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Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360) artwork

Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360) review


"Ironically, in coming home we are farthest away from a new path to the original waterfall. Rather than sate our thirst with some ingenious new angle to this business of Otherworldliness, new developers Double Helix serve up something that closely resembles the first game only in appearance, and not in spirit, choosing to ramp up the elementary combat and miss the point altogether."



In the beginning, Silent Hill made me ask questions. Simple and poignant questions. The desire to have them answered was what made wading through the wounded alleys and hateful hallways so compelling. What made it possible to push forward in spite of perfunctory combat and the tedium of door-knob jiggling and dead-ends at the mouths of streets torn asunder. With each subsequent release in the franchise, the pertinent questions, the questions that matter, lose a little more of their potency.

And with this Homecoming, there is precious little remaining.

A friend of mine remarked that success of the original Silent Hill was an anomaly, and he was on to something. Its world was hell seen through the fragile veneer of normalcy; hell which you could touch and through which you could tread when the veneer thinned out completely in places. The Question that first game elicited would never again be so pure and resonant:

What the hell is this place?

By the second coming, we knew pretty much what 'this place' was, but the creators asked us to ponder on something else not clearly explained in the original -- Question #2: Why us? And James Sunderland’s tragic lot furnished a wholly satisfying if melancholy answer.

Following James was little more than disappointment. I now knew what Silent Hill was, and I met the ‘plights’ of Heather and Henry (of subsequent entries) with indifference. Ironically, in coming home we are farthest away from a new path to the original waterfall. Rather than sate our thirst with some ingenious new angle to this business of Otherworldliness, new developers Double Helix serve up something that closely resembles the first game only in appearance, and not in spirit, choosing to ramp up the elementary combat and miss the point altogether.

Homecoming is a study in eliciting ambivalence: it wants so badly to stir emotions and instead taps Silent Hill's last vestige of intrigue in order to give us the hollowest Silent Hill experience yet. The contrary trend doesn’t end there – the game does everything in its power to quell its own fanfare. Consider this, for starters: Homecoming boasts positively striking lighting effects, where shadows are cast realistically, rich with depth and mystery. And yet, the game is far too dark on the whole. You’ll miss items, miss door knobs (not fun when being chased by monsters), and miss monsters (not fun when being bludgeoned by monsters).

Our hero, Alex Shepherd, looks to have been designed with great care, from his facial expressions to his facial hair – this is the stuff that made us yearn to have our great series make the move to the next generation. The monsters too, are a meticulously detailed representation of the perverse macabre. But Double Helix didn’t seem to put as much care into the creation of the supporting cast. From Judge Holloway to the local gunsmith, Curtis – texture and refinement is disappointingly lacking.

The ups-and-downs continue with the combat, which is ramped up as advertised. Alex is a good deal more capable in a fight than previous protagonists. He can roll out of harm’s way, slip impending attacks with the new dodge button, counter coming out of the dodge, and string together combos with light and heavy attacks. The problem is, the aforementioned darkness, and the way the camera is sometimes fixed when you’re in ‘ready stance’ actually obscure the enemy ‘tells’ so that you’re often unable to properly evade the attacks as they come.

Which brings us to the next point: enemies are also a lot more capable in this game. In fact, they’ve come a lot farther along than Alex, with his rudimentary dodging and countering. The ever-present Nurses (who now look a great deal like they did in the Silent Hill movie) can put together some quick combos with their scalpels for considerable damage. The gargantuan Siam – a man mountain with a female form affixed to his back – breaks through concrete pillars and prison walls alike, and will pummel you with impunity. And both Needlers and Schisms can effect one-hit kills against Alex – highly irritating when you can’t see to dodge properly and the last save point is ten minutes back.

Yes, the save points are spaced too far apart, which only compounds the issue of difficult combat sequences. But what’s perhaps more damaging to the fun factor in Homecoming is the resource allotment. The game starts off promising and it’s actually fun to string together your first few combos against Feral (the skinless, plastic-looking dogs) and the Nurses. You’ll do okay. As you get into the heart of the game, Homecoming is bogged down by excessively dark areas like the Sewers, where the most annoying enemy of all, the Needlers (they like to block your attacks with their pincer-arms), are found in abundance, and health supplies and ammo are not. The greater portion of the middle of the game is decidedly un-fun.

Things get manageable and interesting again in the final stretch of Homecoming. And it’s no coincidence that all of a sudden, Health Drinks, First Aid kits and ammunition become very readily available. I had been hanging on for dear life, and all at once, it was raining resources. This made closing the game out moderately enjoyable, which begs the question: why didn’t they give us more resources earlier in the game? Sure, it’s not the truest sense of balance, but it’s a band-aid with merit: it would allow the casual gamer a chance to stay the course when monsters begin to overwhelm.

