Review: Horror comes home in 'Silent Hill 4'
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.
Unlike Hollywood horror movies that often get worse with each new sequel ("Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan," for example), Konami's scary "Silent Hill" series gets better -- and creepier -- with age.
In "Silent Hill 4: The Room," now available for the Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox, the horror starts at home as Henry Townsend awakens from a nightmare to find he's trapped inside his own apartment. Chains are wrapped across the inside of his door and all the windows are bolted shut.
Our twentysomething protagonist soon discovers a strange, organic-looking tunnel inside his bathroom that serves as a portal to alternative worlds that swarm with bizarre creatures. By traveling to these worlds, Townsend will find out why the apartment is cursed and how he can escape it.
What's more, the apartment, which serves as a hub between these strange destinations, holds clues to unraveling the mystery, such as notebooks, photo albums and peepholes to the hallway and neighboring apartment. The game uses both first- and third-person camera angles to view the action.
Similar to past games in the series, much of the game-play in this new adventure involves fighting menacing creatures. Enemies range from ghosts that float on the tips of their toes and two-headed monsters with baby faces to enormous four-legged animals that lash out with 15-inch tongues.
To destroy them, Townsend must use weapons that are stored in his inventory. You can have Townsend toggle between a steel pipe and a shotgun, for example, because some weapons will be better suited in one situation than another.
A word of warning: Some creatures may appear dead on the floor, but as any horror movie fan will tell you, don't turn your back until you're sure they are down for the count. With this in mind, some creatures can only be stunned, such as the undead zombies.
Puzzles reveal clues
As the main character in "Silent Hill 4: The Room," you must explore and survive several scary alternative realities.
More than in past "Silent Hill" adventures, "The Room" features a number of puzzles to solve, none of which is too difficult if you're persistent. Some of the brainteasers include finding an open compartment in a subway car to rescue a young girl or finding a key in a hospital ward that can be used to open a locked door. You also must have Townsend refer to large maps in order to navigate through an abandoned prison and cemetery.
Despite some awkward Japanese-to-English dialogue, the voice acting is quite good, as is the fitting ambient soundtrack and eerie sound effects. Some creatures emit sounds that can only be described as an infant's cry mixed with bees buzzing and a heartbeat. Creepy indeed.
As with last year's "Silent Hill 3," a bonus soundtrack CD is bundled with the game, which contains more than 70 minutes of original music.
If you're a PC gamer, a Windows version of "Silent Hill 4: The Room" is planned for the end of the year.