Silent Hill 4: the Room

While I was playing through recent horror titles like The Evil Within, I noticed some interesting similarities with Silent Hill 4 that started to give me a new appreciation for some of this game's stronger aspects. In addition, while doing research for my Silent Hill timeline, I had to go back and play through Silent Hill 4: the Room again. I had only played through the game twice before, so I had to replay it in order to figure out how the timeline would work out. And while I was playing the game, I figured that I might as well go ahead and review it. At the time, it seemed like a novel idea to do a retro review of a Silent Hill game that wasn't Silent Hill 2, but lately, I've been seeing a lot of retro-reviews of The Room popping up other places. I haven't done any retro reviews yet; probably the closest thing has been my review of Demon's Souls. But in light of how unsuccessful the later Silent Hill games have been, the unfortunate cancellation of Silent Hills, and the uncertain future of the franchise (and of Konami as a studio), it's a good time to go back to look at what worked and what didn't about the previous games, and explore the question of whether we even want the franchise to continue.

The Room has the reputation of being the "bad" black sheep of the original Silent Hill tetralogy. I always thought that this reputation was unfortunate, and that the game wasn't quite as bad as people made it seem. I actually liked it better than Silent Hill 3 when I first played it, because I had never played the first Silent Hill. After I was able to track down a copy of the first game and play through it, Silent Hill 3 suddenly made a whole lot more sense, and I came to love it almost as much as I loved Silent Hill 2. So while I tend to agree that The Room is the "weakest" of the original Silent Hill games, I never really thought of it as being "bad"; just "less good". The release of future games by third party developers has only made The Room look better in retrospect.

An experimental formula

The game itself is a bit rough around the edges. It deviates significantly from the controls and mechanics established by the previous games in the franchise, and these changes are very hit-or-miss. This might be due, in part, to the possibility that The Room started out as an independent side project that was developed concurrently with Silent Hill 3, and that was eventually redesigned to work as a Silent Hill game in order to be more commercially viable. Whether or not that's true is still a hot issue of debate among the fanbase, but it's obvious to everybody that The Room plays a lot differently from previous titles.

Silent Hill 4: the Room - combat
Movement and combat controls are radically changed from previous games in the series.

The most immediately obvious deviation is in movement and camera controls. The semi-first-person "tank" controls have been completely abandoned in favor of direct directional inputs, and the camera is significantly more limited than it has been in previous games. You can't snap the camera behind the character by holding the "look" button as you could do in previous games. Almost all camera angles are pre-set angles, and the player can usually only toggle between two possible camera angles in any given area.

This results in some very clumsy navigation of the environment, and it's very easy for the character to get turned around when camera angles flip. Most of the time, a camera change will go without a hitch, but there are a few frames in the game that consistently result in erratic and unpredictable movement. It happens most often when a camera change occurs concurrently with a change in direction of the character (to navigate around a corner or an obstacle). If the player's timing for changing the character's movement direction is not perfectly-timed, then the character ends up turning around, which can result in getting stuck in a loop between the two camera angles. This is the very reason that I prefer the tank controls. They may be a bit cumbersome, but at least they're consistent and always relative to a single frame of reference (the character's position in the world), rather than to an unpredictable camera.

The second major change is to combat. The game was designed to have a greater emphasis on melee combat, complete with new target-locking controls, a variety of breakable melee weapons, very limited ammunition for guns, and an on-screen meter for charging power attacks. The new movement controls do make it a bit easier to maneuver around enemies (especially multiple enemies), but only if you're in an open space and the camera angle doesn't go all wonky on you. The mechanics are serviceable, and I don't think they're as bad as some critics insist.

The designers were probably trying to mimic
the horror trope of fumbling for keys.

Inventory management is where things really start to get bad. Henry isn't a walking closet like the previous games' protagonists, and he has only a limited number of inventory slots. This is probably partly the result of the inventory being accessed in real-time by the directional buttons (which also might have played a role in the changes to the movement control scheme being entirely based up on the analog stick), in a desire to create a sense of frantically searching your pockets for a weapon or item while under pressure. It also adds more relevance to the Room 302 hub (another dramatic departure from previous games) by forcing you to go back to restock on supplies or swap out puzzle items.

But it's hindered by a lot of little mistakes...

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I was going through the comments on my posts a while back, and I came across a doozy of a comment by user Maiden T. I'm not going to replicate the entire post here, but you can review the comment at the link provided. In summary, the commenter asserts that Silent Hill, as a series, was never about occultism, and that all the games were "repressed-memory morality tales". The first Silent Hill and "to an extent the third one" are the exceptions (according to Maiden T).

Silent Hill - Incubus concept art
Totally unrelated image of a demon god...

My mind just about exploded when I read this comment, and I started typing up a response, only to realize that I had written a whole blog's worth of counter argument. So, I decided to just turn it into a new blog. I'll continue my series of analysis and interpretation articles about Silent Hill with a write-up about how the series is most definitely about occultism.

What is Silent Hill about?

I've already tackled two topics that I consider to be common myths about Silent Hill. The first was about the over-sexualization of Pyramid Head, and the second was about the realness of the Otherworld. Now I'll address one of the most fundamental misunderstandings about the series: what is it about?

The repressed-inner-demon myth

Probably the most core and fundamental myth about the Silent Hill series is the continued propagation of the idea that the series (as a whole) is about characters dealing with repressed inner demons - typically a repressed memory of guilt over a perceived sin which they have committed. This idea is rooted in the popularity of Silent Hill 2. It is so pervasive, that the designers and producers of newer installments of the series embrace it, while dismissing the other critical elements of the other games' stories:

"[My favorite SH game is] Silent Hill 2. I didn’t really care for all the heavy occult based storyline in SH1 and 3. I felt SH2 had the best stand alone storyline, and provided the best atmosphere of all the SH games by far.
[...]
I find all the in’s and out’s of ‘The Order’ to be overly intricate and rather uninteresting, but that’s just my opinion."
   - Devin Shatsky (producer, Shattered Memories, Downpour), in an interview with Hell's Descent (Nov 5, 2010).

The reason that Silent Hill 2's design was so successful (and unique within the series) is because SH2's excellent atmosphere was based around feelings of melancholy and depression rather than fear and threat. Exploring a character's personal guilt and depression works great when the entire game is designed around that central, unifying theme! It doesn't work quite so well when ...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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