Review: Silent Hill Homecoming

I first played Silent Hill: Homecoming (hereafter referred to as SHH) on its launch day.  I eagerly pre-ordered it and brought it home, ready to be wowed.  Well, I was wowed.  Unfortunately, it was in both a positive and negative way.  While SHH pays homage to one of the best games in the series, it fails to deliver in others.

The game starts out in a twisted, trademark Silent Hill hospital.  Our lead, Alex Shepherd is being carted on a gurney down a hall, probably a bit too fast for his liking.  During this opening sequence we get to see what kind of disgusting travesties we might get to bear witness to in this outing to our favourite little tourist town.  It’s nice…nice in a Jacob’s Ladder kind of way.

Skip ahead, a few scenes later and Alex is doing some running around for his little brother, Joshua.  Now I’m going to come right out and say it–there is nothing that I find more creepy in a video game such as this as little kids.  Josh decidedly fits the character of ‘creepy kid,’ too.  With an unnerving little giggle, a whisper here and there, and kind of an ‘out of it’ attitude, he’s just creepy.  CREEPY.

What Josh wants is pretty simple–find Robbie.  You know, Robbie the Rabbit?  Simple enough.  During this little task, we get to see how the game mechanics work.  All in all, I liked the way they work.  The combat system sometimes leaves much to be desired, but it’s not impossible.  You can literally destroy every enemy in the game, it’s very possible and actually very practical.  Quick, light attacks, combined with longer heavy attacks do in enemies pretty quickly at the beginning of the game.  Several quick-time events at the end of an enemy’s lifespan allow you to quickly and effectively take it out with a satisfying animation.

Enemies, while being the physical atrocities you’d come to expect in a Silent Hill game, are arguably stronger than in previous entries in the franchise.  One major problem experienced with enemies though is that if you looked at them from a psychological point of view, looking at their deeper meaning…it’s difficult to figure it out.  What was the meaning behind them?  The bigger problem unfortunately was the infinite attack issue with the nurses. This, in turn, lead the Nurse to be my number one feared enemy.  Nurses would slash constantly, not leaving any time for Alex to fight back, or dodge.

While this is most prevalent at this one area in the game with the nurses, there are several instances in the game where this comes up with other enemies.  This unfortunately makes a semi-decent combat system into one of complete frustration at certain areas of the game.  And I still hate those nurses.

Get away!  Get away!

It’s difficult to look at this in a positive light, too.  One could overlook the system’s shortcomings if this were any other person fighting.  If it were James or Harry being sliced and shivved to death, we could understand.  They’re nobodies, they’re average joes who probably have never even fired a gun before, and couldn’t execute half of the moves that Alex could, even if their lives depended on it (which, in this instance they do).  But this is Alex Shepherd, and his backstory is that he’s a soldier.  Trained in CQC and firearms!  Getting his ass whooped by a nurse?  That kind of stuff won’t fly in the army, Son.

After having retrieved Robbie and traversing through the Otherworld in a menial yet unnecessarily overly complicated task for Josh, the kid still runs away.  But it’s okay, because in typical Silent Hill fashion, this whole opening sequence was just a dream (aptly, the name of the level is “Nightmare.”  Alex wakes up next to Silent hill Veteran Travis Grady, who’s giving him a ride.  Not what you’re thinking, get your head out of the gutter.  Destination?  Shepherd’s Glen–a nice little town located on Toluca Lake, not far from Silent Hill.  After Alex is dropped off, we find that Shepherd’s Glen has many of the same characteristics of silent Hill.  Ever-present fog, abandoned, and suffering from an extreme cutback in the public works department.

One major difference in SHH, that sets it apart from other games is that there are other real people (as in not figments of your imagination) in Shepherd’s Glen and Silent Hill that you can interact with.  They don’t offer much advice as to what’s going on with the town, but they pretty much tell him he should just go home.

Above: She’s not dead, or a figment of your imagination, either.

A trip to the Shepherd homestead proves rather pointless.  Alex’s mother is pretty zoned out.  Pistol in hand, lost gaze–yeah, there’s somethong wrong with her.  She misses Josh.  Taking a walk through the house proves interesting in itself.  Much of the story in these early acts is revealed through exploration, and a fair bit about Alex and the rest of the Shepherd’s can be learned in their home.  SHH chooses to let you figure out a lot of the story, rather than spoon feed you details.

