October 2008; I remember it being a brisk and cloudy time of year. Fallout 3 and LittleBigPlanetwere just around the corner; and, at the time, I needed something to keep me busy until I was blowing away irridated freaks from the scope of my bolt action rifle. With the little money I had left from washing dishes and bussing tables at a local pub the previous summer, I decided to spend the money on one of two games. The first choice seemed modest enough: a Resident Evil 4 style shooter set in the cold vastness of space. The other was Silent Hill: Homecoming.
Now, being a Silent Hill fan since the third installment, the choice seemed rather obvious. I didn't read online reviews at the time; since the whole concept of basing your purchase on the opinion of some renowned critic seemed "conformist" and "gay" to a confused, misanthropic and generally unlikable fifteen year old private school brat. It wasn't the right move. I could see the trepidation on the store employee's face as I handed him a copy of Homecoming from the shelf; his expression mirroring the stone-faced protagonist's on the front cover. After a small, stilted conversation about the survival horror genre in general, he rang my purchase and I was on my way. I went home, wedged the sucker into my PS3 and started playing.
My immediate impressions were that of familiarity and delight:"Press START button to begin" jittered under the game logo in white lettering as the background showcased a gloomy, fog-ridden town accomponied by an orchestral score no doubt coming from the series' musical auteur Akira Yamaoka. Upon choosing the "Normal" difficulty (the other option being "Hard"); the game segues into a first person view of a man strapped into a hospital stretcher as he's being pushed down a disturbingly dark corridor to the ambient sounds of air sirens and gunfire (a la Jacob's Ladder). Throughout this scene, the subdued man mightily asks questions such as: "What's going on here?!" and "Where are you taking me?!" as what looks like children are being torturted and mutilated in the passing rooms. The nurse, who is wearing blood spotted scrubs silently wheels the man into a room that eerily resembles an ER, leaving him there alone.
From this point, you control Alex Shepherd, a young ex-soldier recently discharched from the service upon recieving a wound in action. Alex then promptly returns home to find his hometown and family in a state of disarray. Alex's brother Josh; their father as well as the majority of the children in Shepherd's Glen are missing, and it's up to Alex to find them; as well as link the events surrounding the town of Silent Hill to Alex's elusive past.
Given his experience, Alex is very adaptable in combat; being able to dodge and counter enemy attacks in a fashion that is nearly seamless. With an array of weapons at his disposal, Alex can: hack, slash, shoot and pummel the deformed abominations that wander the desolate streets of Shepherd's Glen and Silent Hill. Gone is the fixed cameras angles and the "clunky" controls of installments past; giving way to an over-the-shoulder and action-oriented experience that was unknown to the series until then. The enviroment overall is more interactive, with Alex being able hop over ledges and break down doorways like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Some obstacles must be overcome at later points in the game however; such as a doorway introduced early in the game that can only be opened by using a ceremonial device which isn't acquired until the 60% mark.
Speaking of environment, this is where Homecoming stays the most true to the previous installments (perhaps to the point where it becomes more a hinderance rather than an addition). Expect to see familiar (some say overused) locals such as: hospitals, sewers, hotels, clinics and chapels in both their frightening fog and nightmarish Otherworld iterations. A few interesting new ones have been introduced however, namely a cemetary, a junk yard and Alex's own humble aboad; but none of which are intersting enough to add anything new and exciting.
A lot has been taken verbatim from the 2006 film as well; which in turn had been greatly influenced by the series magnum opus Silent Hill 2; namely: the busty demonic nurses, the armless creatures which blast a toxic substance out of their chests and (wait for it) Pyramid Head himself who shows up for nothing other then blantant fan service. The town of Silent Hill itself has a much more industrial feel to it; which, again beckons back to the film.
Homecoming has it's share of originality from the rest of the series however. The boss battles are sometimes frustrating, but offer a new sort of challenge which is superior to the circle strafing approach of installments past. Apart from the aforementioned monsters related to the movie, the other horrors that lurk in the fog are inspired and creepy; resembling sick contornists and representing the warped mind of our protagonist. There's one type of monster that has a bladed pendelum for a head. This is Silent Hill after all.
Unfortunately, the story is where Homecoming falls short. I think anybody who has played any given Silent Hill game in the past will be able to piece fully what's going on hours before the game comes to it's unsatisfactory conclusion. The script has a more polished feel to it however, and the voice acting is on par with the Playstation 2 iterations. During scenes you interact with one of the game's many, erm,colorful cast of characters; dialogue options sometimes become available to the player, although they almost always lead to the same results, making this addition essentially useless. Most of the time, that is.
Overall, while Silent Hill: Homecoming is a thematically stellar game; it doesn't fair well to the other Silent Hills; most of which are the apex of mood and storytelling. It's not in league with the other games, and on it's own, it's utterly forgetful. A game casual audiences don't notice and fans of the series choose to forget.
"Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action."-Mother Teresa
"Home is whenever I'm with you!"-Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
BRASS TACKS: B-
+Revamped combat mechanics
+/-...which take away the horror aspect of the game
-"Been there, done that" execution
-Funky facial animations
Originally written: 3/20/2012