Silent Hill: Homecoming Review
Written : Sunday, November 02, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Silent Hill: Homecoming is the sixth full installment of the fan-favorite horror survival series, though there have been a few hand-held spin-offs along the way. This entry was developed by Double Helix Games and is almost a miracle that it was actually finished considering their track record; their previous two projects (Dirty Harry and Harker) were both canceled. As usual, the game was published by Konami. As it was not developed by its original Team Silent studio, the game does not follow the official numbering for the franchise, much like last year's Silent Hill: Origins. The first four games by Team Silent are the only ones with numbers in the titles and I must admit I've never been a huge fan of the horror survival genre, though both Condemned games really helped bridge that gap. I've only played a Silent Hill game briefly in the past and I could never get through a Resident Evil game, but I played through this twice fully and received every ending, so that right there says a lot for it.
I don't wanna go in the creepy hole...
The plot of Homecoming centers around a man named Alex Shepherd, a soldier who has just been released from the military after being wounded in battle. He returns to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen to find that his brother has gone missing, as well as his father who went to look for him and pretty much the entire population of his small town. The town is located conveniently across a small body of water from the town of Silent Hill and thus we have a tie-in. True to the series' roots, you are immediately thrust into a creepy landscape with strangely sexy yet disfigured nurses, swarms of bugs, crazy crawling dudes with claws, smog monsters, skinless dogs and giant monsters for bosses that are tough to even describe. The mood is set incredibly well and keeps your heart rate up for the majority of the game, if not the entire thing.
The story begins in the Nightmare, a hellish version of the world you'll visit on a few occasions throughout the game. This is also where you first find your brother, though he inexplicably darts away every time you come near. When you awaken from the Nightmare, you find yourself riding shotgun in a semi headed for your hometown of Shepherd's Glen. It is immediately evident that things aren't quite right and those are confirmed quickly when you're attacked in your mother's basement by one of the crawling, claw-wielding dudes from your Nightmare. As you traverse the town in search for clues about your brother's whereabouts, you'll encounter all of the Nightmare creatures and slip in and out of the Nightmare itself, as well as eventually traveling to Silent Hill for the final showdown for your brother. Another thing still present from the franchise roots are the morality choices that will determine which ending you receive. Sadly these ending variants are no more than twenty seconds worth of extra content and it seems silly to play the game five times to receive them. However, with some smart use of the game's saving system you can get all of them by only replaying the last few levels and reloading that original save point.
Is he readying to attack or going for a grope?
The gameplay is fairly good for this type of game. The biggest complaint I've had from this genre, especially from Resident Evil games, has been poor camera tracking and awkward controls. The third-person view is pulled back just right so you have a nice view of everything; though with the constant fog and small range on your flashlight, that isn't saying much. Your inventory can be accessed at any time by holding the left bumper for plot items and health kits or the right bumper for weapons. Saving is a bit odd as you will find a red symbol in various locations to save it, though why each symbol is where it is makes little sense, aside from an upcoming boss fight or morality decision.
Fighting is one of the more awkward parts of the handling as you can not attack without locking on to an enemy which can be achieved by holding on to the left trigger. In fights with more than one opponent, this leaves you blind to the one circling behind you. Though from there, a simple tap of the A button for a light attack or the X button for a strong attack is all it takes; holding down X will power up your attack for a crushing blow. On top of that, hitting X against a stunned enemy (some heavy attacks will stun for a short time) will deliver a finishing maneuver, instantly killing your foe. You can also dodge with the B button, something that will be essential to surviving most encounters.
The graphics are unfortunately hit and miss throughout. It was really impressive to see a game of this type with very limited loading. Many sections have a sandbox feel, allowing you to explore Shepherd's Glen and Silent Hill at your leisure. However, there isn't a whole lot to see, apart from the scattered notes, journals and wall-writing help to enrich the story. The levels inside the Nightmare or with specific locations have virtually no loading from room to room. It is amazing to remember the original Resident Evil where you'd load for twenty seconds in every single room only to have it be empty anyway. The lighting and shadows also provide a great mood, always keeping you on edge of your seat as a skinless dog or crawling enemy could appear out of nowhere as you walk down the street. Also, during combat your enemies will receive wounds to match the type and direction of your attacks which was very cool.
