theuselessgod's Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360) review

A fine action/horror game, but an awful Silent Hill game.

The Short

Pros

- Controls are vastly improved; tank controls are gone

- Combat is improved, which is good in a way (more on that later)

- Soundtrack is fantastic, as usual

- Many monsters, especially bosses, are horrific and disgusting

- Story actually sort of makes sense

- Graphics are pretty good

- Transformation to "Nightmare World" are some of the best looking in the series

Cons

- Much more of an action game than any other game in the series

- Flashlight sucks; swear they did this to make it "scarier"

- While the story makes sense, that doesn't stop it from being stupid

- Abundance of gore and disgusting kills makes this feel more like Saw than Silent Hill

- While it tries to emulate the original feel of the Japanese-made Silent Hill games, it feels more like they only understood it on a rudimentary level

- Recycles monsters from previous Silent Hill games, completely missing the point of some (read: why is Pyramid Head in this game?)

- Not scary, actually gets boring, and all the scares are corny "jump" scares

We are again taking a trip to Silent Hill

The Long

Silent Hill Homecoming is the second Silent Hill game made by an American designer rather than a Japanese one, and the first not on a handheld to completely drop the numbers from the title. I remember the team Konami hired to make this game frequently pointed out how they "got" the Silent Hill franchise, as sort of a comfort to fans who were worried about the direction the series has been taking over the past few years. And while it's true that some of the more superficial elements of the Silent Hill series remain intact here (foggy cities, nightmare world, nasty-weird monsters), at it's core Silent Hill Homecoming fails on nearly every level at being a Silent Hill game.

The story actually makes sense this time around. You play as Alex Shepherd (no relation to Commander Shepherd of the Mass Effect series), a soldier who is discharged and sent back home to Shephard's Glen. He goes back to find his brother and father are missing, his mom has gone kind of crazy, and the town is covered in a mysterious fog. Of course nasty monsters are involved, and eventually he ends up in the titular Silent Hill, where he discovers some pretty crazy (if somewhat predictable) things about his past and who he actually is.

Like I said, the story makes sense, and isn't marred by bad translation or anything like that, but that doesn't make it particularly interesting or exciting. The twists are dull, the deaths of main characters have no impact, and I swear you spend a good chunk of your time at the beginning running around and talking to people with nothing scary happening at all. Again, Silent Hill 2 did a lot of this, but Silent Hill 2 also invoked a sense of dread from the very beginning. Homecoming doesn't pull it off, so rather than being "quiet yet tense" moments, most of them are just "silent but boring" moments.

The monster design is a bit "paint-by-numbers" from previous games, but I thought most of them were fine anyway

That actually brings me to the biggest problem with Silent Hill Homecoming, right up front: it isn't scary. At all. It isn't even intense (like Resident Evil 4 was; that game wasn't scary, but it was certainly a tense rush), it's just...dull. Environments, which have always been the biggest cause of scares in Silent Hill games, are boring and unfrightening. If you compared the way the Nightmare world looked in Silent Hill 3 and then at the one in Silent Hill Homecoming (the above screenshot is in Nightmare world), the difference is stark. Gone are the oddly placed wheelchairs, the nasty barbed-wire wrapped around random objects, the strange, twitching monsters in the walls. Instead we get a boring, different-hued version of the regular world. Bland. Considering they now have the power of a more advance generation of consoles, the high-def Silent Hill games could have had some of the most grotesque, twisted, and horrifyingly gritty backgrounds out of the entire series. Instead they go the lazy route, like the developers sort of understood what made the past games good and copied it in the laziest way possible.

They also ripped a lot of stuff (like this enemy) from the Silent Hill movie, which isn't a good thing to draw inspiration from, guys.

This idea of this being an outsider's interpretation of a Silent Hill game is another massive pitfall. As stated before, it does the Silent Hill 2 thing where there are massive bouts of silence and darkness, with only a few creepy scenes to keep you on edge. This worked in the older games because it successfully combined several primal human fears: being alone, the dark, and being helpless. In Homecoming, you are only rarely alone (it always seems people are tagging along with you for stuff), you never feel helpless because of the new combat (more on that in a second), and...I guess it's dark. But it's a cheap dark. The flashlight in this game is the worst flashlight ever made. In some attempt to bump up scares, they made it so it hardly illuminates everything. Ok, listen, let me tell you what is scary. Having a high-beam flashlight (like in Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3) but at the cost of not seeing anything or hardly anything outside it's beam. That means you are frantically, constantly having to turn to check corners, behind you, and anything else you might have missed. It's that contrast between seeing everything and seeing nothing that freaks you out, because what you are seeing you are paying for with a massive amount of darkness everywhere else.

Having everything be dark isn't scary. The effect is lost. You don't feel like you are actually in the dark, and if you can't see anything it isn't scary. So yeah, you fail Homecoming. Bring a good light back.

The "nurse" design is also ripped from the film, and it made no sense there either. They were a representation of James' suppressed sexuality, a mockery of it. Why are they sporting cleavage and leg for Alex?

