Name: Silent Hill: Homecoming
Genre: Survival Horror
Platfrom: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on PS3)
I’m a big fan of the survival horror genre. Silent Hill has always been a series I enjoyed. Hell, I even like the movie. Even though Team Silent has moved on, leaving the development of the last two Silent Hill games up to Double Helix, all the early looks I had at Homecoming had me interested. I never had a chance to play Silent Hill: Origins on the PSP, so this would be my first time delving into a game not handled by the originators of the franchise. After the shot in the arm to the genre that was Siren: Blood Curse, would the new Silent Hill be able to keep the momentum going? More importantly, would Double Helix be able to live up to what Team Silent had done in the past?
The most important part of a survival horror game is whether or not you feel like the character you’re playing may not survive. Current incarnations of Resident Evil just don’t have that feel. When you’re able to wield as many weapons as Leon or Chris can in their respective games, the threat of death doesn’t seem as palpable. I’ll admit Alex Shepherd, the lead character of SH: Homecoming, probably has a better grasp on combat than previous protagonists from this series. Just because he’s got some combos, and the ability to dodge and counter, that didn’t mean I felt any safer wielding nothing but a fireman’s axe. You really have to keep your wits about you when most of the fighting you do is with melee weapons. In fact, the only thing that bothered me about the confrontations in this game was the American Ninja-mentality used for creature AI. Having only one foe attack me at a time when I was clearly surrounded helped me live through what would have been a sure death experience a few times in my playthrough.
Team Silent was great at coming up with amazingly horrifying creatures. I think we can all admit to having several horrible nightmares devoted to Pyramid Head, and the things he would do to us, as well as our loved ones. While the big bad shows up occasionally in the new title, the rest of the baddies were envisioned by Double Helix. With the exception of the Feral, which are just dogs with no skin, most of the evil manifestations are pretty disturbing. The bosses in particular are crafted with the intent to creep you the hell out. Aside from one boss, who is sort of bland compared to the rest, I can honestly say they are pretty twisted. End boss Amnion, is probably the best of the bunch, and is well worth fighting your way through the rest of the game to face. With so much attention paid to the bizarre inhabitants, most of the other characters are left in mediocre-ville. Alex looks pretty good. Other regular humans you run across end up looking stiff and unfinished. I couldn’t tell if everyone but Alex looking pale and sickly was a story choice, or just lazy design. Since you rarely run across another living person, it stood out even more, and if not for the superb atmosphere, could have taken me out the game entirely.
Both towns in the game (Sheperd’s Glen and Silent Hill) are designed to keep you guessing what’s around that next corner. I’m sure there are those who don’t think adding extra heavy fog makes something scarier, but let me assure you it certainly makes you more worried about your survival. That’s exactly what you’re looking for in a game like this. The Otherworld is additionally horrifying. Taking the “paint peeling” style from the Silent Hill film, SH: Homecoming manages to instill the same “Oh shit,” feeling you got from the first few installments in the series every time the siren sounds. Double Helix has also smartly tapped longtime series composer Akira Yamaoka for the score, and it indeed is one of the highlights of the game. The subtle soundtrack adds to the tension, but never takes away from what is happening on screen. Careful attention was paid to not have a drastic change in the sound until after the moment intended to spook the player out actually happens. Too often in this genre the musical cues will hit before that classic terrifying moment, and completely ruin the moment. It was refreshing to have a game not do that for once.
When playing through the game, you are going to encounter some gameplay issues. The most glaring being that until the final chapter, there are humungous gaps between story points. While it is true this particular style of game is known for exploration and puzzle solving, traditionally the story is developed over the course of the entire game, not just the final hour. Up until those final moments, there’s nothing spectacular about the story at all. That’s not to say the payoff isn’t worth the build-up. Hell, if not for developments over the course of the last hour, I probably would be writing a much more disappointed review right now. Levels are designed with many unopenable doors to keep you moving in the right path. My only question is, couldn’t they come up with something other than 5 locked doors leading up to an unlocked one to spice up the level design? Each hallway, street, and landmark, are lined with doors you can’t open for no reason. It’s annoying, plain and simple. I feel it’s worth repeating that the enemy AI is also spotty in points. Twice I managed to trick a Siam into getting stuck on a wall until I killed it.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t even mentioned the story, I simply don’t want to ruin it for you. Silent Hill games have a rich mythology that must be experienced by players, and this game, while not bringing anything new or original, adds to the tapestry that came before it. The issues present in the game don’t ruin the experience, and finishing the game with a good ending (there are 5 possible) is very satisfying. On replay, there are moments you’ll be slapping your forehead at for not catching the first time through, but unless you’re trying to get one of the other endings, there’s not much else there. At the end of the day, Silent Hill: Homecoming may not be a great game, but it’s certainly enjoyable. For fans of the series, or just survival horror in general, this game certainly warrants a playthrough… after the crowded holiday season is over.