Sunday, November 2, 2008

Silent Hill 4: The Room (PS2)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Having just beat Silent Hill 4: The Room for the first time, here are my general impressions. It helps to realize that the game was originally intended to be a spinoff of the Silent Hill series. This goes a long way in explaining why, though it definitely feels like a Silent Hill game, it has certain elements that veer from standard expectations of a Silent Hill game.

The game centers around The Room, which you, as Henry Townshend, are stuck in, since the door is chained shut (though from the inside). You travel to various "worlds" through mysterious holes that appear in the apartment, and it isn't clear if these are just dreams or reality or what. Interestingly, there's only one save point in the entire game, and it's in The Room (which despite being the "safe haven", starts to get pretty creepy later in the game as it gets more and more haunted). Since you're frequently coming back to The Room via holes that show up all over the alternate worlds you explore, there's still plenty of chances to save your game. Although, it does get kind of tiresome after awhile to go through the hole and back into the apartment every single time you want to save your game, or shuffle your inventory.

Which brings me to another innovation this game features. You can only carry a certain number of items at one time (ten or so). Everything else has to be stored in a chest in The Room. Early in the game, you get a notice warning you to travel light in that other world, or else you may regret it. Which is true, because you never know when you're gonna pick something new up, and you especially want to have space for the important things. Which means you can only carry so much health and ammo at once. It's not so bad, since there are holes leading back to the apartment pretty much everywhere, but it's still a pain after awhile to go all the way back through the hole every time you need to grab something or put something away.

The plot of the story is totally Silent Hill worthy, about a serial killer named Walter Sullivan who seems to be continuing his killing streak from beyond the grave. One thing I noticed in the game is the lack of boss fights. From what I can recall, there were two battles that could be considered boss fights, and one of them (the one that's not the final boss) was hardly even that. On the one hand, bosses scare the crap out of me, but honestly, the experience suffers a bit from not having them.

The other major difference about this game was the inclusion of ghosts and hauntings. There were still the usual Silent Hill demons roaming around, but this time there was a large emphasis on "ghosts", which, while definitely cool in concept, are incredibly annoying, considering that they can hurt you psychically, just by being close to you, and that they are effectively IMMORTAL! I hate enemies that I can't kill. There are certain items you can use: the Saint Medallions nullify the ghosts' psychic attacks; Holy Candles can be placed to kill off the ghosts (although they sometimes have a tendency to come back); and there are a few Swords of Obedience scattered about that you can use to pin a ghost down indefinitely. And these are all really cool gameplay elements, but the fact that there are only so many of these items, and the medallions break after a certain time of use, means that a lot of the ghosts you just have to run from.

Speaking of items breaking, let's talk about the weapons. This game is shy on the guns (providing only a pistol and revolver), choosing to focus more on the melee weapons, it seems. Some of these can break if used too much. Which, again, is interesting, but makes me hesitant to ever use them. Still, I wasn't too bothered by fighting my way through Hell with a steel pipe, axe, or even the Pickaxe of Despair (very powerful, but slow to use), pulling out the pistol for those hairier situations. Of course, there were always the immortal ghosts to bug me...

Oh yes, there's also the matter of the camera. Inside The Room, the game utilizes a first-person perspective, which just takes a little getting used to. It was pretty jarring at first though. Thankfully, the majority of the game (including the sections with combat), revert to the traditional third-person perspective, although the camera angle and movement (despite the fact that you can force it to just over your shoulder, good for combat) can be frustrating at times.

There are five main worlds throughout the game - subway, forest, building, apartment, and hospital. You actually end up going through each one twice (except hospital), and unfortunately, it gets a little tiresome towards the end. As for the Silent Hill "transformations" we've all become used to, there's much less of it here. You still get the same idea, contrasting The Room with the worlds, and especially in the apartment world, but there's less of a focus on that actual transformation, and going through one place in both worlds and marking the terrifying differences. Also, I found there to be, overall, less darkness in this game. Not to say that the game wasn't terribly creepy, but I think it's a little bit less creepy than the previous SH games, environment-wise.

Final game stats seem a little lighter (meaning that there's less of 'em that seem to count) than in previous SH games. My first time through, play time clocked in at just over 11 hours, with 62 saves (I've always been a heavy saver), and 633 kills (which I have reason to believe is a high number). I got the "bad" ending out of four possible. I want to try for the others, but the experience has left me a bit drained and I'm not sure I have the energy for it. My rank was a mediocre 5.5 stars.

At any rate, it was an enjoyable game. Creepy, too - definitely. Deviations from the expected formula may water down the Silent Hill experience slightly, but it's still generally a Silent Hill experience, and the innovations, for better or worse, were certainly interesting to try out. And you can't miss the storyline if you're a Silent Hill fan.