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Written by Ryan Peters, @Thrashmarshall
The last decade hasn’t been kind to Silent Hill. The series once shared the spotlight with Resident Evil as the pinnacle of survival horror, praised for being a disturbing approach to the horror genre that produced some of the most memorable gaming experiences of the last generation. Like Resident Evil however, Konami’s longstanding survival horror franchise has seen a steady decline in both quality and audience interest, with purists saying the series has lost its way and newcomers put off by the poor quality of the last few entries. It’s a sad thing to think that the best Silent Hill has had to offer over the last few years has been two lackluster movie adaptations.
This descent into mediocrity didn’t happen overnight however, for many it began with the release of 2008’s Silent Hill: Homecoming, a game that tried to push the series onto a new generation of consoles with a batch of fresh, but ultimately bad ideas. Die-hard fans of the series approached the announcement of an American developer handling a Silent Hill with much trepidation, which in the end was justified.
Silent Hill: Homecoming tells the story of Alex Shepherd, a soldier supposedly injured in combat overseas, returning home (get it) to find his hometown filled with demonic creatures and his younger brother missing. The plot is typical Silent Hill and after the interesting opening that feels like it’s lifted straight from Jacobs’ Ladder it quickly unravels into a boring mess. There is an attempt at story telling present in Silent Hill: Homecoming; an ancient cult with dark secret, sudden jumps into the twisted and nightmarish world of Silent Hill. The problem is that the characters are so badly written and the plot itself is so trite that it becomes almost impossible for players to care about what’s going on.
It seems that great lengths were taken to try and make the plot as “Silent Hill” as possible, trying to link the narrative in with the existing fiction and gives players a disturbing and thought provoking experience. In reality however the plot of the game feels like its’ trying so hard to be a Silent Hill game that it fails to do exactly that, due mainly to the poor writing that makes it almost impossible to actually care about anything that’s going on.
Plot and atmosphere are essential for a survival horror game and both are severely lacking in Homecoming. If the game itself was fun to play then these missing elements could be forgiven to some extent, unfortunately Homecoming has some serious technical and gameplay issues that make it almost a chore to play through the eleven hour story-line.
As soon as game starts up its multitude of technical hang ups become apparent. In the jump to next-gen, developer Double Helix seemed to stumble over the new hardware, Homecoming was lacking in the visuals department back when it was released and it looks even worse five years on. Combine this with the multitude of technical and design issues the game has and it all makes for a pretty rough package.
Silent Hill has never had the most colourful visuals but Homecoming really looks like a mess of dull browns and greys for most of the game. When Double Helix drags players into the ‘Nightmare’ sequences things do improve in the visual department (including a peeling wall transition ripped straight from the movie adaptation) but none of the rusted and dank environments are particularly scary, nor do they show much creativity. To be fair the fog mechanic is spot on however it shrouds a dull town filled with bland characters and environments that are plagued with frame rates so poor at times the game almost comes to a standstill.
The gameplay was hit pretty hard in the jump to current gen consoles as well. The jump to a behind the player camera angle means that the game plays out like a low rent third person shooter instead of a fully-fledged survival horror, this feels especially true when using the games’ solid but uninspired aiming mechanic that feels out of place from the rest of the game. Alex and his role as a soldier allowed Double Helix to focus on fixing the infamously poor combat mechanics of the series, however by choosing to implement a combo and dodge system the tension and threat that comes with fighting the hell spawn that plague the town is totally killed. It all feels like a bad Halloween inspired Punch Out and it is really one of the lowest points of the game, one that has to be repeated over and over until the credits finally roll.
For all its poor design choices, awful plot and technical problems Silent Hill: Homecoming does have some redeeming features that may be enough to make it enjoyable for some gamers. When Homecoming stops trying to revolutionize the franchise and simply tries to be a Silent Hill game it’s a solid enough experience to recommend to those wanting to explore the history of the franchise. There’s pleasure to be had in exploring a foggy town with nothing but the torch on your jacket and the pipe in your hand, the familiar item pick up noise is enough to make fans of the series smile and some of the monster designs are pretty impressive.
The Final Word: Silent Hill: Homecoming should be commended simply for being a survival horror game during a console generation that has all but given up on the genre. As a game, it’s lacking in so many areas that it’s difficult to recommend it for those that haven’t played it already, particularly those unfamiliar with the Silent Hill series. There are enough great horror games out there to spend your money on to ensure Silent Hill Homecoming should be low down on the list. Those that do pick the game up however will find it to be a serviceable but poorly conceived experience that tries it’s best to modernize this franchise.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is available on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed).
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