Have you, or anyone you know actually soiled themselves in fear in the past? Personally I haven't, and I don't know anyone who has. I guess it must happen, because I've heard the action referred to enough. But even if I accept that it happens to some people, I'm rather bemused when I try and figure out what evolutionary mechanic caused that particular feature to be built into the human makeup. Self defence? It would make an interesting weapon for Harry, the protagonist of Silent Hill 4: The Room, although I can hardly see it being effective against legions of bizarre nightmare monsters that he encounters - they'd probably enjoy it.
Silent Hill 4 is a 3D adventure/action game that excels in neither department, but gets away with it thanks to clever artistic direction – clever enough that it might well see off every other game ever created in terms of atmosphere. You play Harry Townsend, some poor bastard that one day wakes up from an odd dream and finds his door chained from the inside and outside, all his windows jammed fast, and, shortly thereafter, a hole in his bathroom that seems to lead to an alternate dimension. So, you make Harry explore the areas that the hole takes you to and from, fight/avoid the monsters in the same areas, and solve a few puzzles of the 'find item X to get past point Y' type (as well as a few more complex puzzles), all in order to help him find out what is happening and attempt to get him back to normality…
Harry’s apartment acts as a point to rest and save at in the game, with regular opportunities for Harry to return to it through the hole in his bathroom wall via holes found around the alternate dimensions. The story certainly follows some of the Silent Hill lineage, but unlike Silent Hill 3, you don't really need to know the back story to be able to enjoy the game, other than to know that Silent Hill is a pretty odd place and it seems to affect all its visitors in sinister ways. As you play you will come into contact with other characters, seemingly experiencing the same nightmare that Harry is, and it's the interaction with them that generally provides the most interesting points in the game.
Silent Hill 4: The Room comes off as 75% art house horror movie and 25% game. Why do I say this? Well, exploring is a case of following all the various paths until you come across something and use the right item with it (this formula had had its day 3 or 4 years ago), fighting is simplistic, and the few puzzles are, err, few, making the gaming part of the experience exceedingly lightweight. On the other hand, the setting of the game inspires a real sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, and the direction of the cut scenes, use of soundtrack, and disturbingly unique monster design transform it into a psychological experience (given the right surroundings you understand – playing it on a 14” telly with the sound off in a busy office will definitely not give you the right atmosphere). The monster and level designs are really set off by the excellent graphics on show – disgusting, grimy, bloody textures and some funky graphics filters give the game a look all of its own.
It would be hard to imagine wanting to play through the game again after your first run through, even though most people will take less than 20 hours to complete. But then, I really don't see this game as one for the hardcore gamers out there that want something new and different. The relative lack of skill, lateral thinking and overall commitment required to complete the game smacks of a game that invites the player to just enjoy the experience of being part of the game, rather than having to master the game itself - which is no bad thing. It could, however, do a little more to entertain the player. But then, maybe it's our unoccupied mind that makes those things that go bump in the night so much more worrying.