Silent Hill 4: The Room – PS2 – Review

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.