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'Silent Hill 4': The Forgotten Horror

Second Chances #5

Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I give the maligned and forgotten another shot.


As I mentioned before, I consider the original Silent Hill to be one of the greatest horror games of all time.  Even though it's nearly twenty years old, its story still knows how to chill you to the bone, its perfect atmosphere keeps you from getting relaxed, and the combat and puzzle solving are both easier to grasp and more involved than in other horror games of the time. Though the PS1 visuals can be a bit hard to look at these days, it is still the closest I've found to the perfect horror game.

Needless to say, sequels were inevitable. A lot of people favor Silent Hill 2 due to its deeply personal story about regret and providing an unforgettable antagonist in Pyramid Head. Some favor Silent Hill 3 with its chilling set pieces, including at an abandoned amusement park. When talking about where the series went downhill, fingers are often pointed at Silent Hill: Homecoming or Silent Hill: Downpour, both of which are okay but disappointing, as far as I'm concerned, rather than outright bad.

However, when talking about the Silent Hill franchise, there's one game that everyone seems to go out of their way to ignore, including Konami themselves. That game is Silent Hill 4: The Room. Released on the PC, Playstation 2, and Xbox in 2004, Silent Hill 4 completely threw out the established formula of the series and did everything differently. Though it did well on the sales charts at release, the radical changes resulted in a quick drop-off. With the confused reactions from the press and audiences and the financial disappointment compared to the prior games, Silent Hill 4 basically became the Halloween 3 of the franchise. However, like with Halloween 3, the game's true value shows itself when you forget your preconceived notions of the franchise and take it on its own.

The plot takes place, not in the eponymous town, but in neighboring Ashfield. It revolves around a guy named Henry who, when the game begins, had been barricaded inside his apartment for five days while having constant nightmares.  One day he discovers a strange hole in his bathroom that, when he crawled into it, allowed him to cross dimensions.  He meets a series of people, who end up getting murdered by a serial killer who was supposed to be dead already (no, it's not Freddy Krueger). While the plot doesn't get as crazy as the first game or as dramatic as the second, it still held my attention. It is a more serious story than the other games, which tended to have some comic relief. Don't go looking for silly extra endings; they're not present. It's nice that it also features a couple of "cameos" from prior games. One of the victims is a journalist that wrote an article that Heather was able to find in Silent Hill 3, and the serial killer himself was referenced in a news article that James could find in Silent Hill 2. Even though the fourth game went in a whole new direction, the connections to the prior games thankfully remained.

The mechanics have been completely changed from the prior games. The sealed apartment is the only place where Henry is safe. It's also the only place where the player can save the game and jostle things in the inventory. Some people complained about having to return to the apartment so much, but I didn't mind. The sequences in the apartment are all done in first-person to add to the feelings of claustrophobia that Henry was no doubt experiencing at that point, and it works quite well.

Entering the other dimensions shifts the view to third-person. There's no point where there's free exploration of the town like in the other Silent Hill games, but I understand why it was omitted. Free exploration wouldn't have worked with the plot; after all, if Henry could just run off wherever and whenever he wanted, why would he have cared about his apartment being sealed? The game is more action focused than the other games and it's handled well. There are plenty of melee weapons to find with varying ranges, strength, and durability. Yeah, weapons can break in this game; so, don't get too attached to one. There are firearms, too, but they should be saved for bosses as ammo is quite scarce, more so than in the other games. There are also plenty of points that call for just running, like one subway station full of unkillable wraiths that can reach into your chest to grab your heart. Another thing that was omitted were the traditional puzzles. Like with the exploration, stopping dead to figure out an obscure puzzle, involving coins or a clock, would have felt out-of-place with the more serious plot.

The game definitely pushed the sixth gen hardware as far as it could go.  The character models still look fantastic, even now. The effects were some of the best the series has produced, even better than those in the newer games! The creature designs are a bit more hit-or-miss. While the wraiths are absolutely bone-chilling, the dog-like creatures just seem lazy, like Konami just took the Dobermans from Resident Evil and colored them green. While the bosses aren't as iconic as Pyramid Head, they still look both shocking and menacing. The sound design is as fantastic as always. Akira Yamaoka's score is chilling, and the voice work is quite good, if a bit too relaxed. I don't think I'd sound so chill when chased by a two-headed freak.
No, Silent Hill 4: The Room is not the best of the franchise. Yes, it is entirely different from the rest of the main entries. However, it definitely deserves attention. It took a lot of chances and went out of its way to provide a fresh experience. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it deserves a shot.  Crawl through the tunnel, and check it out this Halloween.


Any more games that deserve another chance?  What are you playing this Halloween?  Let me know!

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