The ominous fog, check. The hiss of your radio, check. The creepy nurses who you remain probably more attracted to than you should mention in polite conversation, check. These Silent Hill staples remain ever present, but how does Silent Hill: Homecoming compare to the rest of the series famed for its take on nightmarish survival horror?
The sixth installment of the Silent Hill series, Homecoming, sees the player take the role of Alex Shepherd, a soldier returning from a tour of duty to find his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen in disarray, and the majority of inhabitants – including his brother, Joshua – missing. It doesn’t take a long before you are thrown into the familiar settings of the fog-strewn streets, and given a level that is small and relatively quick to explore as 90% of the doors are locked and all the roads conveniently disappear into nothingness.Whilst I understand the need for boundaries of a game play environment, the distinct feeling of, this is just here because an invisible wall would have sucked, is far too prominent. Alone in the Dark had the same method of convincing the player that the level is falling into hell, and as such, road maintenance is bound to take a back seat, but it doesn’t make me shake my fist at the screen in nerd-rage any less.
Aside from the occasional moments of woe, the level design is top notch, creating an uneasy atmosphere mixed with genuine fear. One of the main elements that impressed me about the atmosphere created was the lighting, as far too often I am going into the brightness settings and turning the world into an unrealistic setting to compromise the design choice that seemed to take no more thought than “dark places are scary, remove those lights.” Silent Hill is rarely too dark, mostly due to the fog being used to create isolation, but when it goes dark in the sewer level (this is a horror game, you knew there would be a sewer level) I found myself running as fast as I could to each light source so that I was able to fight the mangled oddity that was chasing me, as combat relies on keeping your eyes on the enemy’s movements.
Combat urges you to seek out visual cues and react to them appropriately, using a simple dodge mechanic to keep you out of harm’s way and stay out of the hospital. Mastering dodging is vital, as being able to stay at range is rarely an option due to the game’s heart being survival horror and not action-horror in the way games such as the Resident Evil series would do it. Most of my play time was spent with less than half a dozen bullets or shells, no health items and nursing quite a limp, rather than wading through bodies, deciding which rocket launcher I wanted to use.
However much I downplay the combat in this game, fans of the series will notice that this game utilizes far more combat than other releases, choosing to focus more on this element than on the puzzles the series is famous for. Comments can be made about how this is due to the game being developed outside of Japan, unlike the originals, and pandering to a western market, etc. Speaking as someone from the market this game is targeted at, I’ve got to say I preferred the ratio of combat to puzzle in this game, so the pandering works.
Unfortunately, slider puzzles weren’t the only problems I had with the game. Whilst the protagnist is well rounded, well designed and graphically impressive character, the supporting cast feel somewhat lacking, particularly in graphical detail. As well as that, the game handles Quick Time Events clumsily at times. Now I know these generally draw a line in the sand between a lot of gamers, being that you either love or hate them, but there are some games that handle them well, and other that handle them badly, sometimes you get games like Resident Evil 4 which manages to do both in the same game.
The array of creatures you stumble across in this game may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I personally found them to be the perfect kind of creepy for this game. So many times in games they use the tried and true method of zombies or perhaps horrifically scarred humans to generate fear, and more often than not they are so close to humanity that the idea of genuine fear due to the fact it walks slower and has no pupils seems absurd. The oddities you face in this game are so bizarre and inhuman that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to sleep again, so if you are opposed to the idea of sleep, or just want live life as an insomniac, this game is definitely worth taking a look at.
The major problem Silent Hill: Homecoming suffers from, in my opinion, is the previous Silent Hill series. Specifically, Silent Hill 2, which handles so many elements of the genre perfectly that the sequels just fail to live up to the earlier installments. Enemies that were specific to one man’s tragedy and loss have become so iconic that they are reused without any purpose other than fan service, at one point you are even graced by the presence of possibly the most iconic Silent Hill figure, who just strolls past the screen with his traffic cone on his head with no explanation, leaving newcomers to the series completely baffled. It is unfortunate for Homecoming that this is the case, as if they had put more effort into making this the Silent Hill game that other games would rip off, they would have ended up with a great game rather than just a very good game.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
Distinct, haunting and impressive graphics set you in the scene, very atmospheric overall.
|How does our scoring system work?|
Impressive blend of combat and puzzles, if only they had brought more to the series rather than repeating it.
A haunting score, with spine-tingling sound effects.
The game is a decent length, and even comes complete with multiple endings, however, not varied enough to warrant multiple playthroughs.
Not the best of the Silent Hill series, but still a very good game definitely worth a play for fans of the genre.