Silent Hill 4: The Room (Microsoft Xbox)

Silent Hill 4
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 9/8/04

I’ll admit it. I am NOT a Silent Hill fan. I disliked the first three games immensely. The controls were poor. The graphics were poor. The story was good, but overall the series got far more hype than other games in the survival Horror genre that were better in every aspect of gaming possible. Games like Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, The Suffering, Eternal Darkness, Hell Night, and more. I felt Silent Hill, like Resident Evil were games with terrible gameplay but a nifty story behind them and that the only reason they became a franchise was because Konami and Capcom respectively put a ton of cash behind their marketing. I never found any of the Silent Hill games scary in the slightest and often times found myself laughing at them.

Yet, I would buy each game each time. I love Terror. Lovecraft, Derleth, Chambers, Le Fanu. All the classic writers of time gone by who managed to make a story scary instead of gory. I kept hoping Silent Hill would live up to its promise and always walked away disappointed and disenfranchised with there ever being a mainstream terror game.

Capcom ruined the Clock Tower franchise after the bought it when Human went under. And that had pretty much convinced me that a good horror game is like a good Final Fantasy game: rare as hell.

But the more I heard about Silent Hill 4, the more I became intrigued. First person horror? The entire plot revolves being trapped inside an apartment? A plot that actually tied together the first 3 Silent Hill games and wrapped up the quarter of games nicely? A completely new engine? I found myself very curious. This sounds like a horror tale from the 1920’s. A true potential for Pulp Quality. And so I went out preordered it, hoping that my fourth trip to the sleepy resort town of Silent Hill would be one where I wouldn’t walk away shaking my head is dismay at what could have been instead of what actually was there.

Did Konami learn its lesson and finally build a Silent Hill that was fun to play as well as contained more than mediocre story? Or was this to be yet another horror game catering to the lowest common denominator of gaming fans? We’re about to find out.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Silent Hill 4 does not actually take place in Silent Hill. Instead it takes place in a town “half a day’s drive” from the infamous location called Ashland Heights. A young man named Henry Townshend has lived in Apartment 302 for two years. But for the past five days he has been plagued with nightmares. He also finds he can not leave his apartment. Eventually a hole in the bathroom appears and Henry desperate to escape his confinement travels into the hole…¦and into a realm of nightmares.

What follows is by far the best Silent Hill story ever told. In this tale you will encounter a character mentioned only in the briefest of passings in Silent Hill 2. A character who will turn out to be the greatest evil in this game. You will encounter the father of James Sunderland, who long time Silent Hill fanatics will remember fondly. And even though the game does not take place in the hamlet of Silent Hill, you will encounter it, in pictures and in substance.

It’s amazing how much effort was put into this story. The detail of the characters and the fact that there is an website showing the personality and biographies of all of the the 21 Sacraments and who they were. Amazing that all these characters have a background and story to share. Especially since most horror games have nothing but generic monsters and enemies throughout it.

The plot too is a complex tapestry of insanity, depravity, and murder most foul. There is more depth to it than all the other Silent Hill games combined.

The only down side at all is the fact that all four endings are terrible. They barely resolve anything and they feel tacked on. I was disappointed with all 4, and also that there was not a UFO ending, which was a great bit of comedy in the previous games. Still, SH4 is a complete redo of the series in style as well as gameplay.

Silent Hill 4 is by far the most fleshed out of all the SH tales. It also has the most interesting plot, and by far the creepiest. Although it can be a little bit over the top, the little details added that you may not notice right away more than makes up for it. Everything in the game is worth investigating. Here’s hoping Silent Hill 5, if there is one, follows what was laid down in this game, instead of going back to the level of mediocre banality that was the first 3 games.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

I’ve never been a fan of the style of the SH graphics. Drab to the point where it looks sloppy. Rust and bloody and mildew all look exactly the same. I’ve always just found the graphics to be sloppy but with shadow and earth tones added to make them “spookier”. Silent Hill 4 really isn’t an exception to this. I remember when the game first starts and you’re in a spooky version of your apartment, I just found myself thinking “Man these are some ugly graphics.” But as the game goes on, things start looking much better.

I remember after the first stage and I looked outside the window, I felt like I was actually looking outside and seeing what was in the real world. The sky and sites were perfectly rendered.

Same to with the characters. Henry and Eileen and a few others look amazing. Others just look terrible. It’s a hit or miss with each character. Some enemies like the Siamese Twins are creepy. The hell hounds however do nothing for me. They look awful.

