Review: Silent Hill 4: The Room (Playstation 2)

In this review, we enter the next fear of the Silent Hill Series, Silent Hill 4: The Room. We find out how well this survival horror game plays.

This game was released in 2004 and is the 4th installment of the series. We’ve reviewed the previous installments and noticed a fairly consistent quality throughout the series. We’ve reviewed Silent Hill 3 and gave it a positive score. While Silent Hill 2‘s score was better, it was as close to a statistical tie as mathematically possible to the third installment. The first installment, Silent Hill, got a semi-positive to mediocre score though. While it received the lowest score of the first three, it still wasn’t that far behind the other two installments. So, it was definitely interesting to see where this series went after the third installment.

The plot is definitely a bit different from the previous installments. You play the character Henry Townshend. What makes this plot different is that your character isn’t necessarily being somehow drawn to the town, Silent Hill. Instead, Townshend has gone to a new town and is living in a new apartment. He is happy with his job and how his life is going. One day, as he describes it, the “nightmares” began. When that happened, he finds himself trapped in his room with the windows sealed shut and the door locked and chained from the inside. Strange things began happening in his apartment. For one, he can’t alert anyone outside that he’s trapped – though his neighbors apparently are hearing constant strange noises in his apartment. Townshend eventually hears a crash in his bathroom. When he investigates, he finds that a hole has somehow appeared. Knowing this is a gateway to the outside of his apartment, he has no idea where that hole would lead. Thus, he begins his quest to find a way out of his own apartment as he journeys to other worlds in the horrific sights that the Silent Hill series is known to deliver.

You start the actual game without anything. As you venture through other worlds, you’ll meet a small array of human characters. While these characters are real in the nightmare worlds, many of them would ultimately become victims in an apparent serial killer crime spree.

As you venture through these worlds, there are a number of rather familiar items you can pick up (if you are like me and familiar with the Silent Hill series). There are three health items you can collect: the health drink that restores some health, the portable medical kit which restores a larger portion of health, and the ampoule which restores a vast majority, if not, all of your health. The rarity of these health items increase as the value increases. In fact, I was only really able to find two ampoules in the entire game.

Also found in this game are a variety of weapons. These general weapons are either melee weapons or firearms. The first weapon you obtain is the pipe which can be reasonably effective against enemies. The next weapon is the pistol which you can fire from a distance.

The combat system is slightly modified from the previous Silent Hill games. You can swing your weapon as per normal. There’s no wait time, but if your swing connects with an enemy, you will do a minimal amount of damage (depending on how powerful your weapon is of course). However, you are able to charge up your weapon by holding down your attack button. This charges a round yellow meter next to your health. When it fills all the way up, the meter will flash and you can attack. You’ll have a much longer swing time, but as you are swinging your weapon, you seem to be invincible during this animation sequence. You’ll also deliver the most damage the weapon is capable of delivering. Not only will you inflict a lot of damage, you may also knock your enemy back a small distance.

Another big difference between this game and previous Silent Hill games is your inventory system. Instead of pausing the game to use something, you’ll simply be able to access this menu in real time. The positive side of this is the ability to quickly access your inventory and use something without having to go through an entirely separate screen. The downside is that you may be attacked while you try and either switch out your weapon or try and use an item (i.e. health drink). So, some caution and/or strategy may be required while using this menu system.

In addition to the new item menu system is the brand new limitation you have with number of items you can carry. This limit appears to be 10 and when you fill up the bottom of your screen with items, you’ll receive a message that you cannot carry any more items every time you try and pick up a new item. This is where the large chest in your room comes into play. You can store anything in this chest and there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how many items you can store in it. This appears to be a new system to add some realism that you can be overburdened with items, but I thought the item limit was a bit odd in that you can be overburdened with a large number of red pieces of paper or large golf clubs. It doesn’t matter what the item is, how large it is, or how heavy, every item uses up a single slot.

Another surprising change to this item system is your capacity to store ammunition. In previous games, all your ammunition was stored in a single item slot with a number. In this game, however, a small pack of ammo counts as a single item. For instance, a pistol holds 12 bullets. So, if you fully load the pistol and have 24 bullets, you’ll use up three item slots total (one for the pistol and two for the ammunition you carry). I thought this added an irritant that just didn’t exist in other games.

Along the way, you’ll encounter a variety of enemies. The first are those dog creatures, but you will encounter other enemies including the insect enemy, slugs, and various warped humanoid enemies. With the exception of slugs which you can simply stomp on while they are on the ground, you’ll need to actually hit your enemies with a weapon in order to knock them down. When they are down, you’ll need to use your foot for the final strike to kill them. Ghosts, on the other hand, can get up an unlimited number of times with simple weapons. You can, however, stun them and run past them if necessary, but the best way of dealing with them is often just running past them and entering a door of some sort.

Throughout the various levels you enter, you’ll encounter holes much like the one you encountered in the bathroom of your apartment. These holes lead back to your apartment. If you re-enter the hole in the bathroom, you’ll appear where you last exited the level in question. This can be critical to getting through certain obstacles you encounter in the levels. Another thing that is critical about your apartment is that you can recharge your health in your room in the first half of the game. This can easily save you a lot of health items. One thing that is consistent throughout the entire game is the fact that the only save point in the entire game is located in your apartment.

