Silent Hill 4 - The Room
by Vanor Orion

One of my friends knew that I was a big fan of Silent Hill, so much to my surprise he came up to me out of the blue one day and told me that the newest installment of the series, The Room, had come out that very day and he had preordered it for me. So we went out to the local EB (before it was completely taken over by Gamestop) and I purchased it, along with a strategy guide.

Now, unbeknowst to me at the time, someone else had flat-out bought the game for another friend of mine. So unwittingly, we were both playing the game at the same time without really knowing about it. Which is kinda ironic considering how things wound up with the new Silent Hill.

First off, for having preordered it, I got a soundtrack with the game. Now I still have this soundtrack, because to be honest, it's very, very, very good. I wish the same could be said for the rest of The Room.

The game begins with our protagonist, Henry Townsend, recounting how he's been mysteriously locked up inside of his own apartment in the town of Ashfield for the last few days, and no matter how hard he has tried, he can't get out, and despite being able to see his neighbors and the superintendent peering into his peephole, he can't get their attention.

At this point, however, a hole appears in his bathroom wall, and having no other way out, he begins crawling through it, and winds up in the nearby subway station. But he's not alone. There's monsters in there with him and he even runs into another person like himself who seems to be at a loss as to why they are there as well.

But as far as the plot goes, that's all I should reveal. Even despite my loathing for The Room, I know there are some people that might actually like it, and might not want the story ruined for them. So instead of me going in depth with the plot (because in this case that's not really why I hate The Room), I'm gonna go into detail with what it is I do hate about this game: How it plays.

Now, the first thing you might want to make note of is that unlike the prior three titles, you are not allowed to freely explore the town of Silent Hill. Hell, for the most part I don't even think you are in Silent Hill at all. Anyway, how the game progression works is that Henry starts out in his room, he discovers a hole that mysteriously appears somewhere in his apartment, and going through it, he arrives at a fixed location.

These locations are more or less big stages that must be explored and usually end with a cutscene that will have Henry awaken back inside of his apartment, as though he had just woke up from a bad dream. He will then realize that the hole that he had gone through before has vanished, and a new one will appear somewhere else in his apartment that will lead to a brand new area for the player to explore.

Now, rinse, wash, and repeat, and that's pretty much how the entire rest of the game plays out. There's no freedom to explore, as Henry's room acts as a central hub from which he is able to explore the various levels in the game. What really sucks about this is that Henry's room is the only place he can save his game. Though there are several holes scattered throughout each level that allow the player to return instantly to Henry's apartment to save and to recover his health, this gets to be really annoying very quickly.

Yeah, you heard that right, you can rest in your apartment to regain some health, although this changes later in the game. Another thing that sucks is that unlike prior games in the series, Henry cannot carry an unlimited amount of items on his person, and instead is limited to carrying ten items at a time. You have a storage bin in the apartment that you can use to store and retrieve items for later use. Overall, this sucks, and makes the game a lot more tedious than it should be. Sure, this might make the game more "realistic", but at the same time, it forces the player to run back and forth to store and retrieve items, and can really slow the game down.

Another alteration to the game is that there has been more emphasis put on melee combat in this one, rather than on shooting things. Along with Henry's health guage (which appears on screen, meaning you don't have to pause to see your health), you also have a guage for your melee weapons. Aside from just button mashing a lot of them can be charged up to deal serious punishment, which is done by holding down the attack button. The guage will fill, and when fully charged, Henry will strike with all his might.

Among the many melee weapons Henry finds, you will come across various golf clubs that, while fairly powerful, will gradually wear down from constant use and become so warped and bent that they will become useless. But you can't discard them, nosiree. That warped, useless 9 Iron will remain in your inventory, taking up space that could be spent on something you could still use, until you take it back to your room and dump it off. Real fucking genius game design there, Team Silent. Even fucking Resident Evil let you discard shit that you no longer needed!

As far as guns go in this game, there are far fewer than there were in previous (and following) installments, and because more emphasis has been placed on melee combat, shooting things takes a backseat to bludgeoning and stabbing in The Room.

Now, none of this is particularly bad, because the developers managed to make the game control reasonably better than its predecessors by eliminating the tank controls from the last three titles (and ala any Resident Evil prior to RE4) and giving you full 360 movement. Now, this would be a very nice thing, save for one little thing....

The camera. The camera blows. It's very unwieldy, and feels very cumbersome trying to manipulate. If you can even manipulate it at all. They tried giving the player some modicum of camera control but it's very poorly implemented, which can sometimes make combat a bit more difficult than it needs to be.

Now, none of these things really bug me that much. Sure they are annoying, but I'm of the mind that a bunch of minor flaws in a game can be overlooked as long as it can still be enjoyable to play. And for the most part, the game is. Except for two minor details... Along with the normal staple of deformed beasts you come up against in The Room, you also come upon the tormented spirits of certain dead people that will come at you...and they don't let up. At all. These damn things make the game go from being tolerable, to downright infuriating to play. Why?

Because you can never, EVER, kill them!

For each level you go through, you will also encounter ghosts that are (usually) unique to that level, and they never stop coming after you. They can literally follow you almost everywhere in each of the game's level, even going through walls! What's worse is that these things don't even have to attack you to hurt you, they just have to get into proximity with Henry and their very presence will slowly sap his health. You can attack them, and temporarily knock them down. But it's not long before they get back up, and start looking for you again.

