay for the later games in the franchise.
Players are given a small power meter next to their life bar (which is also a new addition). Players would charge this meter up with the hopes of landing a dangerous strike on their foes. This meant players had to put more focus on carefully timing their attacks and space themselves accordingly in anticipation of said attacks. This mechanic clunky with most weapons in the game and commonly frustrating at vital points.
While the first game did involve a bit of combat as well, spacing and timing strikes, they were not the central conflict of the game. The central conflict was the story and the puzzles found throughout the experience. Silent Hill 4: The Room had all but eliminated puzzles from its entirety. Puzzles that players did encounter, were oftentimes easily solved. Further showing the focus on combat.
Before we get any further, I want to talk about the escort scenarios that take up the last portion of the game. I hate it. I completely hate it. First off, all mechanics aside, this ruins the isolation and loneliness that I like to feel when playing a Silent Hill game. Yes, Silent Hill 2 had an escort scenario of its own, but it didn't take up the most important part of the game and, when it did begin to take over the experience, they killed it off (see what I did there?). Now bring the mechanics into play and it is just a completely tedious task. The person you are escorting is slow and if you leave her behind once or if she takes any kind of damage, she begins to spaz out, becoming another haunted object in the game. The weird sounds begin to play, she speaks in tongues, and you take damage for being too close to her, but if you leave her while she's freaking out, she'll stop dead in her tracks and wait for you to come to get her again. Oh, and most of the time, the game's antagonist appears behind her, toting a weapon of his own, just waiting for you to come back and save her. It's horrible and I hope I never see it again.
The next mechanic I'd like to talk about is the inventory system. This is where the real survival horror aspect kicks in with this game. The first three games in the series had an unlimited slot inventory where you could carry the entire town of Silent Hill if need be. Silent Hill 4 took this away and gave players a more limited inventory system, forcing them to pick between weapons, ammunition, health items, and key items; and believe it or not, your inventory does fill up extremely quickly.
The last mechanic I'd like to talk about is the haunting mechanic. Basically, as you progress through the game, Henry's apartment begins to fill with 'hauntings', which are various creepy events found throughout the apartment, that not only unsettle you but also deal damage to Henry if you stand too close to them for too long. These hauntings, more often than not, will be found next to a vital piece to progressing the game or even simply saving, using the notebook in Henry's living room.
All in all, while Silent Hill 4 did shoot the series into a more Resident Evil status, it also offered a ton of fresh and new ideas that the series had never seen before.
One of the Best Sound Designs in the Series
The really, really big one that sells this game for me is its soundtrack. The song "Room of Angel" is by far my second favorite song in the entire series; it is so haunting and beautiful that nothing in the series, in my opinion, can match up to it.
There are a ton of other songs that are so terrifying and others that are so fantastically serene that it can't help but leave me in awe. I expected nothing less from the talented Akira Yamaoka.
The voice acting is also much better in this entry than previous ones.
Mix this with some of the best overall sound design and it makes for a truly haunting experience and even manages to re-direct my attention from its clunky, combat-based controls.
The Gritty Design
While the more in-depth things like story and mechanics are a bit lacking in Silent Hill 4, it excels at the surface beauty like music and design (unless on PC, then you're out of luck).
First off, monsters. The monster designs are, simply put, disturbing, just not in the psychological sense—more like that feeling some people get when they see a spider or a centipede—just gross—gross is the best way I can put it. The most notable enemies, that left the biggest impact on me, are the Twin Victims and ghosts.
The level designs are meticulous and refined and littered with blood, rust, and other trademark Silent Hill afflictions, essentially what anyone would expect from an earlier game in the series.
As with any game in the franchise, Silent Hill 4: The Room is re-playable with numerous endings to achieve and secrets to unlock.
The endings range from extremely dark and gruesome, to the lighthearted or even ridiculously funny UFO ending found throughout the series. This offers players hours of extra content, gameplay, and challenge.
Silent Hill 4: The Room is a very difficult game to review indeed.
While all of the classic touches have returned, they have also been watered down by mostly clunky mechanics and a fairly predictable storyline. This doesn't change the fact that Silent Hill 4 is a creepy and monumental turning point for the series as a whole and you can take that how you will. I'll be honest though, this game didn't scare me in the way that previous games had, this one scared me in the sense of panic due to groups of enemies cornering you in a tight space.
It has severed some of its ties to the traditional formula of the originals, it still makes for a good, stand-out Silent Hill game.
While it is not in my top 3 games in the series, it certainly is not a game to be missed. Without a doubt, Silent Hill 4 takes a very high seat in the middle row of the franchise.
It's not amazing, but it's good, certainly not bad. If you're a fan of the series, it's a must-play and if you're looking to start somewhere—well that's a different story; pick up any game from the original trilogy in that case.
All in all though, Silent Hill 4: The Room is a fun, creepy, gritty good time that does not disappoint when approached with an open mind.