Silent Hill 4: The Room tells a story as surreal as it is disturbing. Players take the first-person role of an unfortunate man named Henry Townsend, but unlike earlier games in the survival-horror series, they will not explore a strange rural area or deserted small town. Instead, they will find themselves completely trapped in Henry's small apartment. After days alone, confined, Henry starts to notice strange holes -- apparent breeches in time and space -- that have begun to appear in his bathroom. Is he just going stir-crazy, or are these weird gaps really his only hope of escape?
Passing through these supernatural portals transports Henry to strange, dangerous places, where players guide him from a third-person perspective to accommodate the more action-oriented challenges he'll face. He'll also face a number of puzzles, intended to challenge even veterans of the earlier Silent Hill adventures. Like its predecessors, however, The Room was designed to present a truly disturbing atmosphere, using subtle inconsistencies and a slowly building tension, instead of just sudden shocks and cheap scares, to chill its players to the bone.
I've just finished playing through the final release of Konami's fourth survival-horror title and boy am I glad it's over. That's not a slam against the game, but rather a comment to my broken spirit, bloodshot eyes, and heightened anxiety levels. Like all good horror games, Silent Hill 4: The Room does a brilliant job of making you feel bad about a number of things; your actions in the game, your relationships with key characters, and your eagerness to batter hellspawn to death using gold clubs. More on those beatings in a while. While the PC version has a few issues not apparent in the console titles, once you get over them this is still the same great game.
In Team Silent's latest effort, the player assumes the role of Henry Townshend -- a regular Joe who moved into room 302 of the South Ashfield Heights apartment complex two years ago. Everything was fine up until five days ago when Henry started to experience horrific nightmares from which he'd wake with thunderous headaches. As if that wasn't bad enough, Henry finds his waking reality to be more than a little weird. The walls of his apartment are slowly decaying, and no matter how hard he tries he can't seem to leave his abode and venture out into the hallway. Things are certainly not right for old Henry.
The game kicks off in a new-to-the-series first-person perspective and sees Henry stumbling around his pad in a state of confusion. Although this new camera angle can be tricky to master at first, it soon becomes easy enough to make Henry walk, sidestep, and examine his way through the room. The best thing about Konami's Silent Hill series is the storyline, so I'll be careful to not give too much away. Let's just say that after a few minutes of looking at walls, paintings, TVs, and out of windows, Henry starts to feel incredibly isolated from the rest of the world.
Making matters worse, his cute next-door neighbor, Eileen, and the apartment superintendent, Mr. Sunderland (perhaps a relation to SH2's James Sunderland?), can't hear Henry's frantic cries for help or door-pounding attempts to gain their attention. What in the name of arse is going on here? It turns out the Henry's bathroom has developed a strange hole in the wall that allows him to travel to seemingly unconnected parts of the town outside such as the subway or local forest. Each time Henry opts to take a trip down into the hole, his mission is one of survival against the hideous creatures of Hell while trying to figure out a way to get out of his cursed home once and for all.
Along the way, Henry will begin to uncover a sinister plot involving a local cult, a mass-murdering psychopath (whom is alleged to have died a number of years before), and more than a few lost souls that need guidance. The game does an excellent job of turning the action into smaller bite-sized chunks via repeated trips back to Henry's apartment. The Room, it would seem, is a Hell-bound gaming hub for the entire game. In between traveling to the various main levels of the game, the apartment starts to become overrun with malevolent spirits. Henry must figure out a way to exorcise these spirits if he's to be able to make a clean break.
A whole slew of facts and lore unfold via red pieces of paper which are regularly slipped under Henry's front door. The person responsible for delivering the notes surely knows the hideous secrets of The Room and how best to help our hero. It's only a matter of time before Henry's trip into his own personal nightmare culminates in the worst kind of violence and deprivation. Hey, it's why Silent Hill's fans love these games!
