Silent And Deadly
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I got hooked on this series with Silent Hill 3, though I had always been a fan of horror survival games. Unlike horror movies where you yell at your television telling the characters not to do something stupid, in a game, your fate is your own.
Third person gaming is perfect on a console system, and the controls need only be fairly simple since the game mostly survives on its storyline and its ability to creep players out.
I especially like the Silent Hill series because it has a good mix of action, puzzle-solving and a good story. Never will it drift into some type of kung-fu fest but also you are not too long between fights either.
You play Henry Townshend, an average guy living in a one bedroom studio-like apartment in a little town not far from good old Silent Hill. By all accounts, Townshend is pretty happy with his seemingly average lifestyle.
The one day he wakes up and someone has stung heavy metal chains across his door. The windows won't open and no matter how loud he screams he can't get anyone to hear him.
There are several ways you can at least look around at the outside world. There is a peep hole in your door that lets you see into the hallway, but only when someone is standing right there or walking by. You also have a bit of a voyeuristic hole drilled into the wall that lets you see into the bedroom of the girl next door. And of course you can look out your unbreakable windows too. Apparently your room has been transported to another dimension or something, because from time to time someone outside tries to get in and each time they fail even if they have the key and pound on the door a good bit. And although you can hear them, they can never hear you.
Thankfully, instead of starving to death, a portal opens in your bathroom. As soon as you touch the hole, you are transported to another world not too different from the real one. But it does not take long to learn that things that happen in the other world can affect reality too.
The other worlds are populated by a bunch of odd creatures, including some of your old favorites like the devil dogs from previous games. All creatures have gotten extensive makeovers, and there are several new ones too. There are even a few that can't be killed, just beaten out of the way, though they will slowly rise and resume their pursuit of you if you stay too long.
The game is a good mix of combat and puzzle solving. Puzzle gamers will likely think the puzzles a little bit on the weak side, though for my tastes the levels are just fine.
Konami has even done a good job at adding some new features, including some that longtime series players might find a bit odd at first. For starters, each time you are in your apartment you play the game in first person, switching over to third person when you go through the various portals to the creepy other worlds.
Secondly, the apartment concept itself is unusual for the series. In your living room is the only save point in the entire game. What you need to do is find other portals as you explore, which will bring you back to your room. From there you can save your game. There is even one puzzle that involves the need to warp back to your room to avoid a little trap early on in the game.
Each time you come back to your apartment you might find little notes slipped under the door that give some clues as to what is going on, or you might want to spy on the girl next door, just to make sure she is okay you understand. You also have a bit trunk where you can store extra weapons and items when not in use. This is a nice feature because you can only carry so much, and some weapons work better than others against different creatures. So you can pack your bug spray away for use in the swamps, and keep your bat handy in case you start to run low on bullets.
You really start to think of your room as your sanctuary away from all the madness, which of course is used against you later in the game. I won't say how, but you will see.
The levels are very creepy, though I think they were a bit more frightening in SH3, perhaps because you were playing a girl and that made me feel more vulnerable, like I needed to protect her. My little Tom Cruise look-alike character in this game can fend for himself when the combat gets rough.
Monsters are very scary this time around though. They will crawl out of walls in an attempt to get at you, which is almost more frightening than actually having to fight them.
A huge change that you will notice is that you actually meet up with other people in the alternative realities. Sometimes you can interact with them and they will trade with you. Sometimes they will ask you to lead them to safety. Late in the game, you even pick up a partner who travels with you. You can arm her with weapons only she can use, which gives you a bit of extra firepower when needed.
There is another excellent soundtrack with SH4, though it does not have a main rock-like song like SH3. Still, the soundtrack is haunting and, like everything else in the game, really creepy.
My one complaint with the game, which is minor, is that the dialog does not quite translate right from Japanese. Once when looking out my apartment peephole, the girl next door was commenting to the superintendent that it was odd that he could not get inside the room. He replies, "There are many strange things in this world, like the umbilical cord I keep in a box in my room. It is really starting to stink lately." The girl just kind of says, "Oh" and they keep talking. There are a couple moments like that, though they do add flavor.
Silent Hill 4 proves why this series remains on the top of the pile of the survival horror genre. It's bloody; it's scary; and its also well-balanced. And you get to solve a pretty good supernatural mystery to boot. Just be sure to dim the lights and slip on your splatter-proof gloves before playing.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.