Retro Renegade – Silent Hill 4: The Room
A home is a sanctum; a place of safety and security. But what if your sanctum suddenly turns against you? Welcome to Room 302. Only hell and nightmares await you here.
Released in 2004, the fourth edition to the Silent Hill series turned out to be the last creation of Konami’s own ‘Team Silent’, the group who had conscientiously delivered truly unnerving and gritty experiences that so many gamers had come to enjoy. Silent Hill 4: The Room carries on the twisted concepts and creepy creatures of its forerunners, while bringing something new to the table.
Having played the first three Silent Hill games, it was clear – even in part – the format needed some sort of refreshing. Honestly, I considered the changes (of which, I’ll touch upon as I delve into my review) to be something of a mixed bag, but even so, there was something about how it came together that worked within the confines of the game. Despite mixed reactions from players, overall, The Room was received fairly favourably for its efforts.
So, what is it I particularly enjoy about The Room?
It has to be its ability to unnerve you with its warped pretext of reality and nightmares. It takes you on a claustrophobic ride of entrapment laced in surrealist ambiguity – pulling you along with morbid fascination as you uncover more and more of the creepy allusions intertwined with the plot. With a cast of suitably personified characters and a befitting soundtrack, The Room did much with its gritty visuals and supernatural overtones to keep me hooked from start to finish.
Now the real question to answer: What is the game actually all about?
Unlike the previous titles, The Room doesn’t actually go into the town of Silent Hill at all. A few of the locations visited are situated nearby to the town, but it mostly takes place in South Ashfield, a city said to be about a half days drive from Silent Hill itself. Though, the most important location of all, as the title mentions, is ‘The Room’ – Room 302 – located in the apartment building of South Ashfield Heights. Its current occupant is Henry Townshend, our unlucky protagonist, who finds himself in a rather strange predicament.
He can’t leave Room 302.
He has become trapped within his own home, with forces unknown holding him against his will. The windows are sealed shut, the door chained from the inside and he is unable to communicate with the outside world.
After about five days of this situation – during which, Henry is accosted by recurring nightmares – an apparent escape route suddenly appears; an ominous hole in his bathroom wall.
But where will the hole take him? Will he finally be able to escape Room 302? Or will he plunge further into his living nightmare? With no other choice, Henry crawls through…
The game chronicles Henry’s determined pursuit of freedom, during which he comes to learn the eerie truth behind Room 302. Though unfortunately for him, whatever wants to keep him captive there is on a sinister mission of its own, and poor Henry is caught up in the thick of it, seemingly powerless to stop the bodies piling up. Murder, monsters, and mayhem… It’s survival horror at its most grim!
The apartment is the central hub of the entire game, both cell and sanctuary, frequently visited between jaunts out through the hole. This is navigated in first person, a new perspective to the series. Here, intermittent pieces of information will appear to aid you in game progression, as well as uncovering important plot developments. It is also holds the only save point in the entire game. There is also an item box, a completely new addition to the series. In previous games, characters had near enough unlimited item space to carry everything around. This time around, inventory is limited, forcing you to take careful stock of your items or face frequent trips back to the item box. Whether or not this is to symbolise the importance of the apartment, it’s a rather superfluous mechanic; and really, it only ever serves a purpose in one part of the game where you are forced to drop an item off in the box or you’ll be stuck in an endless loop and cannot progress. Overall, it’s just overburdening the player when it didn’t need to.
One of the apartment’s benefits in the first half of the game is that it provides you with a source of healing, which is a helpful commodity with the scarce amount of recovery items early on. Though by the second half, this will come to an end as Room 302 starts to become a more hostile environment. More on that later!
Stepping out of the apartment, the perspective reverts to third person, playing similarly to its predecessors; though, unlike those games, The Room places more emphasis on combat gameplay wise. Sometimes fleeing will be the more practical option, especially in areas overpopulated by monster hordes, but other times you’re just going to have to get stuck in or face being brutally massacred!
On the defensive side, Henry is capable of dodging incoming attacks, as well as able to strafe around to gain a positional advantage. A key update to the combat system includes the ability to charge up the attack strength of your weapon to deliver a more devastating blow. Though don’t forget the obligatory Silent Hill stomp. It’s the only way to make sure they stay dead!
Combat, admittedly, is not entirely fluid. Controls can be somewhat cumbersome, and you’ll find yourself fumbling around taking damage as you get used to enemy behaviour and how the character moves. While it takes a little getting used to, it’s an appreciated effort to see them create a system that’s more advantageous in battle.
