Silent Hill 4 is one of the most often forgotten entries of the classic survival horror franchise. Here’s why it deserves to be better remembered.
Silent Hill is one of those video game franchises that comes with a lot of anticipation attached. With the weight of its name, every entry in the series is scrutinized by lovers of the survival horror genre to make sure it lives up to the lofty expectations of its discerning fan base. Later entries in the series developed by non-Japanese companies rarely, if ever, lived up to the goals that the player base had come to expect from them. Something just stopped clicking right with the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming.
However, before that game, there came Silent Hill 4: The Room, one of the most overlooked entries in the storied franchise and one of the most original to boot. Despite some mixed reception because of changes to the Silent Hill formula, it is still one of the shining examples of the survival horror genre.
Silent Hill 4: The Room Is the Most Claustrophobic Game in the Series
Silent Hill 4: The Room is a loose tie-in to the golden child of the franchise, Silent Hill 2, with small threads tying the two together. The Room centers around Henry Townshend, now trapped in his apartment by the zealous malignance of Walter Sullivan, whose spirit hopes to use the 21 Sacraments ritual to reunite him with his mother, who Townshend sees as literally being Henry’s apartment. Although the setting centers around the titular room, Henry does explore parts of Walter’s deranged world with the room acting as a central hub and place of safety. That is where the game gets its chance to shine.
The room is a place where Henry can go to take a break from the horrors of the worlds he’s exploring until that safety is taken away. As the game progresses, the apartment becomes more and more haunted, to the point of actively damaging Henry. The horror of Silent Hill 4 lies in its ability to give the player a semblance of control and safety before unceremoniously ripping it away. Silent Hill 4, much like Silent Hill 2, goes out of its way to make the player uncomfortable, which compounds the horror of it all. The walls literally and figuratively close in around Henry as the game continues, turning this introverted man into a shell-shocked veteran of nightmares by the end.
The biggest point of contention in the game is its second half, which was famously panned as being the worst escort mission in video game history, especially after Resident Evil 4 came out a year later with a much better example of the mechanic. However, what can be frustrating mechanically can also have a place in the wider feeling the game is supposed to invoke.
The player is supposed to be getting frustrated with Eileen. The player is supposed to react to her relative uselessness in a primal way, determining how much she matters to the player. Keeping her in fighting shape will affect the ease of the latter half of the game. It brings the horror in closer and forces the player to consider the monstrous things they are willing to do for the sake of completing their ritual of the game, much like the monstrous things that Walter does in pursuit of his goal. The claustrophobia of Silent Hill 4 exists internally and externally and can be a hell of the players’ own creation, which is where its brilliance lies.
Henry Is a Vessel for Other People’s Trauma
Silent Hill 4: The Room, like many of its predecessors, is an extremely literary game that benefits from deeper readings and dissections. Henry is particularly interesting in that he is an empty vessel — a repository for the trauma of others as they play out the psychodrama of Walter’s own deeply traumatic life and death. Henry has no sense of self and his sense of purpose is derived from his interactions with others, forced to do so far outside his comfort zone of being an observer.
Henry is a vessel for the other characters as well as the player. His voyeuristic tendencies are reflective of the player being a spectator of these horrors. He and the player are dragged into the thick of things as their cozy little safe spaces become a crucible of horror.
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