Silent Hill 4: The Room (Japanese Release)

Fussbett 7/13/2004 

I want to be a hater, but... FLOATING SCARY PERSON?! I'm already nervous. Why floating?!
Not only did I dislike Silent Hill 3, but I think it gave me some sort of mental breakdown. I fixated on the hoary clichés of goofy and non-sensical FedEx puzzles, I declared the series tired and broken, and to this day I still talk of the unbreakable walnut to anyone who will listen.

You know who listened? Konami. You're welcome.

The titular ROOM is where our protagonist Henry is trapped. Henry has a pretty good attitude about everything. He's understandably confused by the giant creepy chains that ensnare his front door and supernatural powers that hold him to the tiny apartment, but he doesn't whine about it and in fact we begin the game 5 days into his dilemma, where he's just "oh well, another day in hell". Henry's first-person view apartment is a great device for making this seem like a fresh game, and combined with the decent story line, are the main reason why Silent Hill 4 seems fresh, and why I'll play it to the end. Look out the window at the normal world go by, not realizing your plight. Check the peephole and see if your neighbour is coming home... try not to look at the supernatural bloody hand prints. That'll just get you down. The game does a great job of making the world outside your prison carry on without you, and reinforces the feeling of isolation. Rather than being only a metaphor for the life of a video game fan, the room also has purpose. Drop stuff off in your storage trunk, save your game, and scan the room for any changes or clues since you last trip the through the portal. Portal?

Henry leaves his apartment through a portal in the bathroom (or does he?) to do battle with many new enemies like demon dogs, armed with many new weapons like a steel pipe or a 9-iron or a 6-iron. ("Features include a higher number of weapons and enemies than previous games in the series" -- IGN). Henry is constantly "waking up" from his scary adventures outside THE ROOM to find himself trapped again in the (sometimes not so) same old apartment.

The story unfolding is a good one so far, several hours in. Instead of being the focus and victim of a crazy situation, Henry is more like an observer to a series of events that are piecing together a bigger picture. I'm seeing some cliché cracks in the plot that may come to fruition, but I'm optimistic so far.

Hours into the game I have no complaints about gay, forced puzzles. Sure, there is some lingering goofiness like the character who will only give up a key if I hand over something to quench his thirst. Something "chocolatey". Swapping chocolate milk for a key is as bad as it's gotten so far, and the decision to make the game more about running away from scary things and less about finding tongs to retrieve keys is a great one. You'll see what I mean about the scary chases when you play. One horrible gameplay crutch employed early on is the "invisible trigger" where you have to perform an inconsequential task to propel the story further. This is totally acceptable when you have to find a code number to get past a combo lock, for example. That makes sense. It's completely unacceptable that I must find a gun to trigger a phone call. It's not the end of the world, but it yanks me out of the story and reminds me that I'm merely driving along the train tracks laid out for me by the developer, much like the game's liberal use of semi-invisible walls. I say semi-invisible because the game attempts to disguise the barrier as a knee-high broken fence, or two trees side by side, or water. Check it:

Look at the map of this hallway. Ha ha ha, gotcha! That's a forest! The map artist did away with the pretense and drew the "areas" as BOXES BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE.

Jhoh and I discussing video games foliage, specifically in MGS3:

Sanitario666: Video game jungle = green, great visualls, one tiny "hallway" your character is forced to stick to.
Sanitario666: Here's me: I'm in a jungle. Can I walk over there? No. Can I climb this tree? No.
Jhoh Cable: Indeed.
Sanitario666: Oh look, this tall tree root is blocking my path!
Jhoh Cable: You can not climb over the tree root.
Jhoh Cable: Why would you want to?
Sanitario666: I'll look for another way to walk.
Jhoh Cable: The video game designers did not put anything over there, therefore you do not want to go there.
Sanitario666: Whew.
Sanitario666: Glad I didn't miss anything.
Jhoh Cable: Jungle areas in games = finding the right place to wander around in.

Finally, the beginning. I gave Silent Hill a 10, Silent Hill 2 a 0, Silent Hill 3 a 7, and I'll give Silent Hill 4 a 7 as well. Points off for being more unsettling than frightening, and then resorting to the FMV scare again. Hey, did you like the movie Ringu? I hope so, because Japan sure did, and it's showing up heavy in Silent Hill 4. From the video (d)effects to the blurriness to the scary phone calls, the influence of Ringu's success is all over this game. Having said that in a tone you probably read as disapproving, I'll add that when the actual real life phone rang, my girlfriend jumped and I felt unhappy that I would be answering it. It turned out that it was only my girlfriend's mom... which is the greatest scare of all! LORLF

Imagine my disappointment as the game starts off strong, we get introduced to the impressive ROOM and then soon I've found a steel pipe and I'm about to use it to smack dogs who jump at me with crappy animations. Is this still a fun gameplay mechanic to someone somewhere? I can't wait to hit [low level four legged monster] with a pipe at the beginning of Silent Hill 5.