Silent Hill 4: The Room Review
PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 07, 04 (released)
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Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic
There is an evil that never sleeps...
Several years ago, my somewhat younger and significantly less-hateful-to-humans self rummaged through a pile of CDs in a local store. The year was 2000, and I was looking for a suitable New Year present for the Hubby-To-Be, who had just bought his long anticipated PlayStation. I wanted to add a good title to the collection he was amassing, but the bastard already had all the good ones locked down. I was getting more and more desperate. Suddenly, among all those mediocre titles not even worth mentioning, I stumbled upon a CD with a label "Silent Hill" on it. It had a Salem Witch-like feel and a promising air of sheer horror, which I was drawn to instantly, so after a moment's reconsideration, I nabbed it.
The moment of truth finally came, and when the package was opened, came the Hubby-To-Be's question "What the f*k is this?" I explained that this was an excellent game, Japanese, I stressed out, and that, again, this was an excellent game, so that I was quite confident that he would enjoy it, because it was, as I pointed out, an excellent game. Well, suffice it to say that two days later, he was a proud owner of his own copy of a Skunk Anansie CD, leaving me stuck with that fantastically excellent (have I mentioned the game was excellent?) game.
It is hard to explain the feelings I felt while I was massacring those moaners, monsters and demon nurses in the privacy of my intentionally dark room, but apart from totally wrecking my nerves, it finally led me to playing other horror adventures and comparing all of them to the one and only - Silent Hill. And, apart from those awkward controls and craptastic camera, that game has kept a special place in my heart for all these (four) years.
Years passed and three more sequels came, all of them staying loyal to its core principle - awkward controls, crappy camera and bone-chilling atmosphere. And so it comes as no surprise that Silent Hill 4, also ominously dubbed The Room, follows this simple and sometimes irritating rule. I hold the firm belief that the bloke who invented the control system and held to it for the four bloody sequels should be dragged through the streets and shot or the other way round. I don't really care. There were times when I thought that the camera and the control system were intentionally made that way in order to increase the tension, but all it ever did was cause mild nausea and the wish to clench my steel pipe firmer, then spare those poor ugly critters their worthless lives and go and seek the aforementioned bloke. The controls are the main reason why it is going to take you solid half an hour to get used to turning around corners rather than bumping into them, and the main reason why you are going to get killed from time to time. Although the enemies are not that dangerous or numerous, sometimes you'll be cornered and the camera will simply wander off, not letting you see where you are or what the fuck is taking down your HP. After some time, you will get the hang of it but the camera still won't fail to surprise you (and wholeheartedly NOT in a good way) from time to time. The only place where camera won't give you any headache is your room, thanks to the fact that it is the only place in the game where you will have a first-person view. The only problem is that it is sometimes difficult to hit the right spot in your flat in order to do or see something, but you'll get used to that as well with time.
Apart from that, Silent Hill 4 suffers from another weakness that has stayed its landmark ever since the beginning and that is the meaningless and sometimes incredibly badly written dialogue. The protagonist's comments range from "What the hell" and "Where am I," to the legendary "What's going on," which is not crappy by itself, but just consider the fact that 90% of the main character's comments consist primarily of this babbling. Play the game, and you'll understand what I mean. Other characters you'll meet will also have a rather limited range of conversation, though you won't consider this a flaw, as The Room, like all the other SH titles, boasts a menagerie of weirdoes that you won't look forward to talking to, trust me. Speaking of the game characters, the ones you'll meet frequently include your first neighbor Eileen and the rather freaky superintendent of your building, who has the bizarre habit of keeping an umbilical cord in his room ("But something's been wrong with it lately", he admits. "It started to stink."). Of course, there is that freaky kid "which is no kid," but you will learn soon enough about its true identity.
I should now try and explain the core principle of the new SH sequel, and that is the significance of your room. As the game starts and you wake from your delirium, you learn that your name is Henry Townshend and that you've been living in an apartment in South Ashfield Heights for some two years and enjoying the experience. Everything was fine until five days ago, when you started having strange nightmares, which resulted in discovering that most of your windows were sealed, your phone and the TV were not working and you couldn't leave your flat, thanks to the fact that someone has put an effort to barricade the door with some nasty-looking chains. And then, on the fifth day, it finally happens: someone or something (it's impossible to say which of the two is scarier) has drilled a hole in your bathroom wall, so it is obvious that, if you want to leave, you will have to play Alice for a bit and take a jump down the hole. Only it isn't Wonderland on the other side of the hole, but a twisted version of your own world where you will have to face one nightmare after another in order to gain your "freedom."
Now, if you've been wondering what the hell South Ashfield has to do with Silent Hill, let me warn you that Asfield is a neighboring city to this "root of all evil," and many of the game's characters are connected to it. The superintendent's son disappeared in Silent Hill, and Henry himself visited it as a tourist, taking some photographs and hanging them on the walls. Another change in the concept typical for all Silent Hill games is the fact that the whole game revolves around one room - your own apartment, that is. You see, the room you currently reside in is cursed, and a terrible destiny, painful death (do you need anything worse than that), awaits all those who get to live in it. One could ask why on earth they keep renting it in that case, but we should not concern ourselves with that right now. The point is that from your room you will visit several different locations in the game, but you will always stay connected with it through holes that are located throughout the game. This is the only place where you can save your progress (you also get healed there automatically), and visiting it often provides you with some new clues and pieces of information (and even a handgun). From time to time, the super will stick some notes through your door and there will be some rather interesting news on the radio, so make sure you don't miss any of that. Apart from looking through the window and checking the news, you will also be able to spy on your lovely neighbor and relieve your tension for a while. I found this concept (the room thingy, not peeking through a peephole) very interesting and got to love it after I got used to it.
Although I missed the good old Silent Hill, it soon became clear that my longing to see the perversion it spreads would be fulfilled, as the evil from Silent Hill obviously came down for a visit. The rusty and bloody walls, the clinking of the metal, the mysterious roar of an unseen beast, the deformed and rather spooky monsters, and those nerve-wrecking, mind-breaking moans - it was all there - and how. The monsters in SH4 are shaped in the fashion of the all-too-well familiar critters from the previous iterations, meaning they follow the base principle of all SH monsters - they're twisted, ugly as sin and fairly aggressive. There are some new monsters which bear resemblance to monsters we've already witnessed (take those deformed demon dogs for example) and some have found their replacement (the slug is introduced as cockroach's counterpart). While some of them pay little attention to you and your doings, some are rather anxious to wring your neck and sink their teeth into your warm flesh (that double-headed baby is a real pain in the neck, as well as those monkey-like creatures). You will also face some opponents that you can't kill (such as the ghosts), so it is vital that you should become friendly with the controls, as running from them will save your time... and your life. The funny thing is Henry will start getting a headache and losing his HP as soon as he sees a ghost, so you shouldn't just stand about doing nothing - a fight or an easy escape would do just fine.
A freaking scary horror adventure that questions the boundary between good and evil, sanity and sheer lunacy; sounds and creepy settings;
Frustrating controls and camera, poor combat system, lack of more challenging puzzles, some dodgy dialogue, character animation.