reviews\ Oct 26, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Silent Hill 4: The Room - PS2 - Review

Most survival-horror games offer pretty much the same sort of thing.  You get to drudge through a few areas where enemies like to pop up and scare you, gradually collecting keys to unlock new areas and continue on your trek; toss in the occasional puzzle and boss fight and you’ve got yourself a game that stands with the likes of Resident Evil.  All that’s left to consider is a clunky control scheme, a lack of ammunition when you need it most, a cantankerous save system, and a clunky inventory, and you’ve got yourself a pure, 100% survival-horror game.  Right?


What put Silent Hill on the map several years ago was, in part, its little gameplay improvements.  Sure, the gameplay at a core level was similar to Resident Evil, but Silent Hill offers up far less frustrating inventory and save systems, reasonable AI in fun fights, the ability to walk or run and use a weapon at the same time (rather than stand firmly in place), a map that writes itself and keeps track of useful notes as you progress, and so forth, that allowed you to really focus on having fun with the game.


And the real fun was in fact in the story and presentation.  A chilling tale with tension, scares, emotion and a lot of David Lynch-esque moments.  The settings, including gore-drenched and non-drenched versions of a hospital, amusement park, elementary school, and of course the Silent Hill town itself to name a few locations were brimming with creepy atmosphere.



For the most part, Silent Hill 4 is the same type of game that Silent Hill and its two other sequels were.  That is, they all had great stories with totally engaging visuals and sound that really upped the ante as far as the “soil your pants in fright” scale goes.  But one must admit, after three games of essentially the same gameplay, things were starting to get a bit tiresome.


Silent Hill 4 mixes things up a bit with some very welcome changes.  While nothing so drastic as Resident Evil 4 looks to offer, what is here not only still manages to top just about everything else in the survival horror market, but manages to make Silent Hill just as fresh as it was when it debuted.


The first big addition is that of the first-person mode.  The basic premise, you could say, of the game, is that a fellow named Henry Townshend is trapped in his apartment.  He can’t get out (there are chains and locks covering his door), his phone is cut off (yet he still receives disturbing phone calls on occasion), and he’s found a hole in his bathroom that appears to be a portal to some other area.  You return to this room many times throughout the course of the game, and when you are in it, you always experience it from a first-person perspective.  While the controls aren’t incredibly polished, they get the job done more than adequately, and we are able to see what a great design decision this was.  There are a lot of things to look at in the apartment – loads of details to absorb – and using a third person viewpoint as most of the game does just wouldn’t have done it justice.


Speaking of the third person viewpoint, the actual control has been improved.  No longer are you turning on an axis before pressing forward to move – the default control scheme is that of a pleasant, analog, “move where you point the stick” variety.  Also of note is the new combat system, which offers up a gauge that fills up as you hold in the attack button.  The higher it is filled, the more powerful your blow will be, and if you repeatedly tap the button at a high level without going overboard you can dish out some damage.  If you do hit the top of the scale you’ll deliver a powerful blow, but will have to take a few moments to recover and build up strong attacks again.



In fear of spoiling too much of the game, I’ll just say this.  The recurring areas in the game – namely, the room, and the fact that you continually travel to it from other places and vice-versa, offers up some potential for real scares.  After pondering over a puzzle early in the game and traveling back and forth between a public restroom and my apartment, I was truly horrified and jumped out of my seat when, after about four normal trips, I arrived back in the bathroom to find a bloodied mannequin resting in the stalls.  If the game doesn’t get you with it’s shocks and imagery, it will get you with paranoia in thinking that something is just around the corner.


The graphics in the game are some of the best to be found on the Playstation 2.  While textures are undoubtedly not quite as crisp as the Xbox versions (and this is, unfortunately, noticeable in the first-person perspective), and load time a little longer, this game looks surprisingly good.  Animation is excellent, as usual, and the character models and creatures are great.  This is an all around good-lookin’ game.


I didn’t truly notice how much the sound adds to the experience in the Silent Hill series until I played the third title in deafening surround sound in pitch black darkness, and now I can’t help but pay special attention to every little detail.  This incarnation is no slouch, and keeps up the tone of previous entries with some excellent music, but mostly some subtle noise with very effective sound effects.  Pump up the volume.


Silent Hill 4: The Room is an excellent addition to the never-disappointing series and freshens things up, putting to rest any qualms one might have with the series starting to look repetitive.  With some drastic gameplay changes, some nifty additions, a great new storyline, and masterful production values, you just can’t go wrong with this game.


Review Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.0

While not stunningly different, the new combat system, improved controls, and unique pacing in the game make this one fresh and involving.


Graphics: 8.5

Animation is great, the creatures are disgustingly good, the character models are awesome, the level design is slick – everything just gels wonderfully.  The only real flaw are the rather blurry textures noticeable in first-person-mode.


Sound: 9.0

As usual, the sound is delightfully scary and engaging in all it’s multi-speaker glory.


Difficulty: Medium


Concept: 8.5

Sure, things aren’t so different that this isn’t Silent Hill anymore – it’s definitely Silent Hill, but with some welcome changes that in my opinion are all for the better.


Overall: 8.9

Silent Hill would probably continue to sell well and receive nice reviews if it continued doing what it was doing – the same old gameplay with some updated visuals and a new storyline.  But the developers are nicer than that; we get a better combat system, a slick new story with continual jumps back to “the room” in first-person mode, and more.  Continually pushing the boundaries, the latest entry in the series, Silent Hill 4 is more than worth picking up.


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