A review by Moz.
In 1999 Konami released the original Silent Hill on the PSX. From the outset the game caused a lot of controversy with its dark, deeply disturbing psychological gameplay and horrific visual effects. This was a game with a twisted storyline unlike any other survival horror release that was on the market at the time. Cut scenes showed disembowelled bodies hanging crucified from stakes and weird, tortured unearthly creatures that could have come straight out of a Clive Barker novel. It seemed obvious to anyone that had played the game that it was aimed purely at the adult market. However on release in the UK the game was only issued with a 15 certificate which caused uproar with the parents whose children, having played the game, were now having nightmares, parents believed the content to be too disturbing for "little Johnny" and called for the game to be given an 18 certificate. But was all this criticism created by the developers purely to hype up the game? For as we all know nothing can make a product sell more than a little controversy - but this was not the case, the game was simply brilliant and in my opinion the best game released in that year.
So I was eagerly awaiting the game's second instalment which arrived in the autumn of 2001 and released on the new all singing and dancing Playstation 2. However despite the improved graphics and tweaked control system, in my opinion, the game did not have the impact of the first Silent Hill release. Don't get me wrong, the game was still unlike any other survival horror title on the market, but Silent Hill 2 seemed to have lost its innovative edge. I believe that it could possibly have been that Konami had responded to the controversy of the original Silent Hill title and had toned down the aesthetics to appease concerned parents and hopefully increase sales, I don't really know - but whatever the reason Silent Hill 2 was disappointing and not a patch on the original game. Konami tried again recapture the game's originality a few years later and released Silent Hill 3. I thought that this was a definite improvement on the previous release. Graphically and visually the game was superb, creating a world that was horrific and macabre yet strangely beautiful in parts. This said however, I didn't think the game had really progressed any. The original Silent Hill was innovative and groundbreaking and although Silent Hill 3 offered some interesting new characters and locations it did not give me the same adrenalin rush as the first title. I felt the game could still have so much more to offer...
Now in 2004 Konami have promised to deliver something completely different to the previous titles in the series and have produced Silent Hill 4 - The Room. The terrifying holiday resort "Silent Hill" has reopened its doors once again for yet another season. But can this latest instalment of the psychological survival horror series offer anything more than its previous outings or should the site be boarded up once and for all and forgotten ....?
Silent Hill 4 starts off pretty much like its predecessors with a scratchy film clip of tortured horrific entities that can only be found in your worst nightmare. At the options screen as well as being able to customise your control settings you also have the opportunity of choosing your difficulty level "Easy", "Normal" or "Hard". This does not affect the plot or the way that the game is played in any way, what this does mean however is that in "easy" mode you are able to carry more ammunition in your cartridges and enemies are less abundant and "bosses" easier to defeat. You play the game as Henry Townsend who is young, single and has lived alone in the Ashfield heights apartment block uneventfully for the past two years. However for the last five nights Henry has been suffering from terrible nightmares. He wakes to find that he is unable to leave his apartment as the front door has mysteriously been chained shut from the inside. Although he can see his young, female neighbour going about her daily routine through a spy hole in the door and a hole he finds hidden behind a cabinet, he is unable to contact her or attract her attention. This is where you take control.
You find yourself waking in the bedroom of the apartment. The first thing that you will notice that is different from previous titles is that in the apartment you play Henry from a first person perspective, this however is not indicative of the rest of the game as it reverts back to the usual third person control system of previous titles. This apartment forms the centre of the game and is obviously "The Room" of the title. As you look around the apartment at certain times an "eye" symbol will appear, by pressing the "action" or X button certain items can be examined in greater detail. On entering the living room you will see a chest near the wall on the right, this is where you can store items to be retrieved at a later date when required as you as Henry can now only carry ten items at a time. It's the same system that is used in Capcom's Resident Evil series. This also makes the game a little more interesting as a little more thought needs to be given as to what items are essential to carry. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that you should not rely too heavy on your revolver. Firstly ammunition is scarce throughout the game and many of your enemies can not be defeated entirely anyway as they will come back to life, but secondly each cartridge of ammunition will take up one of your ten items you can carry as it can not be combined to create one arsenal. There are other melee weapons available that are equally if not more powerful than the revolver and are just as effective. Some of these weapons have a "charge attack". This is indicated by a meter in the shape of the letter "C" next to your health bar. By holding the right shoulder button and "square" attack button the meter will charge up. When it is fully charged release the attack button to inflict a charged attack.
As you continue around the room you get to look through the apartments windows. Here you can see what life is like on the outside, you can watch people come and go going about their daily business on the street outside, obviously oblivious to what is going on inside. This is quite a nice little touch which is not an integral part of the plot but does give you a voyeuristic look at the goings on of a neighbouring apartment block. It also goes to re-enforce Henrys' plight and you get to feel how isolated and removed from the real world he feels. A little further round the room and you will come to a table in the corner with a bright red book placed on it. This is the only place in the game where you can save. This means that unlike previous Silent Hill titles where you move from location to location, Silent Hill 4 is more claustrophobic and the gameplay has evolved into a fetch and retrieve scenario. In the apartments bathroom a hole appears and it is through this hole that Henry tries to make his escape and visits the various locations within the game. When you reach the end of each "mission" and have gained whatever article of knowledge is required you will find another of these holes. This hole will bring you back to your apartment. By just returning to the apartment, which in the beginning of the game is the only safe haven you have, this will replenish your health bar. As the game progresses however the apartment is no longer the Shangri-La you at first thought.
Another new aspect of the game is the ability to dodge. This becomes increasingly important and useful to master as the game progresses. In this game it is not essential to try to defeat every enemy that you encounter as many of them are undeafeatable and will continue to come back to life and pursue you. Sometimes it is better to run and hide than stand and fight - wise words!!
So is Silent Hill 4 - The Room the saviour of the series? Unfortunately not. Yes the game has progressed and deviated away from its regular formula, at least in part. But not enough, in my opinion, to make it the fantastic game it has the potential to be. The original Silent Hill was released on the PSX and came out screaming and kicking, unfortunately its successors have merely limped into existence and have not made their mark on the gaming world. As with its previous titles the graphics are amazing, the content disturbing and the sound effects chilling and at times frightening but there is just something missing. For a game of this genre to raise itself above the rest it has to "up the ante" to give gamers the shock effect that will make the game sell. I feel Konami have settled for a "safe" production that will not shock or offend the public in general, they seem to have forgotten that the game was originally aimed at an adult market and with an 18 certificate the games content should not have to be diluted so that "little Johnny" doesn't poo his pants because "little Johnny" shouldn't be bloody playing it in the first place!!