Silent Hill is a series that holds a place of high-esteem in the minds of horror gamers. It's right up there with Resident Evil as one of the earliest and most-beloved horror franchises in the history of gaming. Despite this, both series' have had their pitfalls over the years, and for Konami's flagship horror IP, those pitfalls began with Silent Hill 4: The Room.
The game just doesn't seem to command the same level of respect as the rest of the series, despite selling and reviewing quite well. With Halloween rapidly approaching, now seems like the perfect time to dive in and see why Silent Hill 4: The Room is one of the most interesting horror games of the PS2 era.
Silent Hill 4: The Room's Room
Where better to start out with Silent Hill 4: The Room than with the titular 'room' itself? As the title somewhat alludes to, a large portion of the game takes place in a single room, namely the apartment of the main character Henry Townshend. As the game starts out, the player character has been trapped in his apartment for the past five days with no means of contacting the outside world, a fact he seems pretty chill about in all honesty. Combined with the constant nightmares he's been having, Henry isn't exactly having a great time even before the player gets involved.
The room segments of Silent Hill 4 all take place in first person, something of a first for the series that wouldn't be revisited again until P.T., albeit briefly. On first booting the game, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was just how it was going to be, but actually, the first-person camera serves a specific purpose. The apartment you start out trapped in is actually a safe haven from the outside world, and during these moments, you hear a lot of Henry's inner thoughts. These moments not only help to break up the action and horror segments but make you feel more involved in Henry's story.
There's also a lot of interesting details that you can pick up during the room segments. Not only because the game uses the room as a way of leaping the narrative forward, but also because in the first person, you can look out of your apartment windows and check out the surrounding landscape. It certainly makes the narrative eerier because it's difficult to remove yourself from the horrifying situations you're put in. This is especially true later in the game when the room drops the "safe" part of "safe haven."
So What About the Silent Hill Part?
If you've never played Silent Hill 4: The Room, you might be wondering what it has to do with the infamous remote mountain town from which the series derives its name. While Harry Townshend doesn't actually live in Silent Hill itself, he does eventually start to visit there. After being locked up for nearly a week, a mysterious hole appears in his bathroom wall. Having nothing better to do than count the ceiling tiles, he decides to climb through it and finds himself in a creepy, run-down version of the outside world.
This is where the more traditional style of Silent Hill gameplay comes into the picture. Once you go through the hole the camera switches to a third-person perspective, and you have to contend with terrible combat and tank controls. If that last point sounds like a complaint, it really isn't. Silent Hill 4 has bad controls just like the rest of the series does, and in almost every case it only helps to make the game feel scarier. It's a method of disempowering the player, and it really works, especially when the nightmare dogs start chasing you down.
The real tangible difference between this game and others in the Silent Hill series is how the areas are broken up. Traditionally you'd be plonked into a haunted town, told to find someone or something, and then set loose to explore, mostly. The only thing that really broke up the experience was occasionally journeying between two locations. In The Room, you have a very literal break between haunted sections. When you're done with your haunted history tour, you come back to somewhere familiar and, more importantly, safe.
This also means that some of the locations can be a bit more diverse in Silent Hill 4: The Room than they are in previous games. You're not just limited to the sort of architecture you'd find in a remote New England town. Since the mysterious tunnel in your bathroom takes you wherever it likes, you can go to a more open wooded area and open city rooftops. Admittedly, the game doesn't necessarily use this fact to its full advantage when half of the game is set in the same type of prison/school/hospital setup that every other game has, but it's still a nice change.
Where Silent Hill 4: The Room Falls Down
As great and interesting as Silent Hill 4 is, there are a few points that make it harder to like. While it provided the player with something different from the previous three games in the series, it also decided to turn the entire second half of the game into an escort mission. The main character's next-door neighbor ends up being in the, for want of a better word, 'hole world' and relies on you to save her. From that point on, the gameplay takes a right turn into being just frustrating and annoying rather than intense and scary.
Previous to this, you could run around enemies, or even tank all their attacks if you wanted to. With your constant companion having no way of healing (as far as I know), you end up having to take down everything in your path just to make sure that she doesn't get hurt. It's also at this point where the game starts playing tricks on you. Not only can you no longer spend too long in the room without something happening to your friend, but this is also when you're no longer safe between trips through the tunnel.
The last major annoyance, which was actually one of the game's strong points at first, is the ghosts. These are a new type of enemy for Silent Hill 4 that float out of walls and floors and constantly harass you in certain areas. While you can take them down, it doesn't take you long to realize that they don't actually stay down for long. Previous to the escort mission part of Silent Hill 4, these ghosts reinforced just how powerless against these malevolent forces you were. Once you start having someone to protect, they become a constant, unavoidable annoyance.
And That's Silent Hill 4: The Room
When all is said and done, Silent Hill 4: The Room is certainly one of the most interesting games in the entire franchise. While other games have tried to innovate, none of them have managed to make so many new and interesting additions without making the game unrecognizable. This very much still feels like Silent Hill but manages to tell an interesting story in a way that is completely new to the series. If you can get past the second half of the game basically being babysitting duty then, I highly recommend trying this one out if you haven't already.
You can get your hands on a copy of the game over at GOG right now.
TechRaptor covered Silent Hill 4: The Room on PC via GOG with a code provided by GOG.
Disclaimer: GOG is an affiliate partner. TechRaptor earns a small commission off purchases made from links in this post.