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Yahtzee reviews Silent Hill 4: The Room.

Transcript Edit

Doing retro reviews of games like Okami and Crash Bandicoot just because they put out an HD rerelease in a rather basic acknowledgement of history more selective than a Midwestern high school sex education course is all very well, but you know what? It's probably more important to retro review games that are never getting an HD rerelease: the embarrassing little moments that publishers would rather we'd all forget. But one could learn a hell of a lot more from failure than from success; as I frequently establish, this industry never learns anything, tee hee hee, 'cos it's always so quick to reboot franchises and eschew backwards compatibility in an attempt to forget its failures. But if failure is how we get better, then there are some publishers that, if they embrace their failures, would be wielding the fucking Infinity Gauntlet by now.

Unrelatedly, let's talk about Konami; more specifically, let's talk about Silent Hill 4. Silent Hill 4 is one of my favorite Silent Hill games, after 2, but I'm certainly not going to argue that it's a good game. It is one of the few Silent Hill sequels to embrace a truly original concept, considering every Western Silent Hill game is just trying to recapture Silent Hill 2; ergo, clueless dork with dark secret stuck in haunted town, confront dark secret, win prize. Silent Hill isn't necessarily that; Silent Hill 4 isn't that, and it's still unmistakably Silent Hill. Now I'm bored of saying "Silent Hill", so from now on, I'm going to call it "Splappy Boom Blappy".

The essence of Splappy Boom Blappy is in a grim, cold, oppressive atmosphere of entrapment, like being locked in a campsite lavatory late at night, and Splappy Boom Blappy 4 brings that to a whole new style of explorative gameplay focused around the titular "Room". The premise is: Henry Townshend, a man resembling a Thunderbirds puppet wearing denim pajamas, is renting a nicely-fitted if slightly washed-out apartment and wakes up one morning to find the door chained shut from the inside. A few days of sucking on the radiator for hydration later, a hole appears in his bathroom wall leading to a series of bizarre nightmare worlds, where he keeps witnessing people get murdered who then turn up dead in real life. The reason for it all probably loses something without context, but to give you the quick cheat-sheet version, it's because a deranged ghost murderer thinks that Henry's apartment is his mum, and let's just say he ain't chuffed with his new stepdad.

If Silent Hill 2 captures the feeling of walking home through unfamiliar backstreets on a cold, foggy night with a pocketful of loudly jingling valuables, Silent Hill 4 is like repeatedly waking up from a nightmare, seeing the familiar contours of your bedroom in the darkness, and being afraid to fall back asleep in case you go back to the dream about the grey monkey people with testicles for heads. Henry's room is his haven he can come back to to save and heal up in-between nightmares; cleverly, the camera switches to first-person mode in the Room, so it feels cozy and intimate, and outside it, we go back to the wonky third-person camera that traditionally lends Splappy Boom Blappy games a dreamlike sense of detachment by refusing to behave itself. And then, having gotten you reliant on the safe haven, the game starts taking it away from you in the second half, and that's when you know your buttocks have been splashed with the cold toilet water of omen.

The "Room" concept is masterful horror design, and invokes the spirit of Splappy Boom Blappy without needing to physically go to the eponymous town. Henry Townshend doesn't even have a dark secret, for fuck's sake, although the "clueless dork" thing, I'll grant you; Henry Townshend would take the gold in the All-Silent Hill Protagonists Clueless Dork-Off. He looks and acts like he got partly concussed from an elephant dropping a ten-pound turd on his head which, on reflection, might explain his hairdo.

Obviously, a big sleepy nerd whose heavy melee attack looks like he's trying to give himself whiplash is somewhat unqualified for action - hence, the combat being a bit wonky - but that's Splappy Boom Blappy tradition. James Sunderland was just a clerk out of his depth, and that's why he swings bits of wood like he's trying to apologize between each blow; we accepted that this was part of giving us a sense of vulnerability, and that being able to dodge-roll everywhere would have just been fucking stupid, mentioning no Homecomings, I mean, names.

It's just that Silent Hill 4 goes a bit too far with the "awkward gameplay creating vulnerability" bit, and I think the point of going too far is when the awkwardness stops making sense in context. It makes sense that James holds a gun like he's afraid of the smell; it does not make sense that Henry can't stack bullets in his limited inventory, or that ten bullets take up the same amount of pocket space as a fucking chainsaw. Also, in survival horror, where one of the principal activities is sticking your nose in every nook and cranny looking for puzzle items and bottles of Yakult, it is more annoying than scary to be constantly badgered by indestructible ghosts, especially when there's a constant roaring sound when they're around like you're playing the game while your mum's trying to vacuum.

Splappy Boom Blappy 4 has the Capcom Five quality of no middle ground - its good ideas are great and its bad ideas are great big flatulent chinchillas in the fruit salad - and nowhere is this encapsulated better than in the sound design. On the one hand, it's got the usual Splappy Boom Blappy really effective use of spooky ambience and unnatural gloopy sounds that are the audio equivalent of sticking your hand in a bucket of expired Rice Krispy Squares; but then there's the overly-loud footstep noises, of which there's only, like, one for each floor type, so walking across a gantry is like there's an annoying child in the room with a new drum. And some of the monster audio design is a game of "Spot the Stock Sound Effects": the little buzzy moth things, that are another thing that's way more annoying than scary; when you stomp on them, it sounds like someone threw a custard pie in a Looney Tunes short. And then there are the nurse monsters that burp when you hit them; this is something that probably would have been scarier to the Japanese, 'cos they're culturally a lot more concerned with etiquette, and if you break wind at the dinner table there, you are expected to disembowel yourself.

But the real humdinger of the bad design decisions is the entire second half of the game being a fucking escort quest! Again, "awkward gameplay to make us feel vulnerable" we'll accept until it stops making sense, and it doesn't make sense that this stupid broad won't take her fucking high heels off when ghost murderers are in pursuit. Keeping her alive might make sense to Henry if he's got a shy little chub on for her, but it doesn't make sense to me, the player, when I'm using up all my Yakults diving between her and a testicle-head monkey attack. I'd try to sprint past all the monsters, but Henry is a good boy, raised to politely stop and play out his whole "pain" animation whenever something hits him, and sometimes he's so polite, he'll fling himself, somersaulting through the air at the slightest blow; fucking Alucard from Symphony of the Night would tell him to stop milking it!

So that's Splappy Boom Blappy 4: really good story, really good concept, really shit gameplay. But it pulls off the surreal, oppressive, dingy atmosphere of Silent Hill better than any of the Western titles, and its sheer originality automatically makes it more deserving of attention than Silent Hills 2.5, 2.6, and 2.7. Sadly, it's practically abandonware; it was absent from the godawful HD Collection, and Konami, it seems, are more concerned with making Metal Gear-themed Pocky holders these days. You'll find secondhand copies kicking around, but the point of buying games is to support creators, and when you buy secondhand, you ain't supporting shit but the previous owner's meth habit.

Addenda Edit

  • Head like a hole: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • The thing is, I felt there was nothing that could convey Henry's personality quite so well as that official render where he's standing like he's got an itchy bum but doesn't want to be caught scratching it
  • A journalist named "Schreiber"? Real fucking subtle, guys
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw
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