Silent Hill 4: The Room is the latest entry in Konami's Silent Hill survival horror franchise. While the subtitle "The Room" may lead you to think that Konami has opted to go with some artsy playwright for the game's tale, don't fret--it's just the same old Silent Hill team being their same old crazy selves. The subtitle refers to the game's action hub, a simple apartment with a bathroom capable of taking you to mysterious places. We got our hand on the recently released Japanese import of Silent Hill 4 for the PlayStation 2 and we saw what happens in this fourth entry in the series.
The game casts you in the role of Henry Townsend, a slightly unkempt apartment-dweller. When you first start the game, you're treated to an interactive nightmare version of Henry's room. After a bit of exploration and marveling at the overall crappiness of Henry's housekeeping skills, you'll trigger a scripted event that sends an unholy creature clawing its way out of one of the walls in your living room. Once that bit of unpleasantness is over, Henry wakes up from what is ostensibly a bad dream and the proper game begins. However, since this is a Silent Hill game, you know there's a terrible, terrible twist waiting in the wings.
Your first hint that something is amiss comes when you venture out to your living room and find all kinds of locks on your front door, preventing you from leaving, and a message painted in blood that warns you from going outside of your apartment. You'll have a bit of time to get your bearings around your pad and to explore the various nooks and crannies. You're clued in to hot spots by an eye icon that appears onscreen, prompting you to be nosy. You'll want to pay special attention to your apartment's windows, which when examined, will shift your view to an outdoor shot that lets you have a look at the activity bustling on the street below and in the building across from yours. You can also look through the peephole in your front door to see what's in front of your door. Oddly enough, the wall in front of your door seems to be covered in bloody handprints, which seems to tie in nicely with the written warning and many locks on your door.
A little later on in this beginning sequence, you'll hear an unsettling thump, and upon further investigation you find that it has come from your bathroom. Upon approaching your commode, you'll notice something is amiss, mainly due to the gaping hole that has appeared next to it. Now, while there are a plethora of things any sane person would do in this kind of situation, bear in mind this is a Konami survival horror game, which explains why our boy decides that crawling into said hole is the right thing to do.
Once you crawl in the hole, the game shifts to a grainy tunnel view that has you crawling toward a light. Once you reach it, you'll find yourself sitting on a descending escalator in what appears to be a wrecked train station of some kind. Once you start exploring this new area you'll meet up with a strange woman who is convinced she's having a dream and is surprised to see Henry. After a bit of banter, you'll head off with her, but she'll soon fall ill and go into a nearby bathroom. Once you've waited the appropriate amount of time needed to let someone throw up their guts, the bathroom door will open and some demonic, doglike things will come out and require you to give them an ass-whooping.
Bump in the Night
Once that's sorted, you'll find a portal back to your room. Before you can write off the experience as just another odd dream, you'll get a hysterical call from your new friend asking you for help. No, it doesn't make a lot of sense right now, but we expect that everything will be explained later on in the game. Once you're done with the phone call, you'll find a handgun. You will also be able to look through a hole in your wall and see your neighbor Cynthia going about her business. But, while being a voyeur is fun and exciting, we were naturally curious about our new friend who appeared to be in some distress, and so we headed back to the bathroom. Our toilet portal deposited us where we left off, and a body with a pretty surprised look on its face was now there and yielded some useful items.
The gameplay in Silent Hill 4 seems to be on par with the previous games. The control mechanics are basically the same, with the notable addition of being able to charge up your attack for greater power. The game's basic structure appears to be pretty linear at the moment--you'll have to deal with one incident at a time, which provides you information about the next situation, and so on. There are now two distinct perspectives based on where you are: The game will use a first-person view when you're in your room and a third-person camera when you're exploring toilet-land.
The graphics in the game are looking sharp, although some elements looked a tad slapdash. The main characters and various creepy abominations you'll encounter are, naturally, very well done and feature a high polygon count. The environments are a little sketchier, though. The basic locales look great and feature a satisfying dose of atmosphere, but you'll notice a few bum textures that stick out. The game also features a number of special effects to help sell its atmosphere, such as odd filters for a film-grain effect, and heavy use of light and shadow folded into the environments. The effects look very good and do a fine job of sucking you into the whole experience.
The audio in the game features a rich collection of disturbing music and sound effects. As with previous entries in the series, the Silent Hill team has cooked up an unsettling soundscape that's sure to unnerve. The only blemish is some rather generic effects, such as a man's scream and a tiger roar that should be familiar to veteran players. The voice acting we've heard so far is pretty good, although it doesn't do much to clear up just what the heck is going on at the moment. We expect that we'll have a better clue further into the game.
From what we've played so far, Silent Hill 4 seems to be covering all the survival horror bases with rich and disturbing visuals, a deliberate pace, creepy sound, and some genuine scares. The game also appears to have some of the usual rough spots common to the series, such as awkward camera angles and so-so melee combat, but there's still plenty to enjoy here from the looks of things. Silent Hill 4: The Room is currently slated to ship this fall for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months.