Unlike the previous installments, which were set primarily in the disturbed town of Silent Hill, this game is set in the fictional town of South Ashfield, and is focused on the character of Henry Townshend attempting to escape from his locked-down apartment. He explores a series of supernatural worlds and finds himself in conflict with an undead serial killer.
Originally intended as a spinoff from the main series, Silent Hill 4 features an altered gameplay style with first-person navigation and plot elements taken from previous installments. Upon its release the game received a mostly positive critical reaction despite mixed opinions to the deviations from the original Silent Hill style.
Silent Hill 4: The Room was originally envisioned as a spinoff of the Silent Hill series, rather than a continuation of the main story, and possesses a substantially different gameplay style than the other games. Gameplay is centered on the protagonist Henry's apartment, which is shown through a first-person perspective and contains the only save point. The other levels of the game are reached through mysterious holes formed in the apartment walls. For the first half of the game the room will also heal the player. The second half of the game has the room become possessed by various hauntings which drain Henry's health.
In the main levels of the game the player uses the usual third person perspective of the Silent Hill series. Unlike other games the player only has a limited item inventory which can be managed by dumping unneeded items in a chest in Henry's room. Silent Hill 4 emphasizes combat during gameplay, with a near-absence of complex puzzles in favor of simple item-seeking tasks. In the second half of the game Henry is accompanied by his neighbor Eileen Galvin; Eileen cannot die while she is with Henry, although as she takes damage she succumbs to possession by Walter Sullivan. The player can also equip Eileen with a weapon to have her join Henry in combat. The damage Eileen takes in the game determines whether or not she dies in the final boss fight, directly affecting the ending achieved.
Combat in Silent Hill 4 follows the pattern set by the other games with a few key differences. As with the previous three titles in the series, the player has access to a wide variety of melee weapons but only two firearms (albiet pistols). Compared to the wide array of firearms available in the previous such as the shotgun and hunting rifle, the range of weapons is rather limited. Further, Silent Hill 4's melee weapons are often breakable - a first for the series. Breakable melee weapons include such items as golf clubs and bottles and while inflicting a varied amount of damage to an opponent, they eventually break and become useless. Items which can be equipped such as talismans (which protect the player from damage from the hauntings in Henry's room) will eventualy break after a short period of use.
Another key difference in the combat system is that melee attacks may be "charged" before they are used, inflicting a greater amount of damage to an opponent than a quick attack.
One of the most significant changes is the introduction of the "Victim" monsters, the unkillable ghosts of Walter Sullivan's victims. The ghosts have the ability to hurt Henry with a damaging "aura" which can be nullified by the holy candle and saint medallions items. The same items can also exorcise the hauntings in Henry's apartment. Ghosts can also be knocked down for a long time with one of the two silver bullets and pinned permanently with a Sword of Obedience item. Unlike previous creatures of Silent Hill, Victims can in fact chase the player from area to area.
The protagonist and player character of Silent Hill 4 is Henry Townshend, a resident of the South Ashfield Heights Apartments building in the fictional town of Ashfield. Henry is an "average" man who has been described by Konami as an introvert in his late 20's. For the most part Henry navigates the game's world alone, although he eventually works with his neighbor Eileen Galvin, an NPC whose role has been unfavorably compared to Maria of Silent Hill 2. Henry also deals with the new supporting characters of Cynthia Velázquez, Andrew DeSalvo, Richard Braintree and Jasper Gein - the latter believed to be named after the serial killer Ed Gein.
The main antagonist of the game is Walter Sullivan, an infamous serial killer who is believed to have died years prior to the game's events. Sullivan appears in two forms: an undead adult enemy and a neutral child supporting character. The previous victims of Sullivan play a small role in the game as enemies, and the original Japanese official site offered backstory information on these minor characters.
Silent Hill 4: The Room uses two minor, unseen, characters from previous installments as major characters in its plot. The first, Walter Sullivan, was first referenced in a newspaper scrap in Silent Hill 2 as having killed himself shortly after killing twins Billy and Miriam Locane. These two victims also appear in the form of the "twin victim" creature Henry encounters. The second character is investigative journalist Joseph Schreiber, who was first referenced in Silent Hill 3 with a magazine article he has written condemning the "Hope House" orphanage run by The Order which the game's protagonist, Heather can discover. It is implied in the game that South Ashfield Height's superintendent Frank Sunderland is the father of Silent Hill 2 's player character James Sunderland.
Critics were, for the most part, pleased with the voice acting in the game. The graphics of the characters were also praised. In 2005 producer and composer Akira Yamaoka acknowledged the characters were, to him, "a little weak."
The game begins with the player taking control of protagonist Henry Townshend, who has been locked in his apartment in South Ashfield, room 302, for five days with no means of communication and having recurring nightmares. Shortly afterwards a large hole inexplicably forms in the wall of his bathroom, and he enters. From there he enters a network of holes leading him through a series of Silent Hill-style worlds.
