Once you get past the first three Silent Hill games, there’s a noticeable gulf in fondness and adoration for the rest. Still, even Silent Hill Downpour has its fans (raises hand) and there are some genuinely underappreciated entries in the Silent Hill franchise and ten years ago, Silent Hill: Homecoming became one of them.
Released on PS3 and Xbox 360 on September 30, 2008, Silent Hill: Homecoming is the sixth mainline entry in the series and was developed by Double Helix (Killer Instinct on Xbox One). You play as Special Forces Soldier Alex Sheperd, returning to his hometown of Sheperd’s Glen after a tour of duty. The game begins with Alex having a nightmare about his younger brother Josh, which ends with his awakening in the car of the protagonist of previous series entry Silent Hill: Origins, Travis Grady.
Upon reaching Sheperd’s Glen, Alex’s dream looks to be somewhat prophetic as he finds the town enshrouded in a fog and seemingly deserted. Deserted that is, until Alex discovers his mother, catatonic, babbling about Alex’s father going to find Josh. So naturally Alex goes to find his other family members, but things go even further South and our protagonist finds himself in Silent Hill and up against the local cult known as The Order.
This was the second title in the mainline series to be developed by a Western team, much to the chagrin of many Silent Hill fans who felt (somewhat correctly) that the Westernisation of Silent Hill was diluting the psychological horror that made it so revered to begin with in exchange for a larger slice of the growing Western market. Origins had felt like a huge misstep in that regard, but Homecoming does a fantastic job in building the background behind the town of Silent Hill (which again, was a sore point for purists).
The most prominent sign of that Westernisation comes from the obvious influence that Christopher Gans’ movie adaptation has on the visual design, most notably during the transition between the regular world and the ‘other’ world. The effect is a little dated now, but it’s still a striking literal change of scenery.
There was still some of the Japanese legacy intact within Homecoming. Composer Akira Yamaoka returned to score the game and provide sound effects. He was also joined by another returnee in vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn who had worked with Yamaoka on previous entries
Alex’s story is deeply entrenched in the history of the town and revelation after revelation about his true nature is handled and delivered as well as almost any other Silent Hill plot before or after it. The ability to choose from multiple answers to questions asked by NPC’s added was a big part of that, with consequences coming from how you decided to respond. Hardly novel now, but in 2008, that was fairly unusual for a survival horror. It worked well, even if it wasn’t as subtle or ambiguous in execution as Silent Hill 2‘s choices.
The combat is far more in-depth as well and still manages to stay relatively close to Silent Hill‘s heavy, violent. and unpleasant melee. Wounds are formed where you strike enemies, and there’s grisly finishing moves to boot. It’s not quite as visceral as the notoriously grim Condemned: Criminal Origins, but it’s nasty in all the right ways. Throw in a moveable in-game camera for the first time and actual targeting and Homecoming manages to be the well-made rebirth Silent Hill: Origins failed to be.
It wasn’t quite enough for it to get the reception it perhaps deserved. Even if it wasn’t exactly trampled by critics, the lukewarm feeling towards Homecoming did it no favors and as with everything until PT, it remains largely ignored in discussions concerning the better games in the franchise. With the game added to Xbox One’s sizeable catalog of backwards compatible titles earlier this year, and with no new entries likely for some time, maybe now is the best time to either go back or give it a first try.