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Silent Hill 4 Preview


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Even though Konami has never addressed or even referenced H.P. Lovecraft by name, the developers at Konami have a deep understanding of the kind of horror, the chilling, unexplainable, supernatural sense of evil that comprises so much of the author's work. And it makes up all of the content in the ongoing Silent Hill series, now on its fourth iteration and due for Xbox and PlayStation 2 this fall.


The thing about Silent Hill is that it's not an arcade game in the traditional sense. You can't really enjoy it in the middle of the day with a bunch of friends over beers. More like a bat or coyote (dead and vicious of course); it comes out at night. You really should play it in a dark room, and it's honestly best played alone -- for the complete fight factor.

Silent Hill 4 The Room doesn't break drastically from the rest of the series. But it does introduce numerous changes, several improvements, and of course it brings a new lead character and an entirely new storyline to the table. You're Henry Townsend, a 20-something guy who lives in Ashfield, just outside of Silent Hill. One day, he awakes to heavy chains on the inside of his apartment door. While in the room, Henry is shown from the first-person perspective, a new wrinkle for the series, and for days he desperately tries to get out, to no avail. Strangely, there is a peep hole that looks into Eileen Galvin, his neighbor's room. Finally, Henry walks into his bathroom where a giant hole appears. A huge black hole. His only way out, he climbs in and enters the alternate reality of Silent Hill.

The demo disc we played today is from E3, but we were able to explore it with a little more time (and a little less E3 noise and confusion). The demo consists of three partial locales, Water Prison, Forest, and Building. First some basics. The menu is totally revamped, appearing as a horizontal list of icons at the bottom of the screen. Using it players can switch to any of their weapons on the fly. Players can switch weapons, reload their guns, and mix items all in realtime. So in short, good bye Resident Evil. Press a button and it comes up, scroll through using the Dpad, and then press the same button to select an item. Another interesting new change is how health is handled. You've got a health meter, indicating how much health you have remaining, rather than the more intuitive, less revealing method from previous games. You can hit Triangle (on PS2) or Y (Xbox) to instantly see the game map. The weapon system has been modified; you'll be unable to carry as many weapons as you'd like.

If you've played any of the Silent Hill games before, you'll be familiar with this combat system. By pressing the right shoulder button (or right trigger on Xbox) and a face button, you can initiate attack. Henry stands and shoots the same way, with a pivot foot and without being able to move. The weapon list includes pick axes and special swords (that can only be used to repel and slow down ghosts). Again, if you've ever played Silent Hill before, you'll know that avoiding enemies is often smarter and more resourceful than attacking them.

In the past, chasing down all of the enemies was a waste of bullets and health. The introduction of ghosts appears to be a solution. Ghosts attack using "ghostly essence," thus, if you get close enough to one, you'll incur minor bit. To counter them, Konami's new swords, The Sword of Obedience and The Sword of Despair, give players the ability to knock them down and then pin them to the ground. They'll eventually get up, but hopefully, it's long after you've left. Torches become interesting and useful items. While they can't be used as weapons on regular enemies, they help Henry look into deep wells. They light up rooms to ward off ghosts. And best of all, they can light ghosts on fire. Later in the game Henry collects special silver bullets that do indeed finally kill off ghosts.

Henry shouldn't be as confused as the other Silent Hill lead characters. Why? He's at least aware that he's in two different worlds. Using a series of the ever-available portal worm holes, Henry can return to his room to travel back and forth between his apartment and… this other place. When he's in "Silent Hill," the camera system sees Henry from the same innovative third-person camera from Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3. While in his room, the camera switches to a first-person perspective of Henry. Konami has added new angles to provide what are hopefully more cinematically emotional angles. You've got several top-down, isometric angles in narrow corridors and alleyways providing a sense of separation and fear. Henry's room is also a place or worry, not safety, as the game continues. Each time he returns, it shows more decay. Metal rusts. Walls crumble. Corrosion appears. In general, every inch of his house and his objects begin to collapse, decay or in some bizarre fashion cease to exist.

In this fourth version, both new and old ideas are integrated seamlessly. The larger environments require more thoroughly exploration. The excellent high quality puzzles will of course return (and players can select their puzzle difficulty level), and as usual, a massive rogues gallery -- bigger than in any previous Silent Hill will appear. This surreal collection of brutally pieced together creatures and humanoid things continues to be unexplainable. You've got two baby-headed creatures that walk around on their two hands; a variety of ghosts that issue out of walls, the return of vicious dogs that gang up and attack you (in the demo they're far more difficult and harsh to fight than in previous games); huge nasty moths, and even muses. Then there are the little creatures. They're dozens of slugs that coat the floor. Several difficult-to-describe humanoid creatures appear to, using hand weapons to attack.

Each of the three levels in this demo disc (Water Prison, Forest) is unique to the series. The Water Prison holds indoor and outdoor segments. Henry ascends up a series of staircases outside the tower itself, and finally reaching a switch to flood the section below, he confronts a huge enemy boss. This is where the demo ends, unfortunately. The Forest world is dark with wisps of fog floating through it (not the suffocating amount from Silent Hill 2). The ground comprises dirt paths, pine trees, small huts, barn sheds, wells and wooden fences. The Building is the least impressive of the three. But still, the things that happen in it are worthy of note. Walking into one room with base relief ghosts pushing part way through the walls but still trapped in them, Henry must pace himself to avoid their deadly swipes. If you run through this section, their hands smack him so hard he tumbles to the ground. If he walks, he makes it fine.

Reminiscent of Silent Hill 2, players have a NPC companion. Eileen, like Maria before her, is your buddy as it were, and she follows you through some of the game. Something happens to her as you progress, something bad. She wears a short red skirt and she initially appears with small scratches and cuts on her arms and back. It's hardly noticeable. But as you progress, her wounds get much worse, as if she were getting a case of the Chicken Pox while also being beaten with a rake. It's painful to see hr each time, and of course, disturbing. She'll soon begin to limp, and her injury leads to something, perhaps her transformation into a hellish creature. We're not entirely sure, but it's just another part of Konami's attempt to attack your senses. Eileen can also fight. In the Forest level, you hand her a chain, with which she can attack any enemy.

Due this fall, Silent Hill 4 The Room should hit Xbox and PlayStation 2 simultaneously, followed by a PC version later on. Despite digging deeper into this relatively short version, we weren't able to unveil anything more significant than before. But we did get a hint of the new changes, and there was certainly a different feeling provided by the new characters, port holes, and the introduction of ghosts. Point black, no games are as surreal and freaky as this one (though perhaps the Fatal Frame series comes closest). Stay tuned for more hideously frightening Silent Hill 4 action as the summer progresses.
Source:IGN.com
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