Silent Hill: Homecoming Review
Whilst it would have been nice to be writing this review back in November, developers Double Helix Games seemed to have misplaced their localisation testers for converting the game from English to English. Worry not though, as the game has finally arrived from America! Silent Hill Homecoming marks the sixth instalment in the Silent Hill series, a series which has become renowned for its dedicated fanbase, a rather enjoyable movie and half-dressed nurses.
Taking your first steps into the survival horror you will wake in an eerie hospital, where confusion and anarchy has taken place (something which is common in the town of Shepherd’s Glen recently). Escaping from a bed you have been strapped to, you will progress through the hospital in search of your younger brother Josh. Unfortunately after great difficulty in being able to stop the little blighter from running away every time (he is literally feet away several times!), Alex Shepherd awakes, realising that the frustration of being outpaced by a child was only a nightmare.
Alex cannot help but feel that Josh is in trouble so heads home after a long leave of absence, finding very little in terms of open arms and warm faces to greet him. Instead he finds that the road he arrived in on has been somewhat been destroyed and he is now unable to see further than 5 feet in front of him, due to the endless fog. This is where the story begins for Homecoming, well kind of. The story technically begins many hours later when it actually picks up from pointless errands and a complete lack of the characters realising their surroundings. Literally every character you bump into is a mindless drone, including yourself (Alex, not you sat right there silly). I lost count of the times Alex would be faced with some crazed knife wielding mutated organic monster (or a sexy nurse of course) and react with nothing more than a “What’s going on in this town?”… What’s going on?! If you were stuck in this perfect realisation of hell with everything that wriggles trying to kill you, I am sure you would be a little more concerned. I know personally I would be wetting myself crying like a little girl whilst hiding under a bed somewhere, and whilst that would not make for a very enjoyable game I expected a little more emotion. This lack of any slight realistic emotion really kills the sense of danger or even intelligence for the game and its characters.
I can somewhat understand Alex’s sense of calmness, what with his immense ability to slice the hell out of everything in his path. Initially the controls can be somewhat fiddly as they have a large emphasis on dodging and performing cheap attacks continually. Throughout the game you will be rewarded with bigger and better weapons, from the starting knife you will soon progress to a pipe, and then an axe, and later some guns. Unfortunately after getting pinned into a corner (many times) only to be repeatedly attacked with no room to dodge or strike back, I tried a change of tactics. It seems that upgrading your main weapon of choice when a new one is found is not the way forward, as the trusty small and quick knife can pin any enemy into a continual cycle of juddering in pain. Slash slash slash, even if the enemy tried to swing or dodge they would simply get hit before the animation completed. Cleverly I reversed what the enemies were doing to me onto them; ha they didn’t see that one coming!
Unfortunately the two large issues described above have one combined effect on the game; it is not a survival horror. During the entirety of the game there was not a point in which the game startled or scared me enough to evoke even a slight judder of fear. Whist the game has an amazing attention to detail, gore and sense of eerie atmosphere, which the developers should truly be proud of, there are no encounters or surprises that catch you off your feet. Most attempts felt like a re-enactment of the film SAW, in which poor individuals were trapped in horrific traps – having their bodies ripped in two. Whilst this looked amazing, and obtained the odd “oooh nice”, it never got to the point where I was searching for the light.
One of the most pleasing features of the graphics is the detailed scaring which will appear when slashing at enemies. Their skin will literally ooze blood from where to have decided to plunge your weapon of choice. Although picking a favourite is a hard choice with the fantastic lighting, shadow effects and continual grain over the games screen being right up there. As with the graphics the overall audio presence in the game is equally fantastic, adding even further to the already beautifully portrayed atmosphere. The two complement each other well to create one of the eeriest towns to grace a game.
In-between the slash run slash gameplay you will be required to solve puzzles in order to progress through the many different environments. These puzzles can be anything from finding a few items dotted around a building to solving a wiring circuit logic puzzle. The inclusion of these puzzles are a requirement to increase the games length, which without it the developers may have gone for the old trick of making you run through the same environments over and over. Thankfully that is kept to a minimum as each area of the city feels like a chapter, typically resulting in an ending boss battle of epic proportions.
The lack of horror in the game does not technically make it bad; it just makes it not what is typically expected from a game marked with the Survival horror genre tag. From this it is likely that fans of the series are going to be somewhat disappointed. On the other end of the spectrum newcomers will find the game easy to jump into, as the simplistic control mechanics, pacing and easier (yet still utterly all over the place) to follow storyline allow for this.