Where do you feel safest?|
Maybe it's your parents' house, or your own apartment. Most people have a place like that, a private space where you can let your guard down. When you're outside, and among other people, you put up a front, but there's someplace where you're safe and where you can be yourself.
Silent Hill 4: The Room is about what happens when that space turns against you.
Henry Townsend lives in Ashfield, a city that would appear to be near the infamous vacation resort of Silent Hill. He has a nice apartment in the middle of town. It's not a bad place to live.
Henry wakes up one morning to find the front door of his apartment has been chained shut - from the inside. Someone has scrawled "Don't go out!" on the back of the door, and signed it "Walter."
The windows won't open or break. The chains on the door cannot be broken. The phone doesn't seem to work; there's a dial tone, but no one is answering.
There's also a hole in the wall of Henry's laundry room, which wasn't there before. It should go into the bathroom, but somehow... doesn't. Initially hesitant, but with no real choice in the matter, Henry crawls through the hole and finds himself in the crumbling wreck of a place that was once called Silent Hill.
To try to figure out what's going on, Henry arms himself against the monsters that roam the streets and woods, and explores the places where he's taken. In the still-smoldering ruins of an orphanage, he finds the diary of a child who's the captive of a cult, a flock of old and angry ghosts, and a woman named Eileen who is wrapped in bandages, recovering from some recent trauma. Someone has scarred her back with numbers.
That someone is hard at work elsewhere in Silent Hill, in a prison without prisoners. This large, cylindrical building stretches up several stories, and hosts bloodsucking plants, flesh-eating insects the size of a man's head, and something that appears to be a mad gorilla with two screaming infant heads.
At another point, Henry is deposited in what might be Ashfield, a century from now after some catastrophe has removed all the people. This isn't the Silent Hill that Harry Mason explored; it's closer to the alternate shopping mall from Silent Hill 3, which was long-abandoned and infested with monsters.
It's hard not to think that whatever's wrong with Silent Hill is spreading.
Sometimes, Henry finds other holes throughout Silent Hill, which take him back to his bedroom in his apartment in Ashcroft. Here, things are normal. He can see an ordinary city full of ordinary people out his window.
He's still not alone, and he's still not safe. Every time he comes back, something changes. Other people have been and gone, and sometimes, it feels as though something about the apartment itself is becoming malign. Nothing is normal or safe anymore.
That is, of course, the point. Silent Hill 4 is deliberately more psychological than the games before it; where at least half the tension used to come from the simple fact that you were lost in a dark place with a great many things that weren't human, Silent Hill 4 puts Henry into a situation where everything he knows starts to come slowly unglued. Things are not jumping out of windows anymore. They don't have to.
The first example of this new school of horror at work is that you're no longer dependent upon a flashlight. Most of the time, your environment will be decently lit all on its own. Instead, the horror value comes from a certain sense of wrongness about your environment. Yes, there are twisted mockeries of life shambling after you, but that's almost a given at this point.
The real scares here come from the surreality of what's going on. Some monsters, such as the ghosts and a couple of different kinds of zombie, will damage Henry just by being in the area. When they're close by, Henry grabs his head as though in pain, and the screen starts crackling and popping like old film.
At another point, you can travel through Silent Hill Woods, following the trail of some unknown child, who's writing a diary on walls and gravestones in what looks like blood, and in a gibberish language that only Eileen can read. The countryside is covered in these strange messages from some unknown party, who was clearly a cult member of some kind, but where did he go? What's happened here?
Other Silent Hill games have had the same feel to them, like you spend the entire time chasing after someone with an unknowable agenda, but Silent Hill 4 takes it to the next level. Nothing is as it seems, and nothing seems to make any sense.
The tension is further augmented by the new inventory system. You now sort through items in real-time, forcing you to frantically rummage through your items for that first-aid kit while you're being chased by zombie dogs, and for the first time, you have a limit on how much stuff you can carry. Each clip of ammunition or first-aid kit takes up an inventory slot, as does any weapon that any character with you is wielding. If you run out of room, you can go back to Henry's apartment to drop a few things off.
Henry's arsenal of weaponry, as of this build, includes a pistol, a length of pipe, the Pickaxe of Despair (I'm not kidding; that's what it's called), and a rusty hand axe. The pistol can be loaded with both normal bullets and silver slugs, the latter of which are effective against ghosts and other angry spirits. You can also use Holy Candles or Swords of Obedience to keep ghosts from getting up, or wear a Saint Medallion for some extra melee power.
If you've got anyone with you, such as Eileen, you can also equip them with a weapon to help you out in a fight. Eileen's slow, as she's already injured, but she swings a mean handbag. You can also give her a length of chain for extra power.
The biggest problem I have with Silent Hill 4 is that this build isn't complete. I've gotten what amounts to a very small taste of the game (...and boy, I kinda wish I hadn't used that word, because, well, ick), and now I'm really looking forward to it in a way I wasn't before. After the "been there, done that" of Silent Hill 3, SH4 presents a series of much-needed innovations to both the series's gameplay and storytelling style, and takes horror gaming as a genre to the next level. It's the first must-buy game of what's going to be a great gaming season.
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