The house, like many areas of the game is incredibly detailed, with old pictures, toys and notes throughout.  In exploring the house, we learn that Alex…kind of has an issue with the rest of his family.  He is mysteriously absent from family photos, the drawings that Josh leaves behind as well.  At one point, you wonder whether Alex is actually part of this family, but you’re kindly reminded of what his family thinks of him via a cassette tape found in the house.

The Shepherd home is full of photos–none of which Alex are in.

The amount of detail in the house and in other areas in the game is outstanding.  The atmospheric music and other audio throughout the game lends itself well to the location you’re in.  It adds to the overall atmosphere of the game (scary).  This isn’t a game for the light-hearted.  Imagery throughout SHH is quite disturbing, and with the high-level graphics of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, SHH is a visually scarring experience.  The transition from the real world to the Otherworld is one that happens in real-time, and is an awesome sight.  The real world seems to peel away and flake into nothingness, as the dark and true nature of the towns come to light.

The item and weapon menu are easy to navigate once you get used to them.  I didn’t find myself using it too often after I found some nifty shortcuts for weapon switching.  Your health flashes onscreen every time you’re injured and shortly afterward in a little slash mark on the side of the screen.  There are two different menus, one for items and one for weapons, and both operate in pretty much the same fashion, utilizing the analog sticks.  Unfortunately, I ended up using a few health items while going for something completely different.  It takes practice.

Areas of the game, such as the hospital are unfortunately fairly straight forward.  Puzzles are present, but not plentiful.  They can be difficult, but are managable, and suit the game well.  Achievements for the Xbox 360 add to the difficulty of the game and extend the replay value tenfold (kooky costumes not so much).  There was never a point in the game where I was too frustrated by a puzzle element to quit.  The achievements are not incredibly difficult to obtain, either.  They actually pay a lot of homage to SH2.

Above: Achievement Unlocked–Eddie’s Legacy

Some purists might say that the this outing in Silent Hill is a bit too different than in previous outings.  It doesn’t follow the “rules” of Silent hill.  For instance, as mentioned before, there are times in SHH where you’re surrounded by people–not monstrocities.  At times, you’re travelling with an A.I. partner, while most people feel that Silent Hill is a trip taken solo.  I guess it sort of takes away from the experience when you have someone fighting your demons next to you.  My opinion.

One of the biggest obstacles in SHH is the level of glitches.  This is a game that has a lot of them.  Glitches take away from the immersion of the game.  Whether they’re hilarious, or downright awful, they’re not supposed to be there and they really should have been worked out before release.  Browse any of the forums on the subject and you’re bound to come up with some frustrating stories.  I’ve gone through a few of them myself, mostly involving the A.I (suddenly my partner is running into a wall…and cannot be moved).  Doors that fail to open and are supposed to, glitches in enemy A.I., collision detection all mark up the immersion experience.  The worst, however, was a miniboss battle in which the room disappeared.  Couldn’t see the character, couldn’t see the enemy, couldn’t get out–was trapped.  Had to reload…lost two hours of time.  Mind you, I’ve played both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 version of the game.  While not the same glitches, there are still glitches present.

The game takes Alex throughout Shepherd’s Glen and Silent Hill, all while on the heels of his little brother.  Josh, while just out of reach, is always there, waiting to be rescued, leaving clues for Alex to follow.  Clues about the town’s past, and clues about what actually happened to him.

To discover what happened, Alex will have to look at the history of Shepherd’s Glen and Silent Hill, and their relationship with one another.  What he discovers, however may be a little more than he can handle.  Will Alex ever find his dear brother?

This is the boss that inspired the nightmare that inspired me to write this review.

You’ll Like:

  • Outstanding graphics
  • Moody music and audio compliment the game
  • Dark story with multiple endings
  • Challenging enemies
  • Xbox 360 achievements, unlockable weapons add to replay value

You’ll Hate

  • Combat system is a little dodgy at times
  • Glitches in A.I. and other areas of the game are FRUSTRATING.
  • Straightforward levels sometimes leave little to explore.
  • Longtime fans of the series may have issues with story/gameplay changes to SSH.

Conclusion

While it may never live up to the standards that long-time fans may have for the series, it is definitely worth a play; for both survival horror fans, or gamers just getting into the scene.

               
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