When Halloween slips around, you have tons of choices for hosting a retro-themed scare-a-thon on your big screen. It’s easy to dive straight into the likes of Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill 2, or even Friday the 13th. Formerly obscure titles like Sweet Home on the NES and Clock Tower for the PS1 have been around long enough to catch the attention of many retro gamers as well. So let’s do something different this year. Let’s talk about some of the black sheep of horror gaming, the lesser-known and lesser-appreciated titles from the past. Set aside your knife glove, take off the goalie mask, and let one of these games dick-punch away your sanity for an evening. Today we’re looking at the red-headed stepchild of a beloved staple franchise with Silent Hill 4: The Room.
Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004, PS2/Xbox/PC)
(Click the title to watch the original E3 trailer).
If we’re going to be honest, there was no way in hell the fourth Silent Hill game could possibly live up to expectations. It wasn’t going to best the story of SH2, and with SH3 tying up the story arc which began in the original PS1 chiller, there wasn’t any ground to traverse there either. Team Silent had no choice but to move in a different direction, and birthed the idea of taking one’s own sanctuary and turning it into the least-safe place in the world. What was home became more dangerous and less inviting than the dark world around you. With no place to hide from the terrors, players would feel more immersed in the game than ever before, forced to push forward because lollygagging meant certain death.
Unfortunately while this was a fabulous idea for a horror-themed game, it turned out to be an awful idea for a Silent Hill title. Writer/Director Suguru Murakoshi’s nightmarish fantasy took too many departures from what fans were willing to accept of a series that had always been focused on characters personally tormented by the hellish resort town. The links to Silent Hill itself are tenuous at best, with characters appearing in the game based on old newspaper clippings and articles players may have read in SH2 and 3. The Room is far more interested in fighting than thinking. Gone are the separate difficulty selectors for action and puzzles. Gamers looking for the more cerebral experiences of earlier series entries were disappointed to find Resident Evil style item fetch quests replacing Shakespeare quotes and riddles of logic. Players hoping for better combat found themselves saddled with immortal, unkillable enemies and an AI partner during the second half of the game who must be protected from harm at all costs in order to receive the best ending. Remember how everybody loves a good Escort Mission, right?It didn’t even take place in Silent Hill–Henry Townshend’s apartment is in South Ashfield, for crying out loud. Reviewers may have praised Silent Hill 4: The Room for trying to branch out in a new direction, but most players found themselves feeling like The Room was a Silent Hill game the way the cinematic cut of Alien 3 was an Alien film: technically true, but in name only. Little wonder the next game, Silent Hill Origins, returned to the well-trod stomping grounds seen in the first three.
Bearing all that in mind, it’s worth taking a second look at The Room. Assume it’s not a Silent Hill game at all–let’s say Konami released it as Room 302, its original working title, without the anchor of the Silent Hill name weighing it down and leading players to expect something they weren’t going to get. Would it have been as successful or sold as well? Probably not. Would it have provided players with an enjoyable experience nonetheless? You bet your ass it would. The Room stomps on genre conventions, gleefully vivisecting expectations and tropes everywhere it steps with its solid story, and continues twisting the vise tighter around the player’s skull the further they progress. If you’ve never cared for The Room, this is your chance to understand what you’re missing. It’s far from perfect, there’s plenty to complain about, but there’s also that killer Akira Yamaoka soundtrack with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s haunting vocals, a decent combat engine, and a story that’s well worth playing to completion. Underneath all that, it’s still a Team Silent game. Shake the dust off your Xbox, pick up your controller, and leave your expectations at the door. Silent Hill 4: The Room might be a black sheep of horror gaming, but it will still leave you unsettled and disturbed if you manage to survive the journey.