Since discovering the upcoming release of the Silent Hill
movie, my interest in the game series reached another peak (as if my interest faded much between games anyway…). And so I give you my review of not one of the more popular installments, but perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood survival horror game to date. So Silent Hill 4: The Room may not guarantee the coolest gameplay, but the psychological thrill started from the first three titles just got a whole lot deeper and sophisticated.
Among seeing some of the complaints involved on forums and word of mouth, it truly makes me wonder how people actually look at the Silent Hill series. Most see them as games, simple as that. I somehow have the impression of interactive movies – a glorious story that we have the privilege to unravel ourselves through each installment. So what if the controls, combat and inventory are plunked down a peg? Are you really gonna let that ruin your perspective of a wonderfully styled new story in this respectable series? I hoped not…
But yes, to be fair and state the faults, I shall start with them first. Being up-front, this title was originally supposed to be a different game altogether, having nothing to do with the Silent Hill series. Yet Konami gained the idea that it would be beneficial and, rightfully, fitting to implement the Silent Hill background and make it the next installment. This detail alone puts some long-time fans into a damp mood, but having sour grapes over the origin is, well, rather stupid. Heck, I didn’t even know better while playing it.
The gameplay itself has become a little less smooth, for one. The character movement and collision comes off as a little “clunky,” if you will. The combat system has been scaled down to be simple, to put it generously, and placed in higher priority – where previous games you’d normally find yourself trying to avoid monsters, here you have them in your face and very much in need of exterminating. BUT, in the case of these new ‘ghost’ creatures, you quite literally don’t have the option of killing them at all. While this may frustrate, their approach activates the much appreciated grain filter effect along with static and guttural moaning. Overall, a nice touch if you ask me. But then you take the inventory into account. Sure, it’s dreadfully simplified and accessed in-game so to eliminate pausing to prepare for a monster (all the more realistic), plus it’s set up so you can only carry so much at a time and the only way to make room is to stash stuff in only one spot in the entire game…and, well, that’s that. Not the most comfortable feature, to say the least. Also, many fans find disappointment in the new monsters, typically finding them less than intimidating. But as you start seeing the giant, robed two-headed babies that walk on their hands…you’ll start feeling the atmosphere a little better, if not intimidation.
But that’s just basic control details, which any real fan should already realise isn’t what Silent Hill is about. Silent Hill is a psychological thriller, through and through, and while the gameplay is simplified, you can bet that the thrilling presentation is bolstered a great deal.
First thing I really liked about the story – it’s irrelevant. That’s right, completely out of wing from the first three. Instead of following through the grand cultist prophecies that Silent Hill 3 so casually topped off, we have the story of an individual that was misled by this cult since a child. That right there is a sign that the Silent Hill stories are maturing; the ability to successfully elaborate on and illustrate a smaller slice of the same pie.
The next thing I enjoyed was the innovation involved. The series has a history of altogether gritty and grotesque imagery, not holding back at the least. Here you have a much slower progression into that messy environment, and rightfully so. Instead of the usual running around and suddenly being caught in the Otherworld, the storytelling is done by basing the character in his apartment room that he so unfortunately has been trapped inside (chained from the inside, no less) and his only means of escape is through a surreal hole in his bathroom wall that takes him into a different reality altogether, where he is forced to wade through a sort of ‘divine’ evil plot that the world’s creator had so generously stuck you in the middle of.
Though the scheme sounds as vast as the first three games, this is a more personal story, that of Walter Sullivan, therefore we don’t see the cult’s signature dark and gooey imagery until it’s quite literally consuming the main character’s home. Until then, it is a journey through this very personal story in the form of dreamscapes. Though misshapen to say the least, the environments aren’t as alive and gritty as most would like it, but that’s perhaps because it’s all in the perspective of Walter, not the ‘paradise’ that previous cultists allowed to come alive. Through this droning and down-beat style, the player can truly learn the story of Walter and maybe even come to have sympathy for him.
And perhaps the biggest thing I loved about the story is how the story is told. Previous installments was by adventuring and word of mouth. The Room takes a very abstract story and presents it in an abstract way. Whether by reading the diary entries of a forgotten journalist or reading random scriptures off walls, you have a presentation based more on illustration than verbal storytelling. Not only that, but the pieces don’t even come in chronological order, so you are left to stare and think on a certain detail until you find perhaps another five to put together in a sort of order and make sense out of it. This abstract storytelling may sound frustrating, but given its relevance to the harsh and melancholy imagery it comes from, it only provides further suspense and motivation to learn more.
Overall, I find this to be a very refreshing title in the series. I don’t rate it any higher or lower in comparison to the previous titles though, as it’s a completely different entity on its own. And even considering the grotesque nature that it shares with its predecessors – it’s a beautiful entity, indeed.
Kill the lights and happy gaming…