Silent Hill 4: The Room was once again developed by Team Silent (an internal dev team at Konami Tokyo), and was first published by Konami in 2004. The word on the street is that Silent Hill 4 initially began life as a concept outside of the Silent Hill series and was later made canon when the devs decided to incorporate it. It plays differently to the previous three Silent Hill games, but does have the same DNA, mixing first-person exploration with the familiar third-person survival horror gameplay.
In The Room you play as Henry Townshend, a 28 year-old man living in Room 302 at South Ashfield Heights. Henry is a keen photographer, but as far as we’re told: doesn’t have much of a life, or a job. He does have messy hair, though, as is shown during the introductory sequence. Actually, prior to seeing Henry we’re treated to a prelude that gives us a flavour of what this game is, which is: different, but still damn scary.
Silent Hill 4 can be played at three different difficulty settings, but the ‘action’ and ‘riddle’ difficulty settings of the previous games are missing from this entry. It’s no biggie, though. Depending on which you choose, it dictates how much ammunition guns can hold, how tough monsters are, and how much health you can restore with healing items.
The game doesn’t waste any time telling you that Henry is ‘trapped’ in Room 302 and seemingly can’t escape. He’s been having recurring nightmares for the past five days and weird things have started to happen. Like the fact that someone (he doesn’t know who) has chained and padlocked his door shut from the inside… A large hole in the wall has appeared in his bathroom wall and he’s been seeing bizarre apparitions coming out of the walls in his living room… It appears that Henry is either being haunted, has been cursed, or is going crazy. Or maybe a bit of all three. Rather ominously, Henry has a photo of the lake from Silent Hill 2 hanging over his bed, which he says he visited a few years ago, so maybe that trip is connected to what’s happening in some way?
Thankfully, as Henry, you are not restricted to moping about in your apartment the entire game and can escape out to investigate. “How do you do that?” you ask. Well, through unconventional means… Portals. That large hole in your bathroom wall, for example, leads to your first excursion, and after every trip out you must return to Room 302, which acts like a hub to various different places. Your apartment has a save book (for saving games), and a storage chest, which is useful for storing items you find. This is important because you can only hold ten items at once when you’re out exploring, and while this does sound very restrictive it does force you to make multiple short trips out to the same locations and to return in order to stash your items – until you eventually figure out what objects are important for certain puzzles or locations. You also have a scrapbook for storing important notes, and also – most importantly – for making maps in. Maps – as in all Silent Hill games – are vital for finding your way around the deliberately confusing levels.
Movement is different in this game – in both the first-person and third-person sections. In first-person mode on-screen icons will flash when Henry can examine or interact with objects. Sometimes just looking at something will trigger either a cut scene or something happening. Looking out of a window, for example, will often show a detailed external view of the street, and if you pay attention you might even notice someone out there doing something unusual that is pertinent to the story, or a phone number you can call. In third-person mode Henry’s movement is directional, instead of using ‘tank’ controls as in the previous three Silent Hill games, which – to be honest – is a pain in the butt because it means that you often lose momentum when moving in one direction when the camera angle changes. This is the game’s biggest flaw in my opinion and it would at least have been better to have offered the player a choice between directional movement or ‘tank’ controls. But that isn’t possible so you just have to live with it. It does mean that controlling Henry during his excursions into monsterland is more frustrating than it need have been.
While there are guns in Silent Hill 4 – and you get a pistol early on – they play less of a role in this game. In fact, the main focus, weapons-wise, are melee weapons, of which there are a lot of them. Your first melee weapon of note is the trusty steel pipe, although even this is secondary to running and dodging during the early part of the game. Monsters in Silent Hill 4 are initially reminiscent of previous games. The ‘Split-Head’ dogs from previous games now return as “Sniffer Dogs”, and are the first hostiles you encounter, but then you meet “Ghosts” that are not only different to anything you’ve seen before but can hurt you just by being close to you. And they’re un-killable. In fact, there are quite a few un-killable monsters in Silent Hill 4 and learning how to deal with them is all part of the fun.
Visually, Silent Hill 4 is excellent, with really good 3D modelling, animation and atmospheric lighting. The dreaded “analogue noise” screen effect is back, but thankfully it can be switched off (which of course I did immediately). Music and sound effects are great too, helping to create that feeling of dread that is essential in a Silent Hill game.
The Room reminded me of the 2007 Mikael Håfström film (based on the Stephen King story), “1408“, where John Cusack is trapped inside a haunted hotel room. It has the same kind of cyclical ‘curse’, where you’re forced to return to the same place after every nightmare, and there’s a growing feeling of unease as you realise the extent of your predicament.
Overall, I enjoyed playing Silent Hill 4: The Room in spite of its deficiencies. It’s an unusual game and a brave attempt to do something different with the Silent Hill series. It’s still available on GOG.com at the time of writing and is worth playing if you’re never had the chance before.