Silent Hill: Homecoming review

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Developer(s): Double Helix Games
Publisher(s): Konami
Platform(s): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: September 30, 2008

When Silent Hill first came screaming to our attention in 1999 on the humble PlayStation, we were thrilled with the psychological, nerve-shredding atmosphere and style of gameplay it brought with it. The 3D environments and incredible spine-tingling music had gamers everywhere on the edge of their seats, and with the misty dark surroundings used to ground-breaking effect; you wondered what lingered around every corner. Since Harry Mason first graced our screens, the Silent Hill series has evolved, adapted and changed with the times, but always managed to stay true to its origins. With great anticipation, I sat down with Silent Hill: Homecoming to see if it could keep the flag flying for its predecessors, SO...

The Good
- Excellent soundtrack desperately tries to build atmosphere that's sorely lacking
- Sharp visuals, lighting and a new level of polish add realism to an aging series

The Bad

- Frame rate issues
- Voice acting can be flat at times
- Combat quickly becomes repetitive and easy
Exceptionally linear locations and gameplay 

On the surface, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a dark and twisted homage to the series' classic roots. However, beneath the thick layer of fog are a number of troubling issues that will push the Silent Hill devotees away. The atmosphere is exceptionally well designed with realistic environments, and of course, lots of fog to give the title its familiar feel. The soundtrack is as stirring and engrossing as ever, and really does add an extra dimension to help bring the haunted town to life, yet overall, it feels like it’s just a carefully assembled replica of various parts of the first five games.


Alex Shepard is a very unlucky man. After being injured in combat and brought back on home soil for some extensive hospital treatment, he begins to have numerous dreams that his younger brother Josh is in trouble. After being discharged from hospital, Alex sets out to find his brother and uncover the secrets behind his disappearance - so he returns home to Shepherds Glen to see what he can unearth. After arriving, it soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it seems in this sleepy town, and that his home has been consumed with a dark mysterious presence filled with evil, unknown creatures that stalk the houses and people of the town. You soon discover your father and brother are missing and your mother is catatonic in her rocking chair with the town crumbling around her. As Alex, you must find your brother and father and investigate the shadowy secrets that lurk around every corner of your hometown.

Sadly, this is where the issues highlighted above start to creep out of the shadows. The gameplay is a perplexing mixture of old and new, and whilst easier to follow than its predecessors, it takes a long time to generate any momentum and is exceptionally linear. The Pace of the game will not come as a huge surprise to the established Silent Hill faithful, but will have the novice players scratching their heads wondering what all the hype was about. The inadequate gameplay also relies heavily on novelties which incorporate a useless flashlight, the same shock sequences throughout the game, enemies whom after you kill seem to re-spawn until you save or enter a cut-scene, and endless hallways of doors with broken locks (the old classic). Of course with Alex being a trained killer, defending himself is second nature, and with some patience, practice and experimentation, you can soon be fending, dodging and killing any stunned monster or creature which may jump into your path. The variation of weapons in Homecoming is not just limited to the usual melee weapons; Alex has some firearms to keep things that go bump in the night at a distance. 


Alex can sometimes be very slow and jerky during attacks, and it takes some practice to have him really fighting fit and slaying the creatures creeping around Shepard’s Glen with ease. However, once you do, it essentially trivializes the monsters for the rest of the game - because they are so easy to kill. Alex's skills dampen the psychological blow of being in an evil, dark land, helpless and fighting for his life with every monster he sees. Instead they just become an inconvenience to you as you travel from point A to point B, and for someone who has never seen flesh-eating monsters; Alex takes it all in his stride. Personally if I returned to my hometown, had a close encounter with something that wanted to eat me, found my father and brother missing and found my mother slightly comatose, the next person I meet would know about it. Alex seems more interested in having a chat about town history than explaining that he just knifed his way out of a fight with a 200lb dog.

