Down the rabbit hole.
You wake up from a nightmare. The ceiling fan spins lazily over your bed; slowly, the world comes into focus. Confused at first, you gradually piece bits of it together. You've been trapped in your apartment for five days now. Through the sealed windows you can watch the distant street outside, commuters driving to work or descending into the subway. Occasionally, you glimpse your neighbors as they walk by their windows in the adjacent building. Despite the bleak vision, your apartment seems mostly normal. Dishes are piled by the sink, a kettle waits for you to make some coffee. The chairs look comfy enough and there's even a TV in the corner.
But everything changes when you get to the door and realize at least one of the reasons you can't leave your apartment. You find the door covered in chains, locked from the inside, with a hastily scrawled message: "Don't go out! Walter." Maybe you haven't really awakened from the nightmare after all.
Unfortunately for you, Silent Hill 4: The Room places you squarely in the deranged world of Henry Townshend, and Henry's life is currently a decidedly unhappy place. While full of disgusting monsters and creepy settings, Silent Hill 4 departs from the first three by taking the game out of the town of Silent Hill. While Henry has visited Silent Hill, he and his apartment are actually in the nearby city of South Ashford.
Your life inside the apartment (and you'll be there a lot) is played out in first-person, allowing you to look around and examine all of your belongings. However, you'll quickly discover a mysterious hole in your bathroom. Crawl through it and, just like Alice, you enter another world, albeit filled with more horror than wonder.
Here the game switches to traditional Silent Hill gameplay. You take control of Henry from a third-person perspective as you run him through the dangerous otherworlds. The first place you'll explore is a demonic subway station, but your apartment's rabbit hole changes. You'll end up in a haunted lakeside forest, a very strange prison tower, and other evil locations.
During your excursions, you'll have to fight or run away from an assortment of supernatural bad guys. You'll want to beat down the zombie hyenas because they're faster than you, while the floating zombie ghosts are nearly unstoppable and are better left watching you disappear in the distance. The combat is a little sluggish (as it always has been) and the assortment of weapons is pretty limited, but the Silent Hill series, with its total lack of special agents, has always been much more about horror than combat.
Once you've reached a particular place or picked up a particular object or killed a particular creature (you won't know exactly when), the screen will fade to black'and then you wake up again, back in apartment 302. Sometimes little things have changed in your room, and your apartment slowly degrades into an increasingly horrible place as the game progresses.
However, most of the time you'll return to your apartment via the otherworld's many rabbit holes. Since your living room is the only place in the game where you can manage your limited inventory or save your game, you'll spend a great deal of time there. If you want to pick up the blue key but your inventory is full, you'll have to backtrack all the way to your apartment to drop some stuff off first. It can be frustrating. In essence, your apartment becomes the game's hub, so Silent Hill 4 feels more linear and less exploratory than previous versions.
But it's actually more than a hub - your apartment is your only link to the real world outside. Even though you cannot leave, you'll notice small events in South Ashford, and you can spy on the town through the little peephole in the door. You'll even discover a peephole chipped in the wall looking into your neighbor Eileen's apartment so you can watch her put away the groceries or watch TV.
This is my favorite part of The Room. At first, the world outside room 302 seems so normal, it makes you question Henry's sanity. Are these strange otherworlds real, or are they just the nightmares of some lunatic shut-in who chained up his own door? It effectively blurs the line between reality and delusion, leading to a singularly creepy game.
At least in Henry's world there's plenty to look at. The graphics are excellent and the environments are full of little details, all of which are visible since the traditionally thick Silent Hill fog is gone. Whether they run, float, shamble, or crawl out of the floor, all the gross monstrosities are well-animated. Loading times are mercifully short, especially when compared to the recent survival horror-fest Resident Evil: Outbreak. Unsurprisingly, the Xbox version is a bit cleaner and sharper than the PS2 and has some more detailed textures. It's a noticeable difference, but not a big deal.
The sound is good, too, suitably edgy, creepy and grating. It just makes you nervous. There's very little music in Silent Hill 4, so other than the occasional theme fade-in, it's all about the environmental noise. On the other hand, the voice acting is mediocre. It's not laughably bad like many other horror titles, but considering all the disgusting, dangerous, scary stuff that's happening to these people, they seem pretty calm about it all.
By their very nature, survival horror games are pretty limited in replay value. Still, The Room packs four different endings depending on how well you play as well as a few unlockable weapons and outfits. That should entice some people to play through again, but it's not a major incentive.
Though it follows the same old formula pretty closely, Silent Hill 4: The Room is a worthy sequel. The contrast between your deranged nightmare apartment and the seemingly normal world outside gives it an especially tense feeling of psychological terror and uncertainty. I wouldn't mind being locked in my apartment for the weekend with Silent Hill 4.