Sunday, August 22, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #3: Stay Locked in Your Room with Silent Hill 4?

Have you ever wondered what a skinless dog with a snake tongue or a two-headed baby with no legs would look like? If you’re mostly sane, the answer is probably no. But if you’re Konami, the creators of Silent Hill 4: The Room for PS2 and XBox, the answer is a resounding “of course!” Normally I’d suggest psychological evaluations for every member of Team Silent, but with all their talent, this is one group of crazies I’d rather have walking free.

When it was released in 2004, the fourth Silent Hill was promoted as a very different experience from the first three games which still remained true to the series’ roots. But how well did Silent Hill 4: The Room live up to expectations? Frankly, it depends on what you were expecting.

Although not the surreal mind-rape that Silent Hill 2 is, SH4: The Room has a deep and engaging plot. Henry Townshend’s apartment is average as can be, with photos on the walls, a TV and radio, and even a kitchen… that is, until the haunting starts. After being trapped in his apartment for five days, a strange hole appears in Henry’s bathroom. He has no choice but to crawl through the portal to unknown horrors and, perhaps if he’s lucky, salvation.

Though Silent Hill 4’s graphics are as gritty and ambient as the previous three entries into the series, gone are the flashlights and buzzing radios of old, and the game is heavy on the action and light on the puzzles. It’s fun for a while, but the brutal, plentiful enemies eventually grind down the player’s patience into a fine dust. New also is the 3-D perspective of Henry’s apartment, which you’ll be returning to over and over and over again. The apartment is explored in first person, similar to Doom and Half-Life. It looks cool, but adding a first person perspective to only one area makes the player wonder if the programmers were just trying to get a little mileage out of a failed Silent Hill first person shooter-style engine.

Melissa Williams reprises her role as the Silent Hill series’ singer, so this game’s music is libel to make your ears bleed with joy. In the same vein, the sound effects fit the action nicely; for example, the clank of the baseball bat as your character swings it into an unsuspecting demon is priceless.

The wacky controls are likely to put some players right off the game. The run function has inexplicably changed positions from the square to the circle button, frustrating veterans of the older titles to no end. Instead of breaking out into a full gallop away from some grotesque monster, you wind up opening your menu and getting torn to shreds as you fumble to close it. Otherwise, this game controls just like the first three: stiff, but workable.

Unfortunately, if you’ve played through any of the other games in the series, especially the original Silent Hill, SH4: The Room offers nothing new in the way of scares. Little things to creep the player out, like when Henry receives a call on a broken phone, are few and far between. Trouser-soiling scares are what helped the series gain a place in horror gaming history, so it’s a shame Silent Hill 4 didn’t try harder in that department.

The last of the PlayStation 2 era Silent Hill games, SH4: The Room is proof that the original survival horror formula was starting to go stale and doubling up on the action just wasn’t the move that would save the series. Cleaning up Henry’s haunted apartment offers players a fun but flawed excursion to the freakiest town on earth, but don’t expect the entertainment to last for more than a single trip through. Play it, enjoy it and then squirrel SH4 away in your room in favor of one of the better Silent Hill games.

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