Silent Hill 4: The Room PS2 Review
Konami return with our latest dose of pant-filling terror, and once again don’t fail to deliver the goods…
What puzzled me were the character models, both in the FMV and in-game; they looked to me a little like a step backwards for the franchise. The immaculate hand-drawn wrinkles and muscular contractions painstakingly applied to the models of 2 & 3 seem to have been sacrificed for something far more…well, normal. Don’t get me wrong, these models look pretty enough for the age, but they seem a far cry from the lovingly detailed Doug and Heather of Silent Hill 3. In-game, Henry moves a bit like a caveman with shoulders back and hips forward which is a bit relaxed for a man fighting against unknown beasts to save his life. While all of these things are relatively minor, they are a shame for a franchise renowned for its exquisite character models.
The bestiary of the game, however, is another matter; all of the creatures are twisted incarnations pulled from a seriously disturbed mind (try running around a corner and seeing one of the two-headed Siamese baby things and you’ll see what I mean), and they really shine over the usual staples of the survival horror genre. Similarly, the environments are lovingly created, particularly the Room itself; as the game progresses, the lighting is tweaked perfectly to recreate the oppressive atmosphere that begins to pervade it – you don’t need monsters and dripping blood to feel that something really really wrong is going on. However, this game relies less on the flashlight effects and fogging of the older games, and perhaps because of that loses a little of the suspense the other Silent Hills offered; while the first-person view of the room dishes out tension by the bucket load, the more open outside areas are more reminiscent of the action horror titles than the psychological games.
You play the role of Henry Townsend, a young bachelor who has not long moved into his apartment in the busy suburb Ashfield, a town that’s neighbour to – yup – the mysterious Silent Hill. One day, Henry awakens in his apartment to find that someone has chained his front door securely shut from the inside – and that he is now trapped in a familiar cell, unable to contact anyone in the outside world – until a chain of events begin that reveal why he was imprisoned, and exactly what is happening to the town as a result of Silent Hill’s curse…
If you’ve played the other games in the series, or other Survival Horror titles, you will have seen this ground before; Henry is controlled in the third person, fixed camera angles helpfully point out key items and puzzles hinder your progress – though they are notably less abundant than in the other games. New to the series is the first person view that takes over whenever you are exploring the apartment; during these sequences, a handy icon at the bottom of the screen informs you when you are looking at something that can be interacted with. These sections of the game are extremely atmospheric, and bring the terror of the game even closer to home. While most of the game takes place in locations outside Henry’s apartment, each “level” has numerous portals that can transport Henry back again should he need to return; this is important, as the “room” forms a key hub area in which saving and item storage can be performed, as well as advancing the story – and here in lies one of the first qualms of this game. Henry, it would seem, does not have nearly as much stamina as his predecessors; like Resident Evil’s heroes, he can only carry a set number of items. Sadly, unlike Resident Evil, ammunition does not bunch up in one slot, meaning that if you want to carry several rounds about you will need to have several free places in your inventory. This is a bit of a pain as ammo is generally found in rounds of six, and six bullets is rarely enough to take out one enemy let alone several. Excess items can be stored in a chest in your room; however, this means that frequent trips back again are required to restock on items, and this quickly becomes irritating – particularly if you find you have left a key item behind because you have no more room for possessions after stocking up on ammo.
Combat is another section in which this game unfortunately falls a little short; while the fighting is a traditional sequence of button pushes (one to aim or brace for a melee attack, another to attack), most of the enemies you will encounter in the game simply cannot be killed. Read again – cannot be killed. This quickly begins to grate on the nerves as you move back and forth between areas looking for items to aid your progress; every time you leave an area, the enemies will still be there. These enemies, which are usually in the form of eerie floating bodies, can be knocked down for brief amounts of time, but will quickly get back up again and continue hassling you. This can be alleviated at times via the use of a mystical sword (indeed) that can be used to “pin” a ghost to the floor. This is pretty handy as it effectively takes a ghost out of the equation; however, swords are sorely limited, and so best saved for real emergencies. The insistent nature of the enemies becomes very annoying very quickly, particularly when an NPC is following you; your buddy will often get distracted by the indestructible foes and spend their time uselessly attacking rather than following you to safety. Combine this with several other key enemies that can cause a massive amount of damage and similarly can never be killed, and you’ll get an idea of how frustrating this can get.
This is an area in which the Silent Hill team fare well; while the zombie-like noises of the ghosts are a bit clichéd, the gurgling sounds they make when pinned are truly hair-raising – I didn’t even like to stay in the same room as the beasts when they were captured. There are also some fantastic musical scores in here, with haunting vocals capturing the despair and nerve-shredding tone of the game perfectly. Even the voice acting is pretty much spot on, although occasionally Henry echoes Harry of the first game with a spiritless vocal. All of this gels together superbly, and compliments the gameplay perfectly.
Like the other games in the series, The Room clocks in at around 9 hours gameplay. While this isn’t particularly impressive, this game boasts the same replay value of the others in the franchise; there are different endings to discover depending on the actions you have taken throughout the story, which reveal more about the plot. As well as this, there are several costumes, weapons and gameplay modes to be unlocked on the replays.
To be fair, this game does dish out the atmosphere in bucketloads, and fans of the older games will no doubt relish it; but it just feels like its lacking something over the other games. Harry doesn’t make an interesting hero, and his adventures seem a bit pointless after the other driven storylines of the other games. This isn’t to say that the story itself is boring; the other characters that take part in it, and the way that it is structured, all work exceedingly well – you just feel like an outsider wandering back and forth triggering off different events to see what will happen. Similarly, while the first person views are interesting, the new tweaks to the battle system and enemies quickly begin to frustrate – hopefully these niggles will be ironed out by the next instalment.
While its certainly worth a bash, be wary of dismissing the whole series based on this instalment as it doesn’t offer the best the franchise has to offer.