Every once in a while I give survival horror games a whirl. I like horror so the genre seems like a natural fit for me. Every time I experiment with the genre, I'm disappointed. The free demo (Torrent at Filerush) for Silent Hill 4: The Room meant it was time to revisit my disappointment.
(I'll ignore that they're using "Room" when most Americans would say "Apartment". You're trapped in a multi-room apartment, not a single room.)
Silent Hill 4 is everything I hate about survival horror. It starts promisingly enough. I'm in first person point of view. Movement and turning are a little slow, but it feels natural enough. The inability to see my avatar ("me" in the game) makes the game more immersive; it's more "me" and less "that guy". However, after getting through an okay dream sequence and poking around my mildly creepy but mostly dull apartment, I get to the "core" gameplay as I'm sucked into another place.
Welcome back to third person. Goodbye sense of immersion.
I'm no longer personally exploring this strange place, I've controlling a little guy on screen who is definately not me.
As is par for third person survival horror games, the controls are clumsy. At the start I'm limited to close combat weapons. I'm fighting enemies who are reasonably agile. I'm lumbering about, moving slowly. Swing! Oh, the enemy is too far away. Well, move out of combat stance, close a little bit, begin to swing, and, oops, he moved past me! Repeat until angry. (Ten seconds should be enough.)
To add to the fun we get the standard arty camera angles. Oh, we're looking down from above. Now we're locked against a wall so I can get a good view of some vandalism on a vending machine. Now I'm running toward the camera, unable to see anything more than a foot in front of me. Suddenly I'm running away from the camera, jarring my sense of direction. Maybe these shots look cool, but being stuck on the edge of the screen trying to fight a monster just off screen sucks. Sometimes the game lets me force the camera back behind my avatar's back, but often it doesn't.
I'm not scared or even mildly creeped out. I'm just pissed off. I'm not fighting otherworldly monsters, I'm fighting the control system.
I like horror computer games. But why is the genre dominated with crappy survival horror? There is good stuff. Ravenholm in Half-life 2 was creepy. I've got high hopes for Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. (For those feeling retro enough, the text adventure Anchorhead is brilliant, capturing the best of Lovecraft's works. You'll need an interpreter.)