The apartment looks amazing and there are so many little details to mention, from toilet comedy to cracks in the wall, I could go on forever about it.

Again, as I said, the graphics are extreme. Either excellent characters and level designs and backgrounds, or things that look dingy and sloppy. Yes, I know this is typical for the Silent Hill games, but I have always found them to contain shotty graphics that Konami has tried to pass off as “intentionally that way.” If you’re a fan of the style, you’ll enjoy everything there is to visually devour. Otherwise you’ll wish the game didn’t have to pander to the lesser hardware of the PS2 console as well, as a pure Xbox version of SH4, if Konami put as much effort into the graphics as the plot, would be jaw dropping.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

I love all the effects. The music, when there is some, is haunting and poignant. It increases the mood a hundredfold instead of takes anything away from it. Eerily beautiful is the best way to describe it, and I love that the soundtrack came with it as a bonus. Wonderful to listen to.

The voice acting is all top notch. Walter and Cynthia I find are the best. Although I love Henry. I have heard some complaints that he is wooden, but I feel this fits the character. He’s been through hell. He’s trapped in a world of nightmares and madness. He’s going to be a wee bit desensitized. I think his voice fits the situation he is in and his personality perfectly.

Sound effects are excellent too. My only nitpick is again with the hellhounds as they sound more like Pumas, Jaguars, or some other wild cat than a demon dog.

Sound is one of the most important aspects to a horror game. Often times more so than the visuals. True terror tends to come from the unknown. From what you can hear but not see. And although Silent Hill 4 is not terrifying, it still manages to truly emphasis the important of noise in this game, from footsteps to screams.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control

The old Silent Hill control scheme is dead. Thank God for that! In with the new controls which are far superior to the old style.

Combat is less annoying. Use the right trigger to ready your weapon and while holding it down, you hold down the A button to power up your swing. It sounded stupid at first when I read it, but in actual gameplay, it works brilliantly. Sometimes you will mess up by forgetting to hold down the Read weapon and you won’t swing, but once you get used to the new controls, you will find them superior to the old SH (and most Survival horror games at that) controls in every way.

You also will have to get used to part of the game being in First Person (the Apt) while the rest of the game is in Third Person mode. One might think this would be jarring, but they blend quite well together and help to create an excellent accent to the atmosphere.

I found all aspects of the interface with the game to be smooth and effortless. A lot of the game was instinctual, and I rarely if ever used the camera reset in third person mode. Unlike Ninja Gaiden where the camera angles were so god awful you hit that switch as much as you did jump or attack commands, The camera in Silent Hill 4 works very well indeed.

Yes there are a few annoyances, like in first person mode when some objects have multiple click points and you find yourself trying to raise the window and failing as always instead of looking out it, or reading the message on your door instead of looking out the peephole, but these are negligible at worst, and you find yourself picking up on the tiny idiosyncratic things and adapting to them quite quickly.

Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

And here’s the big downfall to the game. This really is a rental. An amazing rental, but a game suitable only for a weekend play at best. It’ll take you around a dozen hours to beat it, and although there are four endings, you can get all of them off the same save. They are all depending on a factor of whether you save a certain character or let them die combined with whether you exorcise your apartment completely or not. You can easily get them all in the same weekend as long as you save right before the end, beat the game, get an ending, leave and come back.

The only two real rewards are if you beat the game twice, you get a nurse’s outfit for a character and there is a chainsaw you can use on the second go-around. Other than that, there is nothing worth repeating a playthrough for. Even what you can get on repeat games aren’t worth your time.

Still four endings are good, even if they are all anticlimactic.

Replayability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

I wanted to call this game too easy. Because the first half is. The hellhounds are passive. Until you hit them. However, if you kill one, the other hounds will descend on that corpse and devour it instead of attacking you. But you know what? It’s not that it is easy, it is that it is realistic. These are animals after all. Demonic dogs. And they act like dogs. Excellent AI that had me befuddled at first, but jesus, when you have to deal with a pack of them. And they’re all pissed, well then things get nasty.

Other monsters display equally excellent AI. The ghosts are unkillable, except with the sword of obedience, and although some may be frustrated by that, they’re slow to move, and even slower to act.

