Silent Hill 4: The Room

House arrest just got more interesting.

In 2004, Team Silent released what was their last title together as a whole, Silent Hill 4 and what I believe is a truly deep and twisted horror game with incredible symbolism. While the series as a whole is far, far deeper than its siblings in the survival horror genre, I think The Room is perhaps the best among them. Before some of you start in on how it’s different from the first three, and therefore it sucks, or use the idea that it was never a Silent Hill game and was modified between 5% and 95% into development, allow me to explain my thoughts as I review the game for some of those who may have missed it or simply never given it a proper chance.

Henry, contemplating infinity.

Henry, contemplating infinity.

1. The Concept

South Ashfield is a decent sized city about a half day’s drive from the obviously-evil town of Silent Hill, and is much more urban than the environments of the first two games. Henry Townshend is a photographer and social hermit who resides in the South Ashfield Heights apartment complex, Room 302. One day, he finds himself locked in, chains and padlocks sealing the door shut. Written in what appears to be blood is a warning to stay inside by a mysterious Walter. The windows will not open and are unbreakable. The door is impervious to escape attempts, and no one can hear Henry scream for help. All he can do is watch his neighbors through the windows or peephole of the door going about their lives, oblivious to the fact that something not of this world has taken hold in Room 302.

After nearly a week of being isolated and locked away, Henry hears a noise and discovers a hole in the bathroom wall. Anxious about danger but reluctant to just stay and die, he climbs in and finds himself in a nightmarish version of the subway just across from his apartment complex. Everything seems surreal, sometimes distorted or rotted, rusted and corrupt. He encounters another human being, Cynthia, but monsters appear and he is forced to flee or fight.

In typical Silent Hill fashion, there is a monster-filled, bizarre “Otherworld” which appears to protagonists as a representation of the real world. Like the others before him, Henry finds himself wandering the Otherworld attempting to find answers and escape. Little does he know how deep the rabbit hole goes and how much evil he will encounter along the way.

How to lose your deposit.

How to lose your deposit.

2. Gameplay Mechanics

The game has two modes, either in the Room itself, or in the Otherworlds accessed through the bathroom portal.

In the Room, movement is entirely first person, weapons are not used, and the player can explore the Room itself for clues, save their game, or escape back into the Otherworld for action. The Room acts as a hub of sorts, and Henry will find himself coming back continuously as he ‘completes’ Otherworld sections, awaking in his bed to find the Room itself is still his prison. Memos appear from an unknown source to carry the story, and Henry can watch his neighbors grow more and more concerned about his well-being. At some point in the game, the Room will actively become haunted and Henry will cease to heal over time inside of it. These hauntings manifest in random ways, always in an attempt to unnerve the player who has grown accustomed to the way things were before, and require special steps to remove.

In the Otherworlds, the game plays similar to previous Silent Hill titles, with fixed camera angles, dangerous fights against creatures of nightmare, and architecture from hell. Unique to this title is a lack of the radio and flashlight from before and a fixed inventory, meaning Henry will have to leave stuff in a chest in his Room if overburdened. Health items are rare as is ammo, and melee is risky in most cases, meaning combat can be brutal. Save often!

Compared with say, the second title in the series, the areas are far less open, and backtracking is rarely necessary. Standard puzzles as are stock standard for survival horror games are rare, but item manipulation puzzles are common (use item X and place Y, but with vague hints of course). There are perhaps only three bosses in the game, all near the end, but each is pretty difficult. One of the earliest enemies in the game, those wretched dog-like things, make Silent Hill 2’s nurses seem almost docile. Thankfully for those interested in the story over mechanics, there’s a couple different difficulty modes.

Not pictured: the cubicle life Henry escaped from.

Not pictured: the cubicle life Henry escaped from.

3. The Atmosphere

Oh where to begin? The Room itself has a lot of quiet, unnerving tension to it over the first part of the game. First person mode and the small size makes things very claustrophobic. As you look out of the windows, you see people going about their daily lives – cars flying by, people walking down the sidewalk, and other apartment dwellers across from you pursuing their interests. None of them take notice of your plight, and even when you look out of the peephole and see the superintendent or your next door neighbor Eileen wondering why you’re shut in and why they can’t unlock the door, all you can do is shout in vain.

Once dropped into the Otherworlds, everything drips with uncertainty and possibility for evil. The Otherworld is sectioned into a foggy, somewhat normal looking side and a deeper, more corrupt side. This latter part is either heavily rusted and bloody, with winding and endless stairs or corridors, or is flesh-like, pulsing and very much alive. The enemies are similar to others in the series such as twisted and contorted humans and animals.

Most prominent and far more dangerous are the ghosts, actual victims of the evil behind the Room. Thankfully, they are only in certain areas, but they come out of black fluid dripping from the walls, wailing, reaching for you as they float across the ground. Henry holds his head in pain as they draw near and loses health steadily, while they try to put their hands on you. Even worse, they cannot be permanently slain and rise up quickly when downed, making them terrifying opponents.

