Silent but Deadly
August 8, 2008 – Survival horror is a fairly new genre, coming into existence in the early PlayStation days. With initial games like the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill, it isn’t hard to see why this genre has made such an impact on the industry. Many years and many sequels later, both of these franchises are still running strong and have huge followings. This time around though, it won’t just be a battle between these classic horror staples, as both will need to contend with new entrants to the genre, such as EA’s Dead Space.
To help fend off their constantly improving competition, Konami is bringing Silent Hill back into gamers’ minds with their upcoming title Silent Hill: Homecoming. Appropriately named, this game will help to evolve the incredibly popular franchise rather than completely reworking it. Prescribing to the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality, players can expect Homecoming to play out similarly to previous titles in the series. This isn’t to say it will be the same game, as we’ve already seen some interesting tweaks and changes that will alter how this game will be played.
The first difference we noticed, as with any new game, is the new protagonist and storyline. Homecoming will focus on Alex Shepherd, a man who is returning home after being recently discharged from the military due to his recurring horrific dreams. Upon returning home, he finds his mother in a state of shock, who explains that his brother Joshua has gone missing. It is then up to Alex to find Joshua before anything terrible happens to him. Of course, this is always easier said than done in the fog-covered town of Silent Hill.
Helping him to achieve his goal, Homecoming includes an improved and reworked combat system. Unlike the previous “everyman” protagonists found in the Silent Hill series, Alex has had extensive military training. This training means that players will no longer clumsily flail weapons about or have difficulties aiming firearms. Instead, players will now be able to block, dodge, counterattack, string together combos, and handle guns more effectively. Blocking is handled with a single button, holding it to take less damage and pressing it at just the right time to stun attacking enemies. Melee combat makes use of both fast and strong attacks that can be combined to create chains of attacks to help pummel your horrific looking foes. Having improved melee combat will likely make it much easier to dispatch with multiple enemies, especially considering that ammunition is always in such short supply.
As with many of the older games in this genre, Silent Hill has used a fixed camera in its previous titles. These were designed to give players a very cinematic view of their surroundings but were not necessarily conducive to actually playing the games. Luckily, Homecoming will employ a maneuverable camera that will directly follow Alex, allowing you to fully take in your surroundings. Also new to this title, players will be able to switch to a first-person perspective at any time with one button press. The main reasoning behind this is so that players can finally see items before picking them up.
One of Silent Hill’s aspects that I’m glad has remained virtually unchanged is its sound. I’ve always found it rather ironic that a franchise named Silent Hill is so well known for its excellent sound effects and music. This is mostly thanks to Akira Yamaoka, sound director of all of the previous Silent Hill games. Thankfully, Akira Yamaoka will once again be bringing his unique style of audible creepiness to the franchise in Homecoming. As always, we can expect to be just as frightened by what we hear as the horrors we are libel to witness while playing.
Speaking of horrific sights, Homecoming’s terrors are already looking incredible. As the first Silent Hill on the current generation consoles, this game’s visuals are noticeably improved when compared to the previous titles’. Human characters, such as Alex and Joshua, look fairly realistic, and the game’s often faceless and shapeless enemies look even more frightening than before. Improved lighting effects also help to accentuate characters’ details as well as creating a decidedly darker, scarier experience.
With Konami addressing the franchises shortcomings, namely the combat and camera, Silent Hill: Homecoming looks to be a more player-friendly experience. Since the game will also stay true to its roots, fans of the series will likely find themselves right at home amongst its hordes of killer nurses and fog covered backdrops. Add to this the improved graphics provided by the current generation consoles and we are left with a game that we can’t wait to play in the dark with the surround sound turned up. Thankfully, the wait will be over shortly, as Homecoming looks to take us back to our favorite city of Silent Hill again sometime this September.