Every monster in this game has their own type of AI. As long as you figure out their “thought process,” you’ll be fine. But it is quite smart and the monsters seem to adapt to patterns you might have. Imagine my surprise when I actually had the hellhounds surround me! I haven’t seen a survival-horror game that actually ‘thinks’ this well since Clock Tower and that fiendish Scissorsman.

Speaking of my beloved snip-snip master, there’s a certain enemy in this game that you will encounter in the last half of the game that was obviously patterned after him, or at least his style, much like Nemesis in RE3 was. You can’t kill him, you can only really run. It’s the most dramatic and heart-pounding part of the game, and by the same token, a lot of fun. And he waits for you to mess up or take a wrong turn or do something along the same lines that makes you go “Oops.” And then well, pain happens. To you. By him. It’s wonderful.

The AI may seem too easy sometimes, and other times frustratingly hard. But in fact it is purposely that way. Some enemies are simple minded brutish hulks, while others are just stone cold cruel. I like it as it didn’t feel like the same thing every time just with a different skin covering the monster in question.

A lot of fun. And well designed.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Very clever idea for a game. At least the concept. Yes, somethings are typical hack N slash horror cliche’s, but a lot of it is very clever and original. Especially with the tying together of the various Silent Hill stories into one thread. The new engine helps a lot, and even thought cults, the devil, and a lot of the same themes that run through the Silent Hill series pervade the plot of this game, it manages to put a new twist on them.

I would say Silent Hill 4 is more a fresh new spin on the series with a great original concept of being trapped in an apartment. It’s nothing like Eternal Darkness which really changed how people think of Survival Horror, but is turning Konami’s creativity up a few notches.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

Well, I have to be fair. I liked the game, but I didn’t get into it. It didn’t swallow me up. Silent Hill tries to be dark but often times comes off dorky. I can’t imagine how people get scared from these games as the scares are lacking. I never once jumped or flinched or was ever really surprised by what was on my screen. It was fun, but it wasn’t spooky at all.

I enjoyed playing it, but it didn’t grip me to my seat or make me want to keep playing. I’d play 2 stages at a time, go for a break and come back to it. It’s the best Silent Hill of them all, but it is still lacking a certain IT factor for me. A deeper tale of ill portent for example, or gameplay that gets me really into the game. Not once did I lose myself in it. Nor did I get nightmares or feel weird coming into my house at 4am after clubbing expecting something lurking in the shadows.

It’s decent, but nothing great in this regard. Coupled with the low replayability, this is why I consider this game a very highly rated rental.

Addictiveness: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Well, horror games are a niche audience. Even Resident Evil shows that. A lot of people don’t like being scared. But Silent Hill 4 joins the Suffering and Eternal Darkness as the three best games in survival horror for this generation of consoles. Still, Silent hill is one of Konami’s marquee titles, and with a low price of $39.99 from launch day on, you know a ton of people will snap this up.

I would like to think even non horror gaming fans will be able to enjoy this thanks to the new control scheme, some well designed characters, and a great plot. Sure it won’t be a lot of people’s cup of tea and long time Silent Hill fans might take issue with the evolution of the game series, but it really is a game that people will enjoy watching just as much as they will playing.

Where Eternal Darkness and The Suffering were better games, Silent Hill 4 will be the game more people play out of the three.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are so many wonderful things about this game. Whenever another human character dies, a bloody handprint forms on the wall outside your apartment that you can see from your peephole. Things are constantly changing in your home. Little notes and characters refer back to things that happened in other games and also flesh out the tale of SH4. I found myself really keeping a close eye on everything. A great example if there is a billboard you can see outside your window. Call the number on it from your home phone and see what happens.

It’s very impressive what all has been put in this game, from the little bits of comedy to the excellent foreshadowing of things to come. This is one of Konami’s best non Castlevania games yet, and they deserve a lot of acclaim for all the things snuck in that you might miss if you’re not being anally observant.

I do want to add that best of all is the ghosts and how each one is unique. And how sad it is to see the now insane and evil ghosts of people you helped and encountered before appear in the late stages of the game. Excellent job Konami.

Miscellaneous rating: 10/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Silent Hill 4 is a great game and the best survival horror game in the Silent Hill series. It’s not as brilliant as the best the genre has to offer, but it is a worthy competitor. I still can’t recommend a purchase of it due to how quickly you can beat it and the absolute lack of replay value, but it is a game I heartily recommend you rent for a weekend to play the heck out of it. Just remember to turn the lights off and get some surround sound for added effect.



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