Silent Hill 4: The Room

Silent hill 4: the Room was the fourth game in the silent hill franchise and is the last game in the series to be developed and created by Konami. Released in June of 2004 in japan and September 2004 worldwide, Silent Hill 4 was originally in development as completely different game however early in development the developers Team Silent decided to tie the game in with the Silent Hill franchise considering that the themes and style of the game were a congenial setting for a Silent Hill sequel.

The game takes place in the room of an apartment building in the town of Ashfield a town a few miles away from silent hill.  The player assumes the character Henry Townshend a resident of South Ashfield Heights Apartment Building for five years coming, living a seemingly quotidian lifestyle in the room 302. However this lull of mundanity is quickly challenged when Henry becomes victim to   strange phenomena. Beginning with vividly graphic nightmares, Henry slowly discovers that  connection to the outside world is cut; the phones do not work, windows are sealed and most notably the front door is held in place by a set of sturdy chains from the inside of the room.   No explanation is given to how this happened, yet marked on the front door are the words “Do not go out – Walter”. A lingering reminder than someone or something besides Henry has access to the room.

There are elements of the game that are executed fairly well most noteworthy would be the room itself that serves as a sort of Hub in the game for Henry to stockpile healing items and weapons. The room itself is a  large component of Henry’s torment.

Delivery of atmosphere of the room itself is effectively executed in the game, in a manner where the room is personified as it own living entity.  As you start the game, the stillness instilled by the room is quite unnerving, where the absence of an immediate or tangible threat only plays with the anticipation of something worse being at play.  You can see the world naturally pass by through glass windows and the front door peep hole yet are unable to interactive with the outside world. Shouting to passers-by outside  does little to attract attention and any banging or movement inside the room does not seem be noticed at all also, almost as if it doesn’t occur by the perception of outside onlookers; As if the room itself is trapped in another world or dimension.

In small subtle ways the room begins to change and are slowly discovered by Henry. Excepts of a diary find its way into the room, items start to appear randomly, and most notably  a hole in the wall inexplicably appears in the bathroom. It’s these incremental changes that forced upon  to the player, as a force beyond Henry’s control creeps into the room, with no method of escape or help from others.  Henry’s home, naturally seen as a safe and comforting environment instead becomes an oppressive and intimidating element.

The story is also one of the strongest elements of game, which is neatly incorporated from the newspaper excerpt of the Walter Sullivan case in silent hill 2, into its very own game. The news clipping in Silent Hill 2 simply served as a horror device to depict the influence Silent Hill has on others.   However the developers expanded on this premise very effectively and as the player progresses further into Silent Hill 4, we discover a more sinister plot at hand beyond the news story which on the surface appears to be a wanton act.  For a premise that branches out from the ingrained Silent Hill lore, it is still in-keeping with the Silent hill universe and for the most part is still able to portray a deep and unsettling plot.  It manages to be well told and tells a complex narrative of how a victim of circumstance, an orphan taken in and cared for by the wrong people who is exposed to the ugliest parts of humanity, can warp them as an adult.

The music and overall sound production is also really good for the most part and becomes a key element of the games horror factor.  Sound effects are very pronounced and act as a signifier to changing events within the room and at times in the otherworld itself.

Once certain objectives are met, players will eventually have access to the otherworld. .  The otherworld takes place as a separate dimension only accessed by the hole in the wall in the bathroom. These worlds serve as alternative instances of the real world, self-contained in small areas such as a train, station, an orphanage, a prison cell and in a way serve as small mental vignettes of the main antagonist created as its own world. In this world lurks strange deformed creatures that attempt to hunt and kill Henry. The most frightening however are the ghost entities that take residence there. These are victims whose sprits are now trapped in the other world, and tenaciously close in on Henry when he is near, causing damage simply by proximity to the ghost. While knocking them down with melee weapons will slow them down, after a few seconds they will rise up again to continue pursuit. These ghosts are probably the foremost immediate threat you will encounter in the other world.  The only way to keep them away is through obtaining a sword of obedience which can be used to pin them to the ground preventing them from following you throughout a level.

In addition to this you will also find residents from your apartment building also in the otherworld and begin to discover that each individual has a purpose to being there; which leads to a harrowing outcome.

The crux of the games flaws however is in the execution of the otherworld, which unfortunately makes up most of the game. These small areas are intimating to begin with  however are littered with monster encounters.  After the initial scare from their grotesque features, their frequent appearances familiarize the player with the threat at hand acclimating them to the point of becoming desensitized and blasé. The only time that atmosphere and horror is maintained is in the room itself.

Melee proficiency of Henry is very effective as he is able to cull through threats easily using his devastating charge attack, despite the fact that he is a civilian. One of the stables of Silent Hill is that the protagonists do not have combat experience, which in effect makes the hostile enemies a more threatening presence. This encouraged players to run away from encounters, and accentuated the feeling of helplessness and fear of a seemingly hopeless situation.  However in silent hill 4 most of the threat aside from the ghosts can easily be dispatched with Henry’s melee moves and diminish a core element of horror displayed in prior instalments.

The point of Silent Hill is to create tension through atmosphere and absence, where the environment itself becomes the hostile presence by creating feelings of loneliness and isolation.  In the Otherworld there is very little atmosphere created besides the unsettling music and bizarre sounds from a distance, and becomes way to action orientated.

Also,while the sound design is good for the most part, the enemy noises and grunts are quite stock. One enemy in particular makes burping noises which when hit, while indicating the gastric release from having a hole in their stomach, becomes unintentionally humorous.

One of the most noteworthy criticisms however is while the protagonist Henry Townshend is likeable, without a definite history or background to tie him to the franchise; he becomes something of a blank slate.  His only real connection to Silent Hill is that of tourism, however without any familial ties or expanded backstory to the town, his inclusion feels slightly shoehorned and as a plot device to tell a bigger story that he is not quite apart of.

Out of the first four games Silent Hill 4 is probably the weakest out of the series, deviating from the original set up of the first three games. It experiments with the formula in ways that show creativity and imagination however needed more time in development to fully realise the concept with more depth. Silent Hill 4 shows itself to be an ambitious concept, however with game ideas that were very difficult to sustain.  The designers Team Silent seem to have lost a lot of objectivity with some of the game elements, as outside the room itself, there was very little substance in the other world.  There is a sense that the developers wanted the majority of the game’s horror element to take place within the room, however could not find a suitable manner to keep the progression of the game within this room interesting or with any effective longevity to the gameplay.  The game is still worth a single playthrough however, as the narrative elements are still as strong as the prior instalments and experience of being trapped in room 302 is still a memorable one.