In a series known for its psycho-sexual monsters, forays into human perversion and claustrophobic sense of unease, each new entry into the Silent Hill canon can be expected to deliver on one emotion: dread. Even in the past few years, wherein Silent Hill has reached a plateau of mainstream popularity, expeditions into the titular fog-shrouded town have remained (mostly) unsettling, if somewhat in flux. With the unfortunate success of the god-awful Hollywood adaptation and Resident Evil 4’s action-over-atmosphere approach sending ripples across the genre, the series has lately been left in the hands of strangers, some less capable than others.
In a series known for its psycho-sexual monsters, forays into human perversion and claustrophobic sense of unease, each new entry into the Silent Hill canon can be expected to deliver on one emotion: dread.
Even in the past few years, wherein Silent Hill has reached a plateau of mainstream popularity, expeditions into the titular fog-shrouded town have remained (mostly) unsettling, if somewhat in flux. With the unfortunate success of the god-awful Hollywood adaptation and Resident Evil 4‘s action-over-atmosphere approach sending ripples across the genre, the series has lately been left in the hands of strangers, some less capable than others.
Which is why American developer Double Helix Games had their work cut out for them with Silent Hill: Homecoming, the first next-gen installment in the series.
Homecoming tells the tale of Alex Shepherd, a recently discharged war vet who returns to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen only to find his brother missing. To make matters worse, the ripped-out streets fall off into an unending abyss, and the whole place is festering with horrific monsters.
It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that Shepherd’s Glen neighbors Silent Hill, where Alex must venture to find his brother … and confront his own past.
If the story sounds familiar, it’s because Silent Hill has always dealt with ordinary people confronting their demons in the otherworldly town. In the case of Homecoming, the plot can be sadly cliched at times.
Unlike the plot’s variation on a theme, the game’s presentation has been restructured slightly, using the Havok technology made famous by Half-Life 2, to render the world with movable and occasionally destructible objects.
The effect is mostly atmospheric–moving objects create sound, and Alex can break down barred doors with weapons, which is a nice effect.
Havok also makes Homecoming quite the looker, with damned good graphics as well as top-notch lighting and shadows that evoke the proper sense of unease or strained panic that a Silent Hill game should.
The game’s character models look sharp, but the real stars here are the decaying, dilapidated buildings and environments, and, of course, a set of seriously disturbing monsters. Thankfully, Homecoming really does the job here, delivering the best cast of beasties since Silent Hill 2‘s mannequin-inspired designs.
Aside from the staple erratic-moving nurses, expect to be unnerved by spider-like blade-legged mannequin-things, lanky, clawed amphibious abominations with mouths for faces, and sort-of Janus-like asexual monsters in full bondage gear. Oh, uh, and Pyramid Head.
To ramp up the tension, the violence level has been turned up as well. Enemies splatter blood with every hit, and wounds show up on character models. Alex can even decapitate enemies. Homecoming is about as graphic as the series has been.
Since Alex is a military man, his combat training makes him more lethal than past Silent Hill protagonists. Homecoming eschews atmospheric camera work for a third-person controllable camera, which makes shooting monsters easier to manage, but the awkward implementation of a newly added dodge button makes melee combat a little clunky.
To further nitpick, elements such as loading screens that give you combat tips and occasional repeating voice samples, detract from the sensory experience the game so carefully attempts to cultivate. Thankfully, complaints such as these are mostly inconsequential and don’t compromise the overall experience.
Most Silent Hill fans would probably argue that this would all be irrelevant if not for the signature involvement of series composer and sound designer Akira Yamaoka, who returns again with another superb set of creepy, brooding scores and jarring background noise.
Thankfully, Yamaoka’s inspired sound work does its job so well that even during the occasional lull in Homecoming‘s gameplay, the aural experience helps keep the Silent Hill mood.Silent Hill: Homecoming is by no means perfect. Little inconsistencies such as Alex’s lack of bloody footprints after killing a monster bring you out of the game. Some cut-scenes are really ugly, with blown-up textures and jagged edges, and puzzles have mostly been dumbed down to “move-the-block-to-open-the-door” style.
Ultimately, given the change in direction and mainstream success the series has seen in recent years, the game may make or break the Silent Hill mold with the next entry in the series. It has always been kept separate from Resident Evil, and despite Homecoming‘s more action-oriented style, it will hopefully stay that way.
But even with its departures, Homecoming isn’t a complete lemon-it’s a competent, if not stellar, entry in the Silent Hill canon. If nothing else, it nails the feeling, and, well, nothing beats a monster in bondage.
Silent Hill: HomecomingKonamiPS3, Xbox 360$59.993.5 stars