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Original Xbox Download  Silent Hill 4: The Room Preview Original Xbox Downloads

Silent Hill 4: The Room Preview

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Konami's latest take on survival horror arrived to Japan yesterday, a few months prior to its stateside release. We turned the lights down, turned the volume up and sat back for what was sure to be an unsettling night of gaming.

And sure enough, it was just that. In its first couple of hours, Silent Hill 4: The Room provides enough creepy moments to disturb even those who think they've seen it all on the horror gaming screen. It's not scary -- at least not so far; it's just strange, gruesome and chilling enough that we've been unable to take our eyes off it. Silent Hill has always been like this, though. Not that we'd call Silent Hill 4 an "orthodox" entry in the series in any way. From the way the story unfolds to the way the game is laid out, even after our limited play time it seems clear that the creative forces behind the title were not restricted by this being the fourth entry in a long-running series.

Your troubling adventures as Henry Townshend begin in a dream sequence. Henry pictures himself in an old, rusty and blood-filled version of his apartment. Things are not where they used to be, and Henry can't open his windows or front door. Suddenly, a writhing, struggling creature emerges from the connecting wall to Eileen Galvin's next door apartment. Henry wakes up at this point.

Henry reveals that he's been trapped in his apartment for five days. His front door has been chained shut with a message telling -- perhaps cautioning -- him to not go outside. His phone line and television cables have been cut and his windows are indeed sealed shut.

Henry's only connection to the outside world is through occasional radio broadcasts, sounds that he hears from the street and Eileen's room, and an occasional incoming phone call. Henry can also look outside his windows, peeping into apartments opposite his and to the busy street down below. As his first sight of the morning, Henry sees what appears to be a prostitute entering the nearby subway entrance.

Henry's prison is "The Room" mentioned in the game's title, and as you play, strange things begin to happen to the room. A peephole appears in the family room, giving you a view into Eileen's room. Of greater significance is a hole which appears in the bathroom wall. Enter this hole and Henry is lead to an alternate "dream" area -- the world of Silent Hill.

There's a difference in gameplay when you're in Henry's apartment and when you're in one of the Silent Hill areas. While in the apartment, you view the action from a first person perspective complete with first person-style controls. The main action at your disposal in these sequences is to look at things. You can also exchange items with an item box, save your progress and even solve little puzzles that help you progress through the game.

Henry's apartment is a sort of hub connecting areas of the alternate Silent Hill world together. Our first trip into the hole in the bathroom wall led us down a tall flight of stairs and into an empty subway station, complete with abandoned, wrecked subway cars. From this area, we were able to travel back to our apartment by finding similar portal holes located here and there. Your exit point from the world of Silent Hill is always the bathroom wall of your apartment. Your entry point into the world of Silent Hill, once you've passed through the bathroom portal, is any number of locations, depending on where you've advanced in the story.

When in the Silent Hill world, gameplay is in third person and resembles the type of gameplay you've come to expect of the series. Puzzles to solve, grotesque zombieish things to shoot with guns and pound with crowbars and other weapons -- it's all in here, with perhaps a greater emphasis on action this time around.

There are some nice changes to the bread and butter survival-horror gameplay. First and foremost is the complete elimination of the dreaded menu screen. Item selection and the equipping of weapons is done by scrolling through an inventory list that appears at the bottom of the screen. This can be done with the D-pad without stoppage of gameplay, and successfully allows for fast item use and weapon switching.

Henry has many weapons available to him, more than in other entries in the series, it seems. He begins with a standard crowbar weapon, gaining a golf club, a bottle of alcohol (which breaks to give an even more powerful weapon) and a pistol rather quickly. His strongest weapon, though, is actually his foot -- or, rather, a sturdy pounding from his foot to a knocked-out zombie's crotch. Outside of this, we use the crowbar to great effectiveness thanks to a new combo meter that allows for precisely timed combos that can send multiple zombies flying.

So far, using a gun (or anything with limited ammo) has proved wasteful, as zombies don't actually die. No matter how much of a pounding you give them, zombies in Silent Hill 4 come back to haunt you if left alone for just a few seconds. Expect to be stalked by the same creatures no matter where you go.

Invincible zombies were featured in SCE's spooky Siren from last year. Beyond this, Silent Hill 4 borrows one more idea from Siren. Henry, and in turn the player, can sense approaching zombies. When a zombie is in the area, the screen flashes red momentarily and begins to takes on redder hues as Henry grabs his head as if in pain. And if these visual clues aren't enough, a change in music to more disturbing themes along with a slight rumbling of the controller guarantees that evil is approaching.

Survivial-horror gameplay aside, we've so far been drawn into Silent Hill 4 for the interesting connections between the Silent Hill world and Henry's apartment. The two worlds are most definitely connected beyond just the bathroom portal, as you'll figure out early on in the game. In the first hour alone, we've had to return to the apartment numerous times in order to progress in the alternate Silent Hill world, either by looking outside the apartment or reading a note that's managed to slide in from under the door. We once even got a phone call, which took us away from peeping on Eileen. We're interested in seeing how the Silent Hill 4 story unfolds, and how everything is connected together in the end.

The visual impact of the world and its creatures has always been enough to hold players' interests in Silent Hill games, and Silent Hill 4 continues the tradition. Environments do away with the fog that limited your view in previous entries, instead relying on a number of effects to provide a realistically creepy look. Camera movement during gameplay and visual affects like sepia tones and lines running through the picture give the game the look of a horror film -- an old, aging horror film, but a horror film none-the-less.

From basic enemies like mutant dogs to giant wasps, designs for all creatures in the game are always off from the norm. The main set of zombies we've encountered so far emerge from walls and float a few feet off the ground. In one section, the zombies emerge from walls as you ride a lengthy escalator, only to strike you, then rescind back into the wall. Stranger creatures await, if the game's introduction sequence (viewable in our new movies on the video page for this game) is any indication.

Those who can't wait until September to pick up the full American version of this game will be pleased to learn that Konami has included a full English option in the Japanese version. All the voices are, of course, in English from the start, but selecting "English" from the main menu makes all messages English as well. At last, you can fulfill your dream of playing a full English version of a big import title months in advance.

Be careful, though, as with a game as creepy as Silent Hill 4, playing may actually be closer to a nightmare.

Source: IGN.com
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