Because sadly, when that feeling of being overwhelmed comes, probably somewhere around the mid-way point, there’s really no reason to keep playing. Our salient Questions answered years ago, we loyally endure Silent Hill’s esoteric conventions of endlessly locked rooms, sickening enemies, and aberrant atmosphere expecting at least an interesting variation on the why us (question #2) of it all. And Homecoming has a decent story – the most straightforward and cohesive and easy to digest outside of Silent Hill 2 – but it only starts telling you its tale in the last quarter of the game.

So when you’re bummed out in the darkness with monsters swarming and with no ammo for your guns, struggling to dodge attacks you can barely see, wholly lacking any sort of intriguing, exotic artifact in your inventory or shred of compelling mystery to at least ponder on – you’ll wonder what the point of it all is. You’ll wonder if you’re actually having fun, or just soldiering on because you tell yourself you’re a fan. You’ll wonder if you’re hanging onto a formula that has long lost its efficacy. You'll wonder if Konami is.

And yet, Homecoming isn’t a terrible game. Not terrible, but seriously flawed. And it’s a game whose flaws consistently work against its plusses. The atmosphere is brilliant as always, the scoring and sound effects magnificent (better than ever, perhaps) – but with this latest effort, which definitely falls short, I wonder if it isn’t time for Konami to consider an overhaul of Resident Evil 4 proportions.

Rating: 5/10

Masters's avatar
Community review by Masters (October 24, 2008)

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honestgamer posted October 24, 2008:

This was a great review that I enjoyed reading. One thing that your reviews do well is establish the sense that you can speak with authority. That's important, and used to particularly strong effect in this review. Your summary of the other games in the series was short and to the point, but meaningful. Your reference to the nurses looking like those in the movie also made it clear that you've been with the series for a long time and might be considered a fan, which was important when near the end you included the brilliant lines about the player wondering why he's playing and trying to tell himself that he's a fan of an experience that isn't particularly good. Great stuff!
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bloomer posted October 24, 2008:

Yes, all what HG said. I also like the outro - it's funny, a lot of people (fans) were afraid this game Would be the remake of RE4-sized proportions :) The majority have been saying 'the combat's been amped but otherwise it's still mostly on mission.' And you're saying the whole thing has become really neither here nor there now, in pretty much every department. I'm going through Silent Hill 4 for the first time right now, btw. Might be a long time before I get to Homecoming.
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Masters posted October 25, 2008:

Incidentally, Wade, you're the friend who 'got me thinking' in the review. Thanks for the encouragement guys.
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psychopenguin posted October 25, 2008:

It's really hard to write for a game you feel is average and I feel you pulled it off really well as always. I especially liked the opening paragraph as it drew me into the review and I happened to agree with it so I wanted to keep reading to see how this one compared to the others. (I haven't played 4 or 0rigins, yet, however.)
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EmP posted October 25, 2008:

Needs more SH4 hate.

So does everything ever made everywhere.
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Masters posted October 25, 2008:

I didn't actually HATE Silent Hill 4 -- but it really turned me off at times. It's funny how one terribly designed area can just about ruin things all by itself. The opening subway area wasn't bad, the forest area wasn't horrible... but the prison tower thing -- man I hated that.
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disco1960 posted October 25, 2008:

The review makes a lot of sense.

Dang!

At least SH4 had lighting, and the doors came unlocked. (That apartment would have looked really stupid otherwise.)
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Masters posted October 25, 2008:

That sounds like mockery. =(
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disco1960 posted October 25, 2008:

I was being serious! I sort of like SH4.

I even have a review for it someplace, with actual reasons and stuff.

I should find it and put it up here, after I fix it because it's probably crappy, despite my thinking it was good at the time.

...wait, what?
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zippdementia posted October 25, 2008:

I thought the review was solid. It has a lot of focus, and that's something I really like in a review. You very quickly pinpointed the things that were wrong with the game and showed how they influenced the experience overall.
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Masters posted October 26, 2008:

PP, disco, zipp: Thanks, glad you liked it.
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EmP posted December 20, 2009:

Came back to this review after just purchasing the game on the cheap. I've probably said before in other aspects of my commincations with my third favourite Canadian, but this is an effortlessly fantastic review.
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Masters posted December 21, 2009:

Thanks Gar. Am I up to third place now? Sweet! :P

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