The worlds Henry travels to, including an unusually vacant subway station and a secluded forest area, are not shrouded in the familiar Silent Hill fog that denotes a detachment from reality, nor at any point do the worlds degenerate into the industrial, rust and flesh amalgamations that depict the true nightmare-born ‘otherworld’. In this case, the places he visits are treated as a sort of dream-like state, as every time he leaves these worlds, he is shown waking up back on his bed in Room 302.
I should mention aside that there is a reoccurring area late in the game that does include fog, but it’s not treated in the same way as the fog world was in previous games, as another version of a real place a character inhabits. Rather it’s treated as a separate dimension, steeped in poignant symbolism. There is also an entire level that is depicted solely in the style of the blood-soaked otherworld, plus the odd area in some worlds that are portrayed in the same manner. It’s hard to identify the true origin of these manifestations, as it doesn’t seem – by any plausible way – to be an influence of Silent Hill itself this time around. It’s probably why the different worlds and their states are not shown in the same way as before.
A notable departure from the first three games is the removal of the flashlight and the portable radio. In the case of the flashlight, darkness is never played as a major factor as it was previously. Alternatively, Henry does get a burnable torch to complete a quest at one point in the game, but that’s all it’s limited to. And with the radio, it’s now restricted to a part of Henry’s stereo inside the apartment, and can be used to listen to news reports and tapes when available. Though, it does play a significant role in the second half of the game, serving the same purpose as its portable counterpart. It alerts you to danger within the apartment! … Uh oh!
Now, when it comes to the enemies encountered out and about, while some are somewhat typical Silent Hill fare, there are some pretty decent designs incorporated. One particular that I thought was truly creepy was the Twin Victim – a rather large cloaked creature with two heads, their faces like that of babies. They don’t have any legs, and instead, stand and move around using two large-handed arms. Their most distinctive pose is when they stand at a distance on one hand, pointing at you with the other; freaky when you don’t expect it!
Oh yeah, and there are EVIL WHEELCHAIRS! That’s right, I said wheelchairs! Even inanimate objects want to kill you!
But there is an even more important enemy you encounter. Ghosts!
Mournful entities that float around in pursuit of our unlucky protagonist; not only can they assault poor Henry, but just being in their presence can be harmful to him, too! They can be temporarily repelled via regular attack, but cannot be permanently defeated like other enemies. But fear not, you won’t have to call in the Ghostbusters™ (though I’m sure you’d wish you could!). There are a few items that can help deal with these pesky poltergeists. These include: The Saint Medallion, a pendant that negates their harmful presence, though it does break after a certain amount of use. The Silver Bullet, which can drop a ghost in one hit, but because they are so immensely rare, they need to be saved for particularly troublesome fiends. And lastly, the greatest item of defence against the ghosts – The Sword of Obedience. Using one of these will solve your ghost problem in an instant! You won’t be wielding it like other conventional weapons, but rather using it to simply stab and pin the ghost to the ground, rendering them immobile and unable to harm you in any capacity. Of course, like the Silver Bullets, there are only a few to obtain, so you have to use them wisely.
But ghosts don’t just cause problems for Henry in the other worlds – and this is where I can finally get onto the topic of the when the apartment turns hostile!
Halfway through, the evil within Room 302 begins to grow stronger, having drawn power from the sinister occurrences throughout the game. The atmosphere becomes more and more oppressive, almost as if it’s tightening a metaphysical noose around Henry’s neck. And thus, spooky things start to happen, all with the intention to do Henry serious harm.
Be warned, this part is not for anyone with a nervous disposition.
Ghostly presences cause significant triggers of ethereal activity all across Room 302, occurring completely randomly each time you return to the apartment. Haunted items and areas will cause significant damage or even kill Henry if he stays in the proximity of one for too long. As I mentioned in passing earlier, at this point in the game the apartment no longer heals you, so you have to be very careful thereon out!
The radio, as previously revealed, can be used here to alert you to dangers lurking nearby. When you’re unsure whether a haunting is hidden nearby, go over and flick on the radio. If there is static, be at the ready with a Saint Medallion, or the even more helpful, Holy Candle, a onetime use item perfect for exorcising ghostly activities.
From experience, the haunting of the apartment is definitely unsettling. There are plenty of ghostly events that can occur, so you constantly have to keep your eyes peeled so you don’t accidently walk into the vicinity of one. Some are quite obvious, while others not so. The creepiest I have witnessed was with the telephone and the front door; with the latter, just take a peek out the peep hole and see who’s waiting there.
Moving on from spooky happenings, let’s now turn to examine some of the characters who feature within Silent Hill 4: The Room.
