Anything But Silent
Halloween is almost upon us. I can now officially devote myself to playing eerie games and watching horror movies throughout October to get in the mood for All Hallows Eve. Thankfully, Konami and Double Helix Games kick off the month with Silent Hill: Homecoming, the fifth installment to what some consider the best horror series ever. However, does this latest title deliver on the spook factor of the original titles or does it limp along horror lane like Silent Hill: The Room?
This time around, the story follows Alex Shepard, a soldier who’s been discharged and returns home to Shepard’s Glen. Of course, this isn’t where the fun begins. You start out in a hospital that would rival anything Eli Roth could think up for the next Hostel film and quickly discover that Alex has big brother issues. Somehow seeing his younger brother Joshua at the hospital doesn’t raise as many questions from Alex as it would a normal person, but hey, this is Silent Hill and certain things are forgivable. You move quickly through the hospital and find yourself finally back home. Unfortunately, everything has changed. For starters, the fog level is increased to a point where you will begin to fear the fog again in real life, just like you did with the first game.
After a short time back home, you discover people are missing, there are only a few left in Shepherd’s Glen, your mom is crazier than a mental patient in a straitjacket, and your father is mysteriously out searching for something; whether or not this is your brother, you’ll just have to wait and see. Alex soon sets out with the promissory “I will find him” mantra, and the real fun begins.
Much like other Silent Hill games, Homecoming has very basic gameplay, with a few exceptions. The first of those exceptions is the combat. If you played Origins, then you’ll already be familiar with the fluid and effective battle system in Homecoming. Instead of being a flailing-armed character that obviously never fought anything more than a paper bag, you get a character that appears confident and believable when attacking enemies. Switching it up between light and heavy attacks gives you satisfying combos. Of course, a new element to melee combos proves rewarding for those with a cruel and warped side. Finishing moves, or as I like to call them, “brutality of a sick and twisted person” moves, are simplistic, cutscene worthy moves that highlight the slightly, to say the least, unbalanced mentality of Alex Shepherd.
While the minor additional features to the combat system are solid, there is a small problem with the actual controls. Not necessarily an ascetic problem, but more a comfort problem. It feels like some of the button placement is a little off. As a result, it takes a little bit longer to become used to the functions of each button. More than once I had my “flashlight” handed to me because I wasn’t completely comfortable with the layout of the controls. When facing off against some of these creatures, it is definitely worth being completely comfortable with the controls, so I suggest taking some extra time to really familiarize yourself before you really get going.
The creatures amp up the difficulty right from the start of the game. Not only are the creatures challenging, they will scare the crap out of you too. They may not make you literally soil yourself (though there is at least one that might), but they will definitely dive into your psyche and play with your fear like a cat would a ball of yarn. The nurses return to the series in all their deformed-faced, twitching-body, gory glory. The creepy thing is the nurses now share the same attributes as the female characters in Dead or Alive when they move. There’s are also a few familiar beasties returning with a few modifications. Needler, Schism, and Asphyxia are among some of the new creatures that will surely fill your nights with pleasant dreams. Oh, and yes, “Pyramid Head” is amongst the things Alex will try to live through. In all their horrible, splendid brilliance, the beasts and environments really do work well to bring out the creepy vibe that Silent Hill has always offered. This is amplified the game’s excellent graphics.
There’s something about Silent Hill games that has always delivered on the fears of players. Whether it is the fog that shrouds everything or the shadows that bounce off the walls, appearing to have a life of their own, you can always count on a prolonged endorphin rush. While all this is still true for Homecoming, I was expecting a little more. This is Silent Hill’s next-gen debut, and the expected level of realism just wasn’t there.
Don’t get me wrong, there are instances where it does clearly represent the next-gen experience, but if you’ve played any of the previous titles, you will see many of the same things that have always plagued the series. For example, if a character is wearing a pair of shorts, it blatantly looks like two cylinders glued together. The character faces are typically great to look at, but there is the occasional inconsistency in how the characters look; sometimes Alex just doesn’t look like himself. However, it’s typically more humorous than distracting.
One thing almost guaranteed to make you chuckle in a Silent Hill game is the voice acting. However, and thankfully, I have to say the voice acting in Homecoming is not always bad. For the most part, it sounds very smooth and skilled. There were instances when it shocked me so much I missed a couple game moments because I felt like I was watching a film with solid actors and actresses. Of course, the occasional cheesy voice over or poorly delivered line would bring me back to my senses. The sound effects are topnotch and work well with the atmosphere of the game. Akira Yamaoka returns once more to deliver an amazing score, and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn lends her melodic, sultry vocals once again to the soundtrack of Silent Hill. If you have been a fan of the music of Silent Hill, this one will not disappoint.
As good as Silent Hill: Homecoming is, there is one troublesome issue worth mentioning; the inconsistent framerate creates a bit of a lag in the movements. However, you will generally only experience this when using the free-roaming camera. The camera works well enough, but it occasionally feels like they removed one of the key features that made Silent Hill great. I would have loved an infrequent return to the angles they used to use in Silent Hill games to make them even scarier.
While there are things that don’t quite feel right with Silent Hill: Homecoming, there is more than enough to hold it up as a great way to enter the month of October. This game delivers on the experience you have come to expect from the franchise. It will also give you reason to begin clamoring for the next installment. The folks at Double Helix gave me the Silent Hill I wanted: a nerve-racking, scary as hell experience to hold me over this Halloween season. Any fan of Silent Hill should be checking this out, and anyone just needing a good scare can join in the Homecoming.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Solid environments deliver on the fear expected in a Silent Hill game. However, the inconsistency of the character models and occasional frame rate issues hurt slightly. 3.9 Control
New finishing moves make the combat pleasing to those needing more carnage and blood, but the comfort zone of the controls is questionable at times. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Oh my God, is that quality voice acting in Silent Hill? 4.0 Play Value
Multiple endings, engaging storyline, and nightmare-inducing creatures will make you glad that Silent Hill is still on the map. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.