Monday, March 27, 2006
Silent Hill 4: The Room
For the past three days I have been playing the PS2 game Silent Hill 4: The Room. One of the great things about this series is that once you begin the game and learn what the premise is, you're hooked. You can't quit the game before you've finished it. Sure, you might stop playing the game for a few days, or weeks, or even months. That happened to me with Silent Hill 2. I quit it for a few months, for some reason. Oh yeah, that's right, I started playing it with somebody else (not a good idea - these games are best played alone) but they only came over once a week, then they missed a week, then before I knew it I hadn't played it in months. But then I saw it on the shelf one day and remembered the story. A man receives a letter from his wife asking him to come and meet her in Silent Hill, a lakeside holiday town where they spent some of their best times together. The only thing is, his wife died three years ago. How could anybody not feel an irresistable urge to go back to the game and finish it and find out once and for all what the heck was going on there? Well, I couldn't, so I did, and that was about a month ago.
So now I am playing Silent Hill 4 (and no, I haven't played SH1 or SH3 because 1 is very hard to find and the game store's computer said they had a used copy of SH3 but they couldn't find it, but it doesn't matter anyway because the sequels don't follow on from one another, and each one has different characters anyway).
Well, what is this SH4: The Room all about then?
The game's *hero* is Henry Townshend. For the last two years Henry has been living in apartment 302 of South Ashfield Heights, in Ashfield, a neighbouring town of Silent Hill. He is a quiet, introverted man who enjoys photography, and has lived a normal life up until five days ago when he started having the same recurring dream every night. Not so strange, eh? Well, not only that, but for the last five days Henry has not been able to leave his apartment because his door is barred with big chains, criss-crossed back and forth the entire length. When he goes up to the door's peephole and sees somebody outside in the hall, it doesn't matter if he screams and bangs on the door, the people outside can't hear anything. (Are you getting the creeps yet?) Then on the sixth day he hears some scraping sounds coming from his bathroom and when he opens the door to investigate he finds a big hole in the wall, but nobody there, although indistinct voices are coming from the hole. And when I say "he" now, I really mean "you", because now YOU are playing Henry Townshend and are moving around your apartment in a first-person view. If you want to test your nerves, you play this game with the lights out and either headphones or the stereo turned up loud. Believe me, it is truly chilling, and this is nothing compared to what happens later. You travel through the tunnel in your bathroom and emerge in different 'worlds'. One of those worlds is an apartment building unnervingly similar to your own, but the walls seem to be covered in blood, and big chunks of the carpet are missing, showing steel mesh flooring so you can see through to the floor below. You hear a horrible sound coming from around the corner. It sounds like some kind of animal, although none you recognise. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure - it means you harm. You know it in your bones. It can smell you, and it's coming for you. And then you see it turn the corner. It's a big dog, only it's been skinned, and it has a tongue that hangs down, and drags along the floor. The goddam tongue is about three feet long! Lucky you have your rusty axe. Phew! You might just make it out of here alive (although it seems unlikely).
Another chilling aspect is that if you do make it out of those sickening, terrifying bizarro worlds, through a red portal back to your apartment, you'll notice something about your apartment. Are the walls getting dirtier? What's going on here? Is it your imagination? No, they definitely didn't look like that last time you were here.
These Silent Hill games are like no other in the *survival horror* genre. Resident Evil might have the occasional scary moment when a zombie jumps out in front of you, but the Silent Hill games quickly produce a near-suffocating sense of extreme unease, punctuated by frequent surges of sick terror, that rarely let up. The game's designers know that it's the things you hear but can't see that can be most effective in bringing your coldest and most paralysing fears to the surface. And then you have the creatures. These things will haunt your nightmares. The way they move, the awful sounds they make...
It seems that it was a very long time ago that a movie made me feel such dread fear and terror, but the Silent Hill games do that easily. I've even felt strong apprehension to turn the machine on to continue playing, especially late at night. If you call yourself a horror fan, but haven't played one of these games, then I guarantee that Silent Hill will make you feel things you haven't felt in a long, long time.
P.S. Easily the biggest and greatest movie news I heard this year is that a Silent Hill movie has been made and it opens in Sydney on April 27. Yeah! Woo!