Everything on the surface is excellent, but moving in deeper, things get a little hairy. The game tends to chug along and almost completely stop at times going from one pre-rendered scene to another. You'll also run the risk of freezing if you try to skip a cutscene too quickly. Although the dialogue done well, you can't help but laugh as you watch a mouth full of teeth deliver the lines. Lips tend to never move and it sometimes looks like a child's drawing of teeth with big black lines to separate them all.
As I mentioned, the dialogue is done well, as is the overall soundtrack. Flashback scenes are muted just right to show that it is a memory, current scenes are spoken clearly and with emotion whilst the Nightmare scenes are overloaded with background noise to make it feel more desperate. The score is done by Akira Yamaoka, the same man who has scored the entire series and it is clear he knows what he's doing. Driving symphonies that can either stay just loud enough that your heart rate increases thinking something is coming or blast screaming in your ear as you're being pummeled by a brutal Siam creature; Yamaoka steers you through the gauntlet that is a horror survival game like a pro.
Siam says, "Raise the roof!"
Despite some of its glaring faults, the game is quite enjoyable. The puzzles are fairly easy and I only had difficulty with one comprised of one of those sliding puzzles with all the pieces in disarray and only two empty spaces on the board, but I can barely do those for real so that was no surprise. It isn't the scariest game I've played, but it keeps you on edge of your seat for almost the whole thing which doesn't happen often. The plot is a bit cliché but as the mysteries unfold you can't help but want to know more about what is happening in this small town and how Alex's family is involved. The results of that knowledge are excellent, leaving you satisfied with an enjoyable game and a nice ending.
The achievement list is short at only 32 achievements but I feel that they cut out some of the dead weight that we've seen from lists recently. There are no tedious achievements that ask for you to repeat an action so many times or kill certain enemies a bunch of times, but instead you are awarded for the first kill of each enemy type as if to say, "good job, that was the first of many!" However, you are required to receive five different endings, though as I mentioned previously you can save toward the end of the game and only replay the last few levels for each of them. You have three morality choices to make and different combinations of those choices will elicit different endings. You are also tasked with playing on Hard, although once you get Ending 5 and unlock the Laser Pistol, the game is a piece of cake. On top of all that, there are three types of collectibles to find; Children's Drawings and Photos are fairly annoying, but the Serums (full health refill and a max health upgrade) are very useful. Overall it is a very easy 1000, 10-15 hours tops.
The tension is constant due to the excellent score from long-time series composer Akira Yamaoka and the dialogue is delivered well. Not much to complain about here.
Frame rate crashes, clipping issues and sluggish movement hamper the gameplay a bit, but the excellent landscapes and creature models make it overall pleasing to the eye.
A good camera system, overall decent movement system and easy inventory access are positives. Slightly awkward battle controls and again the sluggish movement are not so positive.
Despite some of its faults, I couldn't help but enjoy the game. The puzzles were just hard enough (except that damn puzzle slider) and the levels were just long enough (except maybe the sewers) giving the overall experience a nice flow. The plot is a bit strange at times, but that is kind of the idea so it can't really be a negative. Everything is wrapped up nicely in the end though which I really appreciated.
Great list. Easily done within 10-15 hours. Using collectible guides and a walkthrough you could do it even faster. But that isn't the main reason it is good. I love that there aren't tedious tasks like killing X number of people or using your finishing move X number of times. Aside from collectibles, most everything comes from simply playing the game, encouraging multiple playthroughs for different plot changes and endings.
There are definitely some faults to this game, but it is overall an enjoyable experience. Double Helix Games is a mish-mash of multiple companies and is overall very new to the video game industry so the faults are no surprise. I hope to see more from them in the future though because this game had some really great promise, but fell a bit short in the end. For survival horror fans and/or Silent Hill fans I would say this will not disappoint. For newcomers, maybe try Condemned first before venturing down this road.