Henry's first destination is an abandoned subway station where he meets a woman named Cynthia Velázquez who is convinced she is in a dream, but is soon killed by an unknown man. On his radio he hears confirmation that she is indeed dead in the real world. The exact same thing happens to the next three people Henry finds: Jasper Gein, Andrew DeSalvo and Richard Braintree, a resident in Henry's apartment complex. The cases seem similar to the deceased serial killer Walter Sullivan's M.O. and Henry finds scraps of the diary of his apartment's former occupant, journalist Joseph Schreiber, who was investigating his spree. Henry learns that Walter was in fact an orphan who had been led to believe that his biological mother was Henry's apartment, where he had been found.
It is revealed that Sullivan is in fact attempting to carry out a ritual which calls for 21 murders, the 21 Sacraments, to try and "purify" his "mother," and is in an undead state through which he can kill his victims immortally. Henry is his intended 21st victim. Midway through the game a child manifestation of Walter's "innocent" self interrupts the murder of the intended 20th victim, Eileen Galvin, and she joins Henry trying to find Schreiber. At the same time hauntings begin to inhabit Henry's apartment and its condition disintegrates. The two eventually find the ghost of Schreiber, who tells them that their only escape is to kill Sullivan.
Shortly after Henry acquires Walter's umbilical cord, a tool required to kill him for good, Eileen leaves Henry under Walter's influence. He finds her about to walk into a deathtrap with Walter, and the final boss fight ensues. After Walter is killed, there are four possible endings, determined by whether or not Eileen survived the final boss fight and on the condition of Henry's apartment. There is no UFO "joke ending," a feature included in all installments in the series as of the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming.
The main concept behind the new game structure was to take the idea of "the room" as "the safest part of your world" and make it a danger zone. The first-person perspective was included in this area of the game to give the room's navigation a personal and claustrophobic feel. The producers nonetheless retained the classic third-person perspective in all other areas to accommodate the increased emphasis on action and combat.
In an October 2004 BBC Collective article, it was noted that the game, like previous releases, refers to the film Jacob's Ladder. It was further mentioned that the protagonist Henry Townshend shared a likeness to actor Peter Krause. The architecture of the apartment and the addition of the hole was comparable to a similar non-Euclidean space in author Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves. Other nods included the novel Rosemary's Baby and "flavour from the likes of Twin Peaks and Stephen King's short story 1408." The creators of the game have acknowledged writer Ryu Murakami's book Coin Locker Babies as an inspiration on the game's premise.
Silent Hill 4: The Room was first released in Japan on June 17, 2004. The game was shipped for its subsequent North American and European releases on September 7, with pre-ordering customers receiving the soundtrack for free with the game in the former market. In 2006 the game was released again in Europe as part of The Silent Hill Collection, a boxset of the three PS2 Silent Hill games, as a tie-in with the release of the Silent Hill film. Microsoft has confirmed that their seventh generation Xbox 360 console is backward compatible with the game's Xbox port.
Silent Hill 4 is currently the most recent Silent Hill console title developed by Konami. No sequels to the game were released until 2007, when the Climax Group-produced prequel game Silent Hill: Origins was released for the PlayStation Portable and Playstation 2. A chronological sequel, Silent Hill Homecoming has also been released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, produced by The Collective.
The soundtrack for Silent Hill 4: The Room was released alongside the game in 2004, composed by Akira Yamaoka with vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Joe Romersa. The Japanese version featured a second disk containing music by series composer Akira Yamaoka played along to the reading of traditional Japanese stories. The American version contained 13 exclusive tracks and remixes.
A remix of the song "Your Rain" from the game's soundtrack was used on Konami's Dance Dance Revolution EXTREME. Several tracks from the game were also featured in the Silent Hill Experience promotional UMD.
The Xbox and PS2 versions of the game received an "impressive" 8.0 rating from IGN reviewer Douglass C. Perry. Perry described it as "neither brilliant nor terrible," and was displeased by the lack of boss fights and complicated puzzles. The article expressed the author's mixed feelings towards the element of "the room", and while Perry noted that the room "itself is a good idea", he was displeased by the inconvenience of constantly having to return there. His closing comments also noted another problem: "While all the classic touches that have become so familiar and so great in the series have returned, they have simultaneously become cliché."
Kristan Reed, a reviewer for Eurogamer, expressed disappointment with the degree to which the game had been geared as a combat game with an absence of standard Silent Hill puzzles. He was nevertheless pleased with the game's plot, graphics, and audio and gave the game a 7/10 rating for the PS2, and a 6/10 for the Xbox version. GameSpot gave both the PS2 and Xbox ports 7.9 ratings, concluding with "While not all of the changes made necessarily serve to enhance the series, the dark, gripping storytelling is what allows this game its Silent Hill credentials."
The PC ports of the game received lower ratings than the console versions. IGN reviewer Perry complained about "the blurriest textures we've seen in years and some serious graphical glitches" and "extremely low mouse sensitivity" inhibiting gameplay, giving it a comparatively low 6.9 rating. GameSpot's review of the PC version was slightly lower (7.6) than the console version, praising the graphics as having "been optimized well for the PC" but acknowledging "keyboard and mouse controls just don't fare that well in an environment of constantly shifting perspective views that can make navigation frustrating.