"Silent Hill… "
Initially, it was evil. A macabre, rusted world decorated with severed doll parts and archaic symbols, seen only by a broken down waning flashlight. It played on the senses. Forced you to hear your daughter’s cries for help via a disconnected phone line or helplessly watch a strange ritual being committed on her courtesy of a distorted monitor. The original Silent Hill left me destroyed; left me distraught.
But like most franchises, Silent Hill lost its edge due to dull gimmicks and thoughtless additions. Creating sequels so appalling that certain delusional individuals will deny their existence.
In order to stand with--stand against--the growing competition for this genre, the once great series needed to be salvaged. Hell, it needed to be outright saved.
Homecoming was the attempt. It was to be just that: A homecoming--a return to the series' haunting atmosphere and gripping story. Its first title on the next-gen system suggested it was going to be gorgeous and gritty; demented and detailed. Homecoming was hyped to be the savior--the most enthralling, demonic sequel to date. In buying it--in playing it--I had only one question: Would it live up to that?
The answer: This… is what I’ve been dying for.
I want to feel angst in a game like this. I want to feel helpless and trapped. Locked in my own comfy apartment able to run back and heal anytime I got a scratch as seen in The Room didn’t provide me that kind of fright. From the first spin of the disk, Homecoming leveled me. I was thrown into the middle of madness and left in the dark. The game starts, abruptly, with your main character Alex wheeled down a hallway in a hospital, strapped to a gurney. Alex is shoved into a room with dingy walls and strobing fluorescent lights. Outside people scream, blood spatters while Alex begs someone--anyone--to tell him what’s going on. From there, things just get worse. Bound and helpless you can only watch as the doctor leaves, then gets ripped apart by a massive monster. And whatever is out there may come in for Alex. So he tears from his restraints, moves out of the room and down the hallway of this pastel, sterile mental asylum. Iron lungs and medieval baby incubators decorate every area you enter as you work your way through. Until, finally, at the end of the hallway you see your little brother, Josh--seemingly content amongst this wickedness--drawing pictures in a locked room, and totally oblivious to you.
Josh may be the reason you’re in this mess to begin with, so with instilled motivation you search the hospital to find a way to him, rather than escape for your life. Then, in a random room you find a blade stuck into the wall with blood as its backdrop. You decide to remove it. Whatever sanity you had left is obliterated. The moment you pull the weapon out the air raid sirens echo and the walls tear away to reveal the rusted, caged environment that made the original Silent Hill so terrifying. This time you don’t black out and wake up here. You watch--then panic--as everything around you crumbles and peels to leave this decaying, gruesome place. On the next gen-systems, and with Homecoming’s gritty, detailed graphics it has a much stronger impact.
It pulls you in and forces on you the bleak, confined emotion this structure causes. A feeling that lasts until the scene’s final act, finding you trapped in an elevator, then potentially skewered by Pyramid Head’s blade shoving through the doors.
You survive, only for what you just encountered was a dream, and you awake--unharmed-in the cabin of an 18-Wheeler returning to your hometown of Shepherd’s Glen.
From here, Homecoming takes on a quiet, more reserved approach and atmosphere. Surprisingly, it remains just as terrifying. Rather than using played-out methods like zombies busting through windows or maniacs leaping out of the shadows, the game becomes subtle and psychological. It may be an empty wheelchair rolling down a stair case after you’ve walked by. It could be finding your mother sitting in the living room when only seconds earlier it was empty. Perhaps it will be the conversation you have with the woman on the other side of the broken door; her wavering voice and illogical rambling, then listening to her hum mournfully as you walk away. Possibly hearing demented children laughing as you rush through an empty playground.
For me, it was the sudden sound of scraping then thudding, prompting me to hide behind a pile of rubble for fear of it. Then as Pyramid Head stalked by, dragging behind him his massive, serrated blade he looked straight at me--slow and calculating--then continued on.
No matter where or when it happens, at some point Silent Hill: Homecoming will get to you.
Be it in those intense, mental moments or hearing the air raid sirens wail and being thrust back into the confining, dark side. Both of which I found myself fevering my pace. Not to escape, instead to drive on.
Homecoming delves further into the mystery of Silent Hill than all other sequels combined, and you can’t help but draw back to find answers as to how this demonic town came about. And for once in a long time, I did it with a character I liked.
Alex is humble and soft-spoken like most protagonists of the series. Yet, as a military vet it make sense that he’s able to battle; how he’s able to hold his own against such insurmountable odds. He’s incredibly resolved, but doesn’t come across as brooding. He’s silent, driven and willing to do the right thing without whining about it. Not to mention, he’s a hell of fighter. The re-vamped combo system plays on this, now giving you the ability to dodge and string together combos. I found it quite useful, thought it did take a little while to learn the timing on it. Certainly not a complaint.
In fact, my grievances on this game are minimal and ones I’m able to talk myself out of. Other gamers might not. It is a tad short compared to other games in the genre. Though, I did play the hell out of it. Ammunition is short in supply, and often you find yourself trapped, unable to return and load up more before a boss fight. Some would find this irritating. I thought it added to the desperation. Unlike other survival horror games that pull this cruel trick (see Code: Veronica X) Homecoming gives you a wealth of melee weapons aside from a short, useless knife. This game is about survival, not creeping back while shooting from a safe distance. If you’re out of ammo, you have to find another way to kill your enemy, one that will bring you much closer to them.
Once again, creating the atmosphere of despondency.
And one thing that made the original Silent Hill so famous. One thing that it lost over the years. Silent Hill: Homecoming brings it back. All of it--the fear, the psychological manipulations, the emotional story driven by composer Akira Yamaoka’s moving works. Homecoming is the return of what Silent Hill once was--Evil. Evil and brilliant. From the first opening scene to the final credits I was cast into a depraved, macabre world I’ve missed so much. Konami may have made many attempts to re-create what they had, but with their latest attempt I can finally say it…
Featured community review by True (October 15, 2008)
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