Reviewed: November 16, 2008
Released: September 30, 2008
Long ago in the era of the first PlayStation Konami released a game was released by the name of Silent Hill. It quickly established itself as a premiere survival horror title with deep psychological thrills. Team Silent was established after the success and three other sequels were made on the PS2. Each of the games kept the overarching theme of darkness and light and complete loneliness. The games had a tendency of getting under your skin making you truly fear what was coming next. The series stood head and shoulders a lot of other games in the genre and while not all critically acclaimed titles, they were at least unique.
Team Silent broke up some time ago and now new developers have decided to shoulder the burden and continue the series. Two very important things have happened to Silent Hill since its last release on the PS2 by the old Konami team. A sequel was made for the PSP and PS2 titled Silent Hill: Origins, and a Hollywood movie simply titled Silent Hill. These are both important because they seem to be the only real inspiration for Silent Hill: Homecoming.
The story is strewn together in the typical Silent Hill fashion with vague points surrounding a loved one. In this case the Alex Shepard’s little brother Joshua has disappeared from your hometown and its up to you to get him back. The story meanders through several events and characters but remains fairly uninteresting most of the time. The characters are all fairly unimaginative and it’s impossible to get attached to any of them.
This is always an odd subject with survival horror titles. In the early years of their creation the genre has always had clunky and awkward movement and firing. It can be argued though that this was one of the strong points of their popularity. If the game was easy to play then the prospect of a zombie or unspeakable horror advancing on you was all the more terrifying. Games have evolved since then though and so many of the survival horror titles found today have adapted their play style.
Silent Hill: Homecoming ditches the old fixed camera and goes for an over the shoulder camera angle very similar to Resident Evil 4. The combat system differs though mostly in the fact that they discarded most of the gunplay and exchanged it for melee combat. This keeps true to the series with monsters usually being so close that you can spit on them.
The melee weapons come in three primary weight classes, light, medium, and heavy, and the weapons have a feel in combat that feels realistic. Quick weapons are excellent for keeping up with attacks on a foe, and heavy does a lot of damage but it is easy to be hit because your attacks are so slow. This makes weapon choice in battles very important and every melee weapon has the ability to open new areas as a tool.
The guns return again but now with the over the shoulder aiming they have a far less clunky feel to them. You are capable of pinpoint accuracy now however useful that may be. Almost all of the enemies have equivalent headshots but because of erratic movement and strange trigger characteristics it is near impossible to hit in specific locations. There is also a shortage of ammo for your weapons but it makes the decisions to use your guns very tactical, very much in the theme in survival horror.
While the guns and weapons manage to keep the formula of a survival horror game, a new mechanic is thrown in as well, the dodge. By tapping the circle button in combat your character makes a lunge in a certain direction to avoid being hit, or he will block a blow with his current weapon. You can then counterattack if you’re holding a melee weapon to set up some easy blows.
The game starts to break down when fighting with an enemy turns into a two button affair of dodging and attacking making some of the fights extremely easy. It’s almost as if the developers knew that this mechanic could break the game though, so at random times the dodge button simply will not work. The logic is so fuzzy on the system that you can never tell if you’re doing extremely well or extremely bad because the game just won’t agree with what you’re trying to do.
The rest of the gameplay involves managing healing items and save points, which are few and far between, as they should be, and solving puzzles. Almost all of the puzzles are simple affairs that are solved almost as soon as they’re started, while a couple others just seemed to be solved by dumb luck. You never feel a sense of accomplishment either way because there is so little effort involved in them.
One of the stronger points of Silent Hill: Homecoming is in its visual presentation. The monsters all look wonderful with smooth skin and evil looking weapons. The monsters seem to have gotten the most of the attention in the game and a lot of effort was made to make them come alive. Many of them have realistic movements and in combat they take visible damage. Most of the designs though are ripped off of Silent Hill 2 or the movie leading to some glaring moments of déjà vu.
The human models on the other hand seemed to be an afterthought. The females all have hair that looks like it came from a LEGO set, while the protagonist has a very odd look to him that never seems to appear right. There are a few moments where he’s screaming in agony with a close up of his face and it just looks amusing. Most of the characters also have issues with shadows where any shadow cast on them or by something on them creates jagged lines on the border. Seeing the human models in the cut scenes breaks almost any sense of immersion that the game has sadly.
The jolt wouldn’t be as jarring if it wasn’t for the intense scene around you. All of the levels in towns and houses have a desolate and ruined look to them. The dark world is no slouch either with an overarching industrial theme. Chains and machinery dot the levels with bits of human flesh thrown in to really pound the theme home. They’re not without their own hitches though. The game tries to make everything a little blurry around you, but someone decided that the main character and special objects should always be in focus. If anything gets between the camera and your character it suddenly snaps into a sharp focus as if it was instantly PhotoShopped out of its blur. The game looks great but there are several flaws still in its presentation.
If there is one thing that Silent Hill: Homecoming excels in it would be the music and noises. The music has a constant haunting melody that permeates through each level. At times when battles are intense or you’re moving through a particularly nasty area the music changes to a pounding industrial sound to get your heart racing. The score is wonderful in the game.
Possibly the only thing that could top the music is the ambient noises. Vague sounds of screams in the distance or just a pounding thrum of something resembling a heartbeat keep your ears alert at all times. Some of the monsters have distinct gaits that you can hear creeping up on you and some of the objects in the world have their own noises. By far one of the most disturbing is a layer of flesh you need to slice with your knife to pass through. After cut the flesh makes a strange sucking and gurgling noise that absolutely haunts you.
Most of the active sounds are on par. The monsters have distinct noises to help set you on edge and the weapons all have satisfying thunks, cracks, and bangs. The dialogue is forced at times with very little emotion being carried through their voices. All of the voice actors did admirable jobs though and it is by no means intolerable.
As a survival horror game, Silent Hill: Homecoming stands only with a single player mode. There is no multiplayer and there is little promise of downloadable content. The story is hardly one worth going out of your way to experience and the gameplay is far too fickle to enjoy for very long. Silent Hill: Homecoming is simply not a good value. The only incentive to play again is to unlock a few items, or to see the multiple endings. Even then this game is probably a rental at best.
Silent Hill: Homecoming cannot really be considered a sequel to the series, the game feels more like a movie tie-in. The Nurse and Pyramid Head monsters were both transplanted directly from the movie, and the industrial look of the dark world was really only ever found in the movie too. Even the transition from dark to light, while interesting as an interpretation for the movie, is taken directly from Hollywood. There’s little excuse for such a lack of inspiration because the source material is massive and almost completely open-ended.
The things that made Silent Hill amazing were the little touches. The world around your character in the old series was shaped by events that unfolded around them. Many of the strange moments were accepted because it made sense in the character’s minds somehow. Homecoming lacks that creative design though, so instead you’re simply experiencing the game through a person that just accepts that the world has died around them and that bodies should be littering the streets around them.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is an extremely shallow game. The presentation is there with the graphics and sound dripping you deep into the world. The game lacks the other things that make a title great. The story is dull and rather drawn out. The gameplay is frustrating and unresponsive at times. Overall there is a total lack of imagination in many areas. Ironically this isn’t far from how many reviews for Hollywood movies sound. The game just isn’t really scary. Nothing gets under your skin, and there aren’t really any surprises after the first hour or so of play. The game was a good effort but a lot more could have been done.