Some neat ideas can't help this from being the worst Silent Hill
Team Silent was the devleoper behind Silent Hill 1-4. They created some of the most memorable horror experiences for the Playstation 2 era. Silent Hill 2, in particular, is seen a masterpiece by many fans of horror gaming. This is why it seemed particularly odd when Konami decided to have a Western studio, Double Helix, create the next game in the franchise. It wasn’t the first, preceded by Silent Hill: Origins on the PSP (developed by another Western studio, Climax) the year before, but it was the first “main” entry in the series from a team that wasn’t Team Silent. Expectations were high; too high, in fact. Silent Hill: Homecoming may not be up to the level of Silent Hill 2, but it still has some interesting things for fans of the series.
Homecoming follows the journey of Alex Shepherd, a soldier returning home after being honorably discharged. As soon as he arrives in Shepherd’s Glen, things start going a little strangely. The town is empty, fog has covered the streets, and he keeps seeing his little brother Joshua darting around corners and into alleyways. Something bizarre is going on, but he feels he has to find Josh and bring him home. It’s made very clear from the beginning that something more is going on, a fact made clearer when Silent Hill somehow comes into the picture. Unfortunately, the story takes its sweet time SLOWLY dripping out the beats of the plot over the course of the game. Most of the important stuff happens in the last hour of gameplay; this isn’t unusual for a Silent Hill game but feels lazily done here. The “revelations” are played to be shocking but most are extremely easy to guess. The only twist that actually is a surprise is the final one and only because it comes out of nowhere with no set-up (at least that I noticed). It’s a pretty good twist actually and made me like the game more than I had up to that point. Unfortunately, the rest of the story is pretty boring and forgettable.
Gameplay in Homecoming follows the Silent Hill formula pretty tightly, only changing some of the mechanics around. Combat is probably the biggest change. It feels much more active, locking on to a target when combat starts and having the player actively dodge and chain light and heavy attacks into combos. I absolutely hated this combat system at first. It felt like it wasn’t responsive and more often than not, I would take hits. The fact that the first enemy encountered is probably the hardest enemy to fight in the game didn’t help either (I’m not joking; later enemies are big and powerful but slow and easy to keep “stunlocked” for lack of a better word). As I learned the dodge timing and figured out that using the faster knife over the slower pipe and axe was the way to go (as it keeps enemies reeling), the game went from frustrating to stupid easy. I barely even took damage in the second half of the game. It’s not a great difficulty arc and made combat a bit tedious. All in all, Homecoming probably has the series’ most accessible combat, but it isn’t quite to the point of being “fun” yet.
Exploration and puzzles are a huge part of the Silent Hill games and aren’t done very well in Homecoming. The game is amazingly linear, to a point that is almost ridiculous. Every interior locks every door except the ones leading you further on. The streets are narrow, with most paths blocked off. I know that past Silent Hill games have done things like this as well, but it feels taken to the extreme here. I didn’t feel like I was exploring a creepy place; instead, I was being led by the hand through a thrill ride. Puzzles have also been greatly simplified. Oftentimes, the answer to a puzzle is in the same room. All of them are absurdly simple and require little to no brainpower to solve. The only ones that are tough are the ones that don’t present enough clues to be solved; these just drop you into a puzzle with no idea what to do. As a fan of the puzzles from earlier games in the franchise, I was more than a little bummed to see the puzzle element downgraded so far. It seems that Double Helix wanted to focus more of the game on the combat elements, directly the opposite direction I think that Silent Hill should go. Shattered Memories was a great example of a game that ditched the clumsy combat for something more interesting. I would love to see a mainline Silent Hill entry do that instead of discarding exploration and puzzles so heavily.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is a pretty ugly game. Facial animations are stiff and practically non-existent. The environments don’t fare much better. Where are the clever locations from Silent Hill games of old, the moody atmosphere? There are a few sections that look neat but for the most part, the game is extremely flat. Creature design, on the other hand, is pretty amazing, especially the boss fights. Bunches of odd angles, blades for arms and legs, terrifying faces, and crazy musculature. It’s clear that the artists were excited to work in the Silent Hill universe and went for broke on the designs for the enemies. It would have been nice if the rest of the art had the same passion put into it, but the creature designs are still worth seeing. Homecoming also takes a cue from the Silent Hill movie and does the transformation from real world to otherworld in real time. The effect is nice but makes the frame rate immediately bottom out. All in all, the game’s graphics are a rough package, but there are some cool things for fans of the series to check out.
Music is again done by Akira Yamaoka, the famous composer for the other games in the Silent Hill series. It’s much as you would expect, if you’ve heard any of his music before. Haunting tracks that perfectly set the tone for the game world. I don’t really have much to say here because Yamaoka does the job he always does. If you’ve enjoyed the other games’ music, odds are you will enjoy this game’s as well.
Silent Hill: Homecoming isn’t a great game. It doesn’t have the memorable moments, the pants-pissing atmosphere, or the story that makes you question your own sanity. What it does have are some interesting creature designs, a combat system that is at least going in the right direction, and a story that tries to pays homage to the Silent Hill mythos. It certainly isn’t the best game in the Silent Hill series (in fact, it’s probably the worst) but is still a game worth checking out for horror fans. If you’re willing to overlook the problems that Homecoming has, you might find something of value here. Be prepared to slog through some boring atmospheres and tedious combat to do so though.