There are big differences between the first half and the last half of the game. In the last half of the game, your room will no longer heal you. You’ll also be required to use swords of obedience on the boss ghosts you encounter. To make matters more complicated, you’ll also encounter haunting’s in your apartment. You can excise these haunting’s either via the holy candles you can collect or by equipping a medallion and walking to the source of the haunting. Since I ran out of holy candles part way through the second half of the game, the medallion’s became necessary for me until I obtained more candles. Excising haunting’s has an impact on what your ending will be.

A great improvement in this game is the fact that if you go into combat mode, your health meter will appear. Often, if you are injured, you’ll also see a health meter while running around normally. This meter system, in my opinion, is a major improvement over the flashing color system while pausing in previous installments.

An interesting return in this game in the ending system. Beating the game doesn’t mean that gameplay is over. Instead, you can re-play the game as part of the “new fear”. Depending on the difficulty and the ending of your first run, you can have new items unlocked/collectible in the next game. Also making a return are the multiple endings you can get (4 in total). Which ending you get depends on your actions throughout the game.

One thing I thought you didn’t get in this game that you did get in previous games is the open wandering you could do. Previously, you could wander all throughout Silent Hill as you collected clues and wandered from level to level whether in a set nightmare version or normal version. In this game, you simply complete a level and watch the hole in your bathroom get bigger or have the laundry room hole simply go to a different level.

So, the active adventure side of things is greatly reduced, but that doesn’t mean the size of the game is reduced as well necessarily. I still spent about 9 hours completing this game the first time around, so you can still spend hours wandering through the various levels.

An interesting element in the level system is that you essentially re-visit previously beaten levels in the last half of the game. There is a risk of simply making this game seem repetitive by forcing players to re-visit previous levels, but I thought that enough was changed that you were basically entering a different version of the level more than re-running through the same well-worn path. This simply didn’t exist in previous games and I thought it added an interesting twist to the formula.

One thing that is very noteworthy in this game is the somewhat heavy use of cinematics. There are a number of cutscenes towards the beginning and end of the game that you can watch. On the plus side, a vast majority of them are skippable, so if you don’t feel like sitting through them, you don’t have to. Having seen all of the in-game scenes, it almost made me feel like I was watching a movie more than playing a game at first. This, of course, wears off as you play through the levels.

A criticism of this game was that this game emphasized combat and did away with the puzzle side Silent Hill was known for previously. While straight logic puzzles were more or less removed, there were still a number of puzzle elements to be had in this game. One example would be the key that caused your character to “wander forever”. Another puzzle element is found in the floors of the water prison. There are puzzles to be had, but they were more embedded in the levels themselves rather than being a more in your face puzzles. These puzzles still presented a challenge for me. The hardest for me was, surprisingly, finding the first four Swords of Obedience. Three of them weren’t that hard, but the forth did force me to wander quite a lot before I finally found the annoying thing.

A criticism I’ve held against a number of the previous installments were the awful camera systems employed. In this game, I felt that the camera system was finally sufficient and didn’t get in the way of gameplay. There was very little camera interference. While it wasn’t perfect all the time, it was much more acceptable than previous installments. The controls, another criticism I had of previous installments, was also pretty solid. There was only the odd moment here and there where things got a little confusing, but the biggest moment where things got weird with the controls was deliberate and understandable (think building world).

It was also interesting trying to find as many of the red notes as possible. I guess I didn’t do too bad only missing 2 of those in my initial run. An interesting challenge to say the least.

Unfortunately, I found the star system borderline useless. While I’m sure some people may see the challenge in getting all of them by the ending, I still didn’t think it was that worth it (especially when you find out what that requires). This seems to line up with the previous installments where the stars pretty much meant nothing to me.

Generally speaking, I thought this was a fairly solid game. It definitely has its differences from the previous installments, but does stay true enough to the Silent Hill theme. The inventory system, while adding a sense of realism, also had its flaws as well. The star system was borderline useless to me. Still, the health system was vastly improved and the charged attacks worked quite well. There’s no town wandering, but that didn’t take much away from the overall gameplay. While there were fewer straight up logic puzzles, this game still featured some challenging puzzles within the levels themselves.

Graphically, this game was fairly solid. There was weird old film effects as well as a grainy atmosphere seen from time to time. The settings were well realized through the textures and eerie effects, though some of the enemy animations left a bit to be desired. So, great overall.

The audio was quite solid as well. Not every moment had music, but there were numerous moments where it added quite a bit to the game. While nothing totally stood out for me, I thought the music was good overall. The sound effects were also very effective in aiding an unnerving sense you get throughout the game. So, a solid effort here.

Overall, I thought this was the best installment yet. The camera system is greatly improved, the controls were an improvement, the health system was an improvement, and the new battle features worked quite well. The item system may have its flaws, but it wasn’t terrible either. The graphics were definitely solid and the audio was the same. If I had more time, I would definitely have been willing to try and see what else I could do in this game on subsequent runs. A solid game worth playing.

Furthest point in game: Completed game on easy and earned the “Escape” ending. Spend over 9 hours and found all but 2 of the red notes. Well over 400 kills. Some of the hauntings started repeating, so I guess I got rid of all of them at least once. 9 saves total.

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 82%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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