Now, there is one method in the entire game for permanently neutralizing a ghost in The Room: Sword(s) of Obedience, which are used to impale a disabled ghost to permanently pin them to wherever it was you stabbed them at. This would be nice, save for the fact that although some areas have level-specific ghosts, some of them are seen in multiple levels. What's worse, is that there are only four swords in the entire game, and somewhere around twenty ghosts. It's just really god damn annoying to cotend with normal enemies on top of these recurring ghosts that can't. Fucking. Die.

Even more, is that during the game, other ghostlike entities begin trying to infiltrate Henry's apartment, and you must use special items you find in the levels to hold them at bay. Eventually at the halfway point of the game, your room becomes so possessed, you will be unable to recover health by resting in it. Even worse, is that how well you deal with the ghostly apparitions trying to gain purchase into your apartment will have an impact on the game's ending. And that leads us to the other little thing that bogs this game down....

Halfway through the game, you have to go rescue one of the characters in the game, only she's already been nearly killed in an attack, so one of her arms and one of her legs has been wrapped up in a cast. Now, what really sucks about this, is that now, for the entire latter half of the game, you have to lead this dumbass to safety as you actually have to go back through every level you've been to before to that point of the game.

It doesn't help that she can barely move as it is, because all she really does is hobble due to her leg being cast up. And on top of that is that the player has absolutely zero control over her. You can equip her with a weapon in her free hand (the one that isn't cast up) but her computer programming is very.....bad. Like I said, you can't control her at all, so sometimes you'll be trying to run away, and she'll just randomly decide it'd be an awesome idea to attack a pack of like five enemies and maybe a few ghosts.

Even worse, is that at this point of the game, not only do you have to keep this dumb bitch in tow, you also encounter a new, recurring ghostlike enemy (ala the Nemesis from RE3) that will try to chase you down and murder you. While fucking dual-wielding pistols, I might add! I'm not joking. He tries to kill you with handguns! Silent Hill 4 already wasn't fucking around when it came to pushing the player's patience to its very threshold, and with this, manages to push it over the edge by this point of the game.

Even worse is that, like Henry's apartment, the woman cannot die, but instead, the amount of damage she takes from enemies can have a negative impact on the ending. So you have to try your best to keep her out of harm's way, and as I've already demonstrated, this a lot easier said than done.

Now, despite my compaints, I do have some good things to say about this game. I must say, that the game looks very good. The character models are very articulately crafted, and the levels themselves, while being very limited, are also quite expansive and just as meticulously designed. And the overall look and feel for the level design really goes a long way to set the tone that this game strives for really well. The same tone that my aforementioned grievenances tear through with a diamond-teethed chainsaw.

Also, I will admit that the actual enemies in the game (not the ghosts) are probably some of the most creative, horrific, unnerving, and inspired of any of the Silent Hill games I've played, which is saying a lot.

There are also a lot of little nuances I enjoy about Henry's apartment, such as being able to look out his front door's peephole (which can lead to some very genuinely creepy moments), along with being able to look outside and see what is going on in your other neighbor's apartments. Not to mention you are able to turn on the radio to hear random tidbits of things at certain points of the game. You can also give in to your inner peeping-tom and spy on your nextdoor neighbor through a crack in the wall, that she is apparently oblivious to....

Now, as much as I loathe The Room, I will give credit where credit is due, and that is with how excellent this game's soundtrack is. Unlike the more mechanical and ambivalent sounds from the prior three games, Silent Hill 4 makes more use of traditional musical instruments--especially the piano--to really set the mood that the developers were striving to achieve. That and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn's vocals really help put The Room head and shoulders above any of the other installment's musical offerings. But again, this would be nice if the actual gameplay didn't shatter this with a sledgehammer.

I think my biggest problem with The Room is that it simply doesn't have a "killer app" that the prior three titles had to differentiate themselves from one another. The first game was Hellraiser meets Resident Evil. The second one had Pyramid Head. The third one had bleeding walls and organic architecture. The Room has...ghosts. I think the developers were trying make the ghosts and the room becoming slowly possessed the aspect of the game that set it apart from all the others. But the main problem here was that they were poorly implemented, and made the game more memorable for being frustrating and tedious than for being scary.

Anyway, it's not the worst game I've played, but as far as Silent Hill goes, it's definitely the weakest of them all by far, and was the last game in the series that Team Silent worked on. As far as I'm concerned, this was also the game where the series started going downhill. I wasn't about to buy a PS3 or 360 to play Homecoming, though as much flak as Origins seemed to get, it was actually a much better Silent Hill than The Room was. The problem is that the series has seen too many trips to the well, and our exposure to the series was so frequent that it stopped being unique and started to become cliche and there's nothing that can fix that beyond letting the series take a vacation, or give it a reboot. Honestly, I think the upcoming Shattered Memories will be the shot in the arm that Silent Hill is in desperate need of, regardless of the fact that it's on the Wii. I only see that as meaning that the developers understand that making a good game isn't about having the most horsepower, but taking the player on a ride like they've never been on before, and you don't need blast processing to achieve that.

Anyway, as for me and my friend, he gave up before reaching the halfway point of the game and selling it off. I myself reached the part of the game where you start getting chased by a dual-wielding, pistol-toting, trenchcoat-wearing escapee from Columbine. Eventually I traded the game in for Metal Gear Solid 3, a far better game in that it wasn't making me want to track down Team Silent and yell obscenities at them with a megaphone.


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