If this all sounds terribly morbid and scary, it's because it is. And that's one of the chief reasons that The Room is such a classy piece of horror storytelling. Thankfully, the bulk of the gameplay reverts to the classic Silent Hill third-person action view for the most part, and sees Henry picking up clues, weapons, and items that will ultimately help him solve puzzles and escape.
I must point out that I personally found The Room to feature some of the most obscure and non-lateral puzzles in the series so far. I found myself scratching my head on several occasions, and this is what I fear might turn off the more casual gamer. While I have no doubt that fans of the series will lap it up, The Room's story takes a little longer than the other games' to really pick up the pace, and as such, I can see some players getting frustrated and bored with the game early on. This is a great shame, as The Room is possibly the most visceral incarnation of Silent Hill yet. Perseverance, and possibly a hint book or strategy guide might help those people out.
Not much has changed here in terms of graphics, sounds, combat, and controls. Henry has the welcomed ability to jump backwards a few paces to dodge blows and will now auto-target the closest enemy within range when attacking. His head glances at items that might otherwise be easily missed, and his inventory allows up to 10 items to be carried at any one time. Surplus items are stored in a huge trunk found in the hub area of room 302. The usual array of healing items, drinks, and ampoules can be collected to regenerate health, but The Room's weapons were where I found most of the excitement of item collecting.
Aside from a rash of different golf clubs (which break after extended usage) I ended up favoring the rusty axe, lead pipe, and baseball bat for melee combat, while the nice 12-round pistol came in handy for trickier ranged boss battles. A cool new addition to combat comes in the form of a swing-'o-meter which can be filled by holding down the attack button or by continual usage of Henry's current weapon. Max it out and Henry takes an almighty swing of rage at the nearest enemy, doing more damage than normal.
Speaking of the enemy, the series is well known for its down-right disturbing creatures and The Room is no exception. Prepare to do battle against giant moths, flesh-torn hellhounds, two-headed giant babies, and some near-indestructible malevolent flying ghosts that can only be stopped with a well-timed ancient artifact being stabbed through their chests. Sound like fun, eh? There's a lot to be said for Henry's uncanny ability to run for the hills rather than standing around fighting under certain circumstances.
Both the enemy and human characters are extremely well designed. The main character models have a very real human quality to them, which makes is all the more horrific when you watch a number of them die in highly unpleasant ways. This is a horror game that achieves its goal of being thoroughly nasty from start to end. As with the other titles in the series, The Room has plenty of extras to work towards, including multiple endings depending on how well or how poorly you perform (I'm hoping there's the trademark weird secret UFO ending in there somewhere), along with new unlockable weapons, outfits, and items. This all adds heavily to the replay factor and makes a second, third, or even fourth trip through the game more appealing.
At the end of the day, the PC version of The Room is a little inferior to the PS2 and Xbox revs. It's a simple port, meaning that no extra attention has been given to new texturing. So while PC gamers have the option of cranking the game's resolution to a slightly feeble maximum of 1024x768, the game still looks rather blurry and very much like an emulated PS2 game. On a PC monitor this reveals a lack of detail rather than the atmosphere-enhancing gritty feeling experiencing on a television display. The next big problem are the keyboard controls. It's almost not worth playing The Room unless you intend to use a nice console-style control pad due to a very clumsy set of controls. Granted this is to be expected, but gamers that don't own a decent PC control pad will likely become very frustrated especially when faced with combat in the third-person perspective areas.
On the upside, the load times are really rapid and the characters themselves do benefit from the higher resolution options. The game also only ships on DVD ROM which could potentially scupper PC Silent Hill fans that have still yet to invest in the appropriate hardware. A minor point for sure, but worth noting.
When all's said and done, I'd have to say that overall I enjoyed Silent Hill 4: The Room just as much as the previous games. Although the initially slower pace and more non-conventional puzzles might annoy some gamers, those who hang in there are in for a hellish treat well worthy of the creepy Silent Hill brand. As always, play this one with the lights turned off and the volume cranked way up. Be prepared with clean underwear on standby... you might just need them.
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