Protagonist Henry Townshend, to be described, is a bit of an enigma. Aside from a penchant for photography, you never really come to learn all that much about him. Introverted by nature, he handles everything with a stoic calm, somewhat displaying an air of dejection to his overarching situation. Most of the time – despite horrible and abnormal things going on – he doesn’t actually react in any considerable way. He doesn’t freak out or even spend one second screaming over the gruesome murders or weird monstrosities he encounters. In fact, he merely gapes in disbelief. His lack of emoting can be a bit of double-edged sword. On one hand, his lack of emotive response can make it hard to invest in his character, and sometimes affects the atmosphere of a scene. Though on the other hand, there is nothing more grating than a character that’s emotionally over the top. Thankfully, there is never a case of overreaction with Henry, and in his favour, it could be said the sheer shock of his predicament has rendered him completely emotionally inert. Though, despite his withdrawn disposition, he does show care and consideration for anyone he meets.
Another character of significance in The Room is the lovely, Eileen Galvin, Henry’s next door neighbour in Room 303. An outgoing, practical young woman, she displays an empathetic spirit that makes her well liked and respected by those around her. Eileen and Henry only really know each other in passing, though she is aware of him enough to be one of the first to notice when he stops leaving his apartment. Through a couple of means, Henry is able to observe Eileen engrossed in everyday activities, as well as interacting with other residents of the apartment, speculating over what is going on with Henry and Room 302. During the early part of the game she helps fill in the background scenery, though by the middle of the game through to the end, she becomes a key player in events, and finally gets to meet up with Henry face to face. Their first physical meeting is unintentionally funny by her reaction alone. If you can, watch that scene for yourselves!
Henry also comes across a few other people on his travels into the unknown, including meeting the eye-catching, flirtatious Cynthia Velasquez, who is more than happy to do a ‘special favour’ for Henry if he helps her out, and also the abrasive Richard Braintree, another resident of South Ashfield Heights, notorious for his volatile temperament. He seems to be keenly aware of the people around him in the apartments, as well as the fact Henry has disappeared. There are also others who cross paths with Henry as time goes on, including a rather strange man in a blue coat and an elusive little boy, people Henry may or may not want to get involved with.
Silent Hill 4: The Room on whole is a divergent game. Its strengths lay in its well paced plot progression, musical scores (fantastic work once more by Akira Yamaoka!) and some of its progressed originality – particular credit for the decision to make the apartment parts from a first person perspective, making the horror directed at not only Henry, but the player as well.
Its weaknesses, however, come in varying degrees.
Having touched upon a few areas that might detract – for some – from the overall experience, including the limited inventory, removal of the staple flashlight and portable radio, and even the somewhat cumbersome combat; now, I hope to address some areas that might have caused the game to be rather lacking. Some things are known complaints amongst the fans, but others might just be my own overcritical analysis.
One small area of complaint is down to their choice of ‘worlds’ you navigate throughout the game. Pretty much all the choices were places that had been done before. The subway, the apartment and the hospital… Was it so hard to try to create new types of settings to explore?
Then, there is the revisiting of these worlds later in the game. Whether or not there was some underlining plot basis for this, going back to those levels where for the most part you aren’t really traversing any new areas. Rather, you’re just being thrust into a few new quests pasted on top… For me, I thought it was a strange choice of game ‘padding’. I get the point of it, but otherwise, I wasn’t all that enthralled.
Lastly… The escort mission…
Personally, I wasn’t particularly bothered about having another character in tow, as it made up for the repetition of the aforementioned revisiting of worlds. It at least added some degree of difference. Though, I can completely understand the dissatisfaction others found with it. Very much the proverbial ball and chain, how well you protect your escorted character has dramatic effects on the outcome of the game. Its whole purpose is to hinder you somewhat, making you more inclined not to run off too far ahead or leave the character alone in the wrong places; and then there was the fact they couldn’t traverse certain areas due to their condition. In any case, without delving too much deeper (to avoid too many spoilers!), I understand how people can see it as rather humdrum overall, but its whole point is to be an added challenge, and to test you in new ways that it wasn’t doing before. And on the plus side, at least the character can be equipped with a weapon if so needed, so they aren’t completely defenceless.
With final words to draw my review to a conclusion, The Room is a testing game, both positively and otherwise, but it does do its utmost to get under your skin. There are plenty of twists and turns between fear, evil and delusion, which will keep horror fans coming back for more! It is a highly recommendable game, and actually, a pretty decent edition to the Silent Hill series.
Please take a chance to listen to ‘Room of Angel’, a theme from the game. A poignantly morbid song.
All images & music media are © to Konami. Thanks and credit go to the original video author who posted up the song on YouTube.