I have been a die hard fan of the horror game franchise Silent Hill for several years now, but, up until just a few weeks ago, I had only ever played the first three games and Silent Hill: Homecoming. Therefore, I was incredibly excited when I got my hands on a copy of Silent Hill 4: The Room a few weeks ago.
For those unfamiliar with the Silent Hill mythos, the games primarily center around a New England town called Silent Hill, which hosts a dark history of epidemics, disappearances, and cult activity by a group called the Order, and is, as a result, overcome by vengeful spirits and demonic forces. Those who enter the town are often forced to cross over into the town’s alternate reality, a second dimension known as the “Otherworld” that is crawling with horrific monsters and trapped souls. In each game, every protagonist has a connection to Silent Hill that pulls him or her into the Otherworld and forces him or her to face personal demons and fate. (For a more detailed chronology of Silent Hill, you can go here.)
While I am a big fan of this mythos, what initially caught my attention about Silent Hill 4 was the fact that, unlike the previous three games, it doesn’t take place in the town of Silent Hill, but in the nearby town of Ashfield. Prior to playing the game, I saw this change in location as an affront to the franchise’s canon, before realizing that the events of game are, in fact, still closely linked with the town and the original game’s elements.
The story focuses upon a man named Henry Townshend, who is living in Room 302 of a complex in Ashfield, just a short distance from Silent Hill. The game begins by informing the player that Henry has been suffering from horrific nightmares for five days straight and is unable to leave his apartment or contact the outside world, as the front door is chained shut and his phone is disconnected. In order to move forward in the game, the player is required to exercise detective skills, peering through peep holes, finding messages carved into hidden locations, and locating holes that lead to several Otherworlds, including a distorted subway, prison, hospital, and apartment complex. Slowly, it becomes quite clear that the curse of Silent Hill has in fact extended to nearby towns.
As the game continues, the player, through gathering clues and talking to characters, begins to learn that, several years prior, a man named Walter Sullivan was born in Room 302 and abandoned there by his parents. After being taken in by an orphanage run by the Order of Silent Hill, Walter came to believe that Room 302 was actually his mother and that, in order to awaken “her,” he needed to commit 21 murders and preserve the hearts of his victims. However, his plans were interrupted after his 10th murder, when he was arrested and subsequently committed suicide. Now, operating from various Otherworlds that he created through his murders and cult rituals, Walter is still striving to complete his “21 Sacraments” i.e. murders from beyond the grave.
However, though Silent Hill 4 is in many ways a puzzle game, it is also a survival one, and solving the mystery of Walter and his Otherworlds is not the only challenge the player must face. Staying true to the nature of the previous games, Silent Hill 4 is overwhelmed with horrific monsters, many of which resemble deformed humans and animals. Humanoid creatures with long, branch-like arms sprout from the walls throughout the game and grab Henry, hunchback creatures with two baby heads and zombified dogs swarm the Otherworlds, and even Room 302 becomes an antagonist, with angry spirits shaking the windows and making the taps spew blood. Armed with a metal pipe and various holy objects, the player must fight to save Henry’s life, as well as the life of Walter’s next victim, and defeat the ultimate evil that is threatening to emerge from Room 302.
The different levels of the game are all grimy, rusty, and bloody, with haunting soundtracks and grotesque creatures that serve to symbolize Walter’s victims, and the player is constantly presented with moral dilemmas and options. Much of the game, in fact, is focused upon one’s decisions to save and protect Walter’s next victim, Eileen, and exorcise the vengeful spirits of Room 302.
Though I originally had some reservations about this game, I honestly came away very pleased with fact that the Silent Hill franchise is heading in a new direction while still preserving what first made it famous: horrifying monsters, a psychologically complex plot, an eerie musical score, and challenging game play. And, while the game is certainly not flawless — the graphics are often glitchy and clunky, a problem that is seen throughout the Silent Hill series, and the limited weapon inventory can sometimes introduce monotony — it is still an incredibly well-designed and unique experience, featuring monsters unlike any I have ever seen and various possible endings that allow for multiple, differing play-throughs.
While I cannot guarantee that this game is for all gamers, I can confidently say that those who are fans of survival-horror games, which tend to maintain a consistently eerie atmosphere throughout game play and introduce intellectually challenging plots, this is certainly one to consider. While I would definitely say playing from the beginning of the series is best, if I were to recommend another point from which to start, I’d favor this one.