But the biggest kill of tension or any form of fear is the combat. Let me get one thing clear: the combat in the Silent Hill games has always been awful. Your characters have no idea how to fight, handle a gun or a weapon, and it shows. Having to fight down enemies is cumbersome and difficult (which, when combined with Tank controls, makes it even harder). HOWEVER, you may note that while I've complained about bad Tank controls, I never complained about the previous games' combat. This is because it was supposed to be difficult. In all those games, it was a more viable solution to run away (which the excellent Silent Hill: Frozen Memories actually got by eliminating combat entirely) from these monsters, which again added to that helpless feel. When you were really down to the wire you'd have to try and kill the enemies, but I usually spent most time trying to not be noticed and fleeing from the monstrosities. It was really scary knowing there was stuff out there I couldn't kill (which is also why bosses in Silent Hill 3 made no sense).

Alex is an ex-soldier, which means he is well equipped and well versed in combat. The system emulates a Zelda-esque formula of locking on and dodging to fight enemies. He can even block attacks. So, basically, they made this an action game (much like Resident Evil 4 did), only without making the enemies harder. Alex has very steady aim (and the game lets you actually aim with a target, unlike previous entries where your character auto-aims and you pray) and ammo is surprisingly plentiful. So I'm never scared of enemies (even nasty bosses) because my guy is a walking badass. Way to kill the mood.

I actually think the bosses look pretty creepy, and are some of the best designs in the game.

As a final "they thought they got it but they didn't" example: this game is loaded with depraved, gory moments. Now let me get something clear: the previous Silent Hill games had plenty of disturbing imagery and bloody...blood. But it never resorted to having a dude literally cut in half right in front of you when you were strung up, a woman stretched until she snapped on a Saw-esque trap, or having enemies spray blood when you killed them (though the fact that your weapons leave damaging cuts is cool, I guess, but it sort of doesn't fit with the series' past). While the other games were extremely subtle, Homecoming is a punch in the face. While the other games never glorified in their gore and violence (in fact almost all the main characters abhorred what they had to do to survive), the very nature and design of Homecoming is set up so that you cheer with every bloody smack. The feel is completely wrong, for both a Silent Hill game and a survival horror game in general, and it, again, completely kills any tension or mood that might be had.

Silent Hill 3's mirror room is probably one of the scariest, creepiest, nightmare-fueled scenes I have ever seen in a video game. It's done in almost complete silence, with no combat, and as an extremely slow burn. Comparing that to Homecoming is almost impossible; Homecoming's scenes are extremely amateurish in comparison.

And no, I won't link to Silent Hill 3's mirror scene on video, and you shouldn't go looking for it on YouTube, because finding it on accident in the game itself is by far and large the best way to experience it.

What is this, a Silent Hill high school reunion? Why the crap is he here?

As an aside, Pyramid Head is in this game. I shouldn't have to explain why this makes no sense if you read my Silent Hill 2 review, but maybe I will anyway. The enemies in these games have always been twisted to fit the protagonists. More so in Silent Hill 2 than any others, but it still applies for the rest of the games. It also drops a lot of hints that these monsters might be more in their minds than real (Silent Hill 3 does a good job with this) which means each game needs its own unique monsters.Homecoming apes enemies from almost every other game in the series, including freaking Pyramid Head, whose sole existence in the Silent Hill mythos was to be a representation of everything James in Silent Hill 2 was not. So him being in this game makes no sense at all. The fact that he plays key roles in the story of Homecoming only further accents the fact that the people making this game have no idea how Silent Hill works.

And look, skinless dogs. That totally fits the Silent Hill world, and hasn't been in any other horror anything ever.

As a positive point, the graphics are decent (again, especially the boss monsters), though the poor lighting is another knock off its score. The music is excellent as usual, and is probably the only thing really loyal to the source material. While it's a technically competent game, however, high polygon count and bumpmapping doesn't count when your art design sucks, and this is where Silent Hill Homecoming fails. It's just...so boring to look at. And I swear the enemies don't even twitch right.

There's the mandatory wheelchair. I guess this is a real Silent Hill game now.

Here's the thing: if Silent Hill Homecoming had just marketed itself as an action/horror game and not a Silent Hill game, it might have actually worked. I'm always willing to cut some slack for new horror IPs (there aren't nearly enough), and even ones that are broken I still tend to enjoy playing (see the Saw video game, which is actually pretty good). The controls are fine, the combat plays well, and even though the game isn't very scary they could have made up for it with the action. The problem here is that they had a pedigree to live up to, and they couldn't even begin to approach it.

As it stands it's more like a Chinese bootlegged version of the Silent Hill series rather than an actual entry. If you like horror action games you still will probably enjoy it, just don't think of it as a Silent Hill game. If you want another game in the same vein as the older Silent Hill games, however, you should probably avoid this. It tries its hardest, but in the end it just can't pull it off. If you must have a modern Silent Hill game, try Silent Hill Frozen Memories instead.

If you read the above paragraph and still want to try it, I'd say $10-15 is a fair enough price. Again, there isn't anything particularly broken here fundamentally, it just isn't a great Silent Hill game.

But since it did put "Silent Hill" in its title, it gets judged as one. So it earns two out of five stars.

More at nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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