You Really Can Never Go Home Again
Silent Hill has a history of two things: somewhat confusing, albeit meaningful stories and scarring you for life. The games have always managed to evoke deep levels of emotion and fear, even when the gameplay itself was a little less than stellar. Let's be honest, the first couple games were only playable in the sense that they got your character from beginning to end. Silent Hill: Homecoming almost ended up completely switching the formula, giving you deep, tight controls with a mostly passable storyline. Almost, however, isn't there yet.
I'm going to stop right there because we've already run into the problem I have with this game: it is in no way original. The plot is borrowing from all the other Silent Hills and throwing even more of the Jacob's Ladder references that the first game started. First: Shepherd is the maiden name of Mary Shepherd-Sunderland, the wife of James in fan-favorite Silent Hill 2. While I would love to just pass that off as a cutsie reference, it doesn't stop there. The achievement for killing your first Siam monster (the thing that looks like a fleshy gorilla with a lady strapped on it's back) references James. When you kill your first dog-monster it references Eddie who talks about killing a dog in Silent Hill 2. You find chemicals that you inject to gain health and if you get the mall you get the "Kaufmann's Handiwork" achievement, referencing the substance created by the doctor of that name in the first Silent Hill. Achievements are just the start of it.
The game borrows the visuals from the Silent Hill movie, and by borrows I mean blatantly copies. When Homecoming begins its transformation to the infamous dark-side version of the world, it does so in the same peeling away upwards fashion that the movie created. Ok, that's fine, it looked good in the movie I can go with it, it's just one thing. But then we have the "sexy" nurses. Sure, we've had nurse zombies in almost every Silent Hill game, but these are very blatantly the "sexy" nurses from Silent Hill 2. While I'm on this rant, let me just remind you that Pyramid Head shows up in the game to menace the screen for a few minutes, and then put it all together. Those things were in context to James Sunderland in the second Silent Hill. I allowed them in the movie because a: the movie was doing it's own story thing, and was thusly allowed to break the rules. It was deviating from canon to try and be creative. And b: if you're going to bring a franchise to the big screen, you kinda want to throw up some iconic moments and characters in for good measure it just makes sense. The movie also went ahead and made sure the rest of it's monster line-up made sense within the context of the story; smoking ash-baby monsters because of the coal fires, for example. They represented the pain of being burned alive. Please tell me what the swinging pendulum head monsters are supposed to represent? A fear of hammer head sharks who can split open? And the Siam monster: That just doesn't make sense at all. To be fair, the monsters do look pretty cool, but there's just no reference for them. Overall the game does look good, and the lighting is especially superb. The character models are finely detailed and the animations are pretty smooth. The Nurse monsters move particularly well. It may be just like they did in the movies, but at least they did a damn good job copying that herky-jerky movement. The game also has (relatively) real-time battle damage. If you cut a nurse with your knife, the wound shows up in real time. It's not perfect, per se, but for the most part it works, and it's awesome. This realistic battle damage is something I want more out of my video games.
The game's new attempt at more action-based combat is unwelcomed. Sometimes the "action" camera puts you completely out of view of what your doing, and the emphasis on having to time dodge and counter attacks to fight anything will be a serious detraction to long time fans. Old Silent Hills allowed you to get by without having to kill much and when you did a few gunshots from a safe distance or a good mashing of the melee attack got you through. This game requires that each monster be carefully combated, even when there's 4 or 5 in the room. Some of the monsters can block you as well, so you have to actually time your counterattacks. One monster can even block bullets! The attempt to turn Silent Hill into what Resident Evil has become is not welcome. The combat is going to be too frustrating to some fans of the series who enjoy it's accessibility of play. It's a series that people who aren't very good at twitch-based gaming could still enjoy, and that has been taken away from them in favor of a more Gears of War gameplay that doesn't work as well as it should. Also, the game has a series of pointless and severely annoying button-mashing sequences. For example, some doors can only be accessed by cutting a fleshy substance open with the knife. First, equip the knife. Then, hit A to tell the game "I would like to open this." Then hit A really fast and a lot to help Alex carve it open. Then press A again to squeeze through the doorway. What was the point of that? There is none. It's obnoxious and just bad game design. It's also not the only instance, but roughly the most frequent.
The story itself isn't bad, but it's completely disjointed from the franchise. I won't say what, but I will say that the story completely rips off older Silent Hill storylines in an attempt to recapture the glory years. The fact is, if this were an original game, and not Silent Hill, I might be more favorable on it. These "creative liberties" would be much more suitable and fans wouldn't have something to pick at. Plus, it would perhaps help mask the fact that the game doesn't have much of an original bone in it's body. This game is, for all intents and purposes, a mediocre fan-fic. Certainly not a bad one, where Pyramid Head and Walter Sullivan do something highly uncharacteristic to each other (well, uncharacteristic for Walter), but definitely not one that evokes the thought of "this is a sequel." And maybe that's why they took off the number 5, they were aware that this didn't feel like a proper introduction to the core franchise and wanted to try and do their own thing. Their own thing happening to be everything the movie, comics, and games did first and better.
The Silent Hills are alive with the sounds of music produced by series headliner Akira Yamaoka. (Sorry, but I had to.) This game is no different, yet somehow, even that feels a little phoned in. There's not really any memorable tunes from the newest title. Nor are there too many real set-pieces. The other Silent Hill's are chock full of memorable moments but this one never dropped my jaw. Then again after Jasper Gein's self-immolation in Silent Hill 4, perhaps I'm a little jaded to much else.
Would I recommend this game? If you like survival horror, it's not bad. If you can put aside the nitpickings of it not being a proper Silent Hill and just play it for what it is, a technically sound game, than by all means check it out. The game has a lot of endings and some new game + features, like extra costumes, so it's not a bad investment. At about 10 hours long, you might be able to rent this one and clear it in a weekend if you're dedicated, and that's probably what I would recommend for most people. If you're a hardcore Silent Hill fan who enjoys anything with the logo on it, then you've likely already purchased it and hate me for thinking Silent Hill 4 is the best in the series.
-Make it a good one
Randy "Dr. Randle" Marr