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The following four paragraphs are full of spoilers but serve to illustrate some of the genius of the game design. Read only if you intend to spoil for yourself; otherwise, skip ahead to the Pros and Cons!

The Room is really a story about Walter, a person you don’t even see for a good portion of the game, and details his attempts to complete a dark ritual from the Silent Hill cult. Poor Walter was abandoned in Room 302 as a baby and given to the Wish House orphanage in Silent Hill by the state. Of course Wish House turned out to be a front for the infamous cult itself, and young Walter was abused and brainwashed, while some of his peers were even killed or tortured. At some point, Walter is fed information that Room 302 wasn’t where his mother had left him, it was his mother, and that with the help of a certain ritual he could bring her back.

Walter’s unhealthy state led to an obsession with the Room and many trips from Silent Hill to South Ashfield to visit it. His encounters with people, animals, places all shape and form the Otherworlds in which Henry finds himself. Whether its the forced perspective of a long hallway, or the manner in which stairs seem endless, much of what Henry sees is a twisted representation of how Walter remembers these places. His id uses the power of the ritual to make parts of the world he remembers negatively to bleed into the Otherworld which in turn is dominated by his hatred of others and his need to be back with his mother.

All throughout the game if you pay close enough attention, you can see aspects which illustrate a child’s fear, abandonment, darkness, aloneness, anger. The enemies are representations of how he perceives others, from the ghosts which are his victims (did I mention his ritual involves a lot of healthy sacrifice?) to fleshy and grey reflections of men and women in the real world who scared or harmed him. The farther Henry ventures into the Otherworld, the stronger Walter’s subconscious influences its shape. Hallways pulse and breath like a living being, as though being inside a mother’s safe protective womb. Rust and blood are splattered everywhere, leaving much of the world sickly. Female mannequins appear in torture devices, often mutilated and with their bellies pierces, showing Walter’s mommy issues have manifested into outright misogyny.

Even the Room itself becomes infected as his hold grows, becoming haunted, rotten, and attacking Henry when he returns. The portals are like umbilical cords, connecting the Room (which is mommy to the insane Walter) to Otherworlds which still weigh heavily on his mind. These areas include the Wish House where he was raised, the Tower in which he was locked up by the cult and abused, the subway system, alleyways he walked to reach the apartment complex, and of course the complex itself. The series favorite hospital area makes a late appearance, and is chock-full of Walter’s evil. You have a multitude of rooms with torture devices, padded rooms, mutilated and sewn-back-up-again female patients, and more. With the proper context, the entire game is a personal story of madness, abuse, and child-like innocence lost from start to finish, and while I definitely admit the first three games in the series were awesome, The Room has the strongest symbolism and speaks more about human evil than any of the others. You can go ahead and read part of that series plot analysis I linked above – I’ve barely touched the surface!

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4. The Pros

Stuff that is good.

  • As mentioned above, incredibly strong atmosphere and symbolism. Something Silent Hill as a whole is known for, but in my humble opinion expertly utilized here.
  • Has a bit less padding and pointless maze areas compared to say, 1 or 2 in the series. If a corridor or area is large or winding, it’s usually for stylistic reasons and not just to create artificial length in the game. (I’m looking at you, apartment complex in Silent Hill 2.)
  • The enemies are scary, the ghosts especially. You will learn to hate them.
  • The Room as a hub and story-advancing device is well implemented.
  • The game actually snowballs in its creepiness, which really starts to escalate by the time you reach the hospital.
  • There’s some good nods to other titles in the series, especially 2.

5. The Cons

Stuff that is iffy or bad.

  • The limited inventory is a huge curse. It’s not game-breaking but it has its moments of “Oh great, now I gotta go dump stuff off”.
  • Some enemies are just stupid fast and Henry is stupid slow. The dogs in particular are bats from hell.
  • Voice quality varies. Some of the supporting voice overs are passable. Henry’s is lackluster though and he’s a flat character (meant to convey the shy shut-in) so he gets a lot of flak in general.
  • The second half of the game involves some backtracking into older Otherworlds. While some of it is pretty fun, some is tedious. The subway area is arguably the worst, but then again its ghost is pretty awesome.
  • The trailer that rolls if you leave it on the main screen has a weird style to it which isn’t bad, but it spoils a LOT of the game and I recommend avoiding it if you’re a purist in experiencing stuff first hand.
  • Babysitting Eileen later on. It’s not as bad as some babysitting segments in games, but the damage she takes then affects a lot latter on. It’s cheap but better to just not give her a weapon and let her run from everything.

The Room is as you can probably tell, pretty special in my book. It’s not for everyone, but I still highly recommend it. The level of personal horror and evil that’s presented is well crafted, and there’s some genuinely scary moments both in and outside of the eponymous Room.

Also, here’s the creepy original US release trailer. Enjoy!

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