When he’s not hitting creepy zombie nurses with steel pipes or slashing at wild dogs with an axe, Alex is searching the streets of Shepard’s Glen, trying to piece together what’s happened. Certain items you collect can perform dual functions, with melee weapons such as the axe and steel pipe enabling you to wedge doors open and cut through boarded up doorways and entrances. Whilst this may seem like an innovative idea, it is massively overshadowed by the incredibly frustrating "It looks like the lock is broken. I can't open it." message you will repeatedly see through the majority of this game. You will also encounter a variety of different puzzles while exploring Shepard’s Glen, such as rewiring fuse boxes, deciphering complex spinning locks, to tracking down keypad entries - which can all be solved with some trial and error. However, make your way towards the end of the game and you get some highly engaging puzzles that can’t be solved with simple repetition and guesswork. And beware, you can’t reset any of them so expect frequent re-loading after one mistake too many.

Visually, Homecoming manages to capture the essence of the Silent Hill experience and raise it to entirely new levels of realism - with amazing environmental lighting, shadow effects that make everything look sharp, and a lot of meticulous details. The creatures will show off weapon damage, particularly when you slash them with an axe or knife, and Alex will perform different animations based on the various weapons that he has equipped. Speaking of the monsters, the creatures that roam through the streets of Shepherd's Glen, Silent Hill and the Otherworld look quite good, from jerky, snapping moves of the nurses to the slithering of the Lurkers. Even the bosses have their own unique appearances that change as Alex works them over with his weapon of choice. There are a few frame rate issues every now and then and even though the camera is massively improved from previous Silent Hill titles, you’ll still find that your view is obscured in certain angles. Characters in cut scenes do have a tendency to perform their lines with some quite humorous lip synching, and although their faces may be rather expressive at times, their clothes look flat, bland, and generic.


The true star of the title (and the only real highlight in Homecoming) is Akira Yamaoka's musical selections. Atmospheric, moody and constantly engaging, the music is as good as it's ever been. However, because the gameplay loses its psychological edge, the chilling score feels somewhat irrelevant in places. And, after a while, you may find yourself exerting most of your concentration on trying to build and maintain an atmosphere that gives the exceptional soundtrack justice. It practically tries to beat you into feeling an emotional level that honestly was never really there.

Silent Hill: Homecoming tries to go in a different direction from previous titles in the series, but sadly falls down in most departments. Gone are the spine tingling, terrifying moments that fill you with dread and unease that have been a hallmark of the Silent Hill narrative since day one. The franchise has always been known for its ability to trip the player's psychological levers, instilling a significant amount of terror which plays with your mind and can leave your palms sweaty and your pulse racing. What's left is a very average action game with some great visuals and a fantastic music score….. Maybe going home isn’t always a good idea.

Review by Jon Hall

Final Score “Linear, repetitive, and uninspiring” 5.0
Graphics
Some fantastic details during combat and excellent lighting cannot disguise plain locations and a bad frame rate.
6.0
Gameplay
Exceptionally linear and repetitive. Once you get to grips with the combat, it becomes uninspiring and quite frankly a little irritating.
3.0
Value
You could get ten hours of tepid gameplay from Homecoming – if you can survive it.
4.0
Sound
Almost saves the day and makes the old atmosphere return, but even the masterful score from Yamaoka can’t turn back the time.
8.0

5 comments:

  1. It's a shame that the series has lost direction. I wonder if the recent Silent hill release redeemed itself.

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  2. It is a major shame, especially after the Silent Hill series has brought such a rich gaming history to the industry. Hopefully Shattered Memories will take the criticism from recent titles, and use it to turn back the clock and release a game which goes back to its roots and the origins that made it so special.

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  3. aaaah, saw this cheap on Amazon. Is it at least worth playing for 13 bucks?

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  4. If you have the patience for it, then there a couple of good boss battles and moments in the game. However i would consider resident evil 4/5 or Dead Space 1 or 2 as a more worthwhile purchase, and will be selling at a similar price :).

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  5. Also to correct myself on a recent post, Silent Hill: Book of memories was the title which will be released at a later date in the year (October sometime if memory serves?), not the aforementioned Shattered Memories.

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