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Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360) artwork

Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360) review

"Shepherd’s Glen looked every bit the next-gen reincarnation of Silent Hill, then new protagonist Alex Shepherd turns up in his surplus army coat, frizzy hair and a rugged stubble beard, looks you deep in the eyes and proclaims in a bold, confident voice “I’ve completely missed the point!”"

1999 was a good year for survival horror as it was the year that birthed the original Silent Hill. Though initially flooded with obligatory but oft ignorant comparisons to the genre reinvention of Resident Evil, Konami’s effort prided itself on providing goosebumps instead of cheap scares. It was cerebrally chilling; it despotised everyday man Harry Mason in a fog enshrined town with no idea what to do, then hid his daughter out there somewhere. While the nightmarish creatures that slipped through the smog were genuinely creepy, Harry’s frailty as just an ordinary guy was exploited perfectly; the weapons he acquired were wielded with panic and desperation. Firearms were aimed with shaky, untrained hands; melee weapons swung with reckless abandon; sustained sprints left him quickly gasping for air. The game fed you terror on a drip feed, never fully explaining anything and weaving the doubt and unanswered questions into its tapestry. Harry was alone, vulnerable, sick with worry over his missing kid and scared out of his wits. Trapped in a seemingly sentient town that waited for him to get his bearings then drastically changed, Harry was never meant to be Chris Redfield. He was meant to be doomed. It was a sobering lesson in psychological terror yet to be truly equalled.

A decade later, we find a series in sharp decline. With each title offering more and more insight into the disturbing beginnings of Silent Hill’s blood-drenched history, the town started to lose its primary sense of dread and developers started to look for other ways in which to install fear. The second game succeeded because it focused less on the town and more on the twisted intents of its protagonist; others tried to be direct sequels or prequels or attempts to shift the focus elsewhere and all failed in varying degrees. When new developers, Double Helix, were put in charge a dedicated effort to recapture the majesty of the first game was promised. Appreciated reassurances about washing the lingering bad taste of The Room aside were issued, haunting screenshots of a decaying town, shrouded in mist and plagued with crumbling stretches of impassable highways emerged. Shepherd’s Glen looked every bit the next-gen reincarnation of Silent Hill, then new protagonist Alex Shepherd turns up in his surplus army coat, frizzy hair and a rugged stubble beard, looks you deep in the eyes and proclaims in a bold, confident voice “I’ve completely missed the point!”

Alex is a special forces solider fresh from a tour abroad and, as such, provides Silent Hill with its most competent warrior yet. He can string together combos with melee weapons effortlessly, block incoming attacks, or even dodge out of the way. He handles firearms with comfortable ease, never gets tired and never shows any real signs of fear no matter how macabre the scene may be. Unlike poor, doomed Harry, he’s almost supposed to be Chris Redfield; he’s given every chance to survive the horrors lurking in the shadows and, as such, guts them of their terror. Skinless dogs, legless mannequins and smog-spewing skeletal frames stop being horrors -- they become target practice.

In its attempt to walk the middle ground, Homecoming fails as both a entry in the traditional Silent Hill catalogue and as an action-orientated survival game. There’s no goosebumps to be found exploring Shepherd’s Glen, even when the game takes obvious cues from the (somewhat) recent motion picture. And with the 360 engine behind it, it makes a great job of it. The zombified nurses appear much like they did on the big screen, complete with skin-tight clothing, violent reactions to light and grotesque, rotting limbs. Turn the lights off, stick to the shadows and perhaps you’ll bypass them without being noticed. Or just cave their heads in with a crowbar: it’s a simpler solution and it’s only a little bit of button mashing away.

At some point, Double Helix must have come to realise this.

Developer One: Wasn’t the entire point of this franchise to install a deep-set terror that we’re kinda offsetting by allowing our protagonist the ability to effortlessly destroy everything he sees without consequence?

Developer Two: Oh God, you’re right! Quick -- take away all the healing items!

And so the middle portion of the game takes away your support and throws you into claustrophobic sewers where you fight hulking spider-beasts with spiked talons and the ability to block anything you throw at their weak spot (their heads, oddly tucked nicely away at the point where you’d expect their genitalia to be. There‘s a killer joke in there somewhere.*) Siphoned in quickly comes new beasts that suck up the vast majority of your ammunition, and a string of boss fights that exist only to make sure you were paying attention when the game taught you about the dodge button. Odds are, you weren’t.

Developer One: Now the game is less desperate and more frustrating. It’s forcing those who didn’t possess the ability to see into the future and know all supplies were going to be randomly taken from them to attempt boss encounters on a sliver of health. They’re not happy -- and they’re going to start talking about the invert disaster again!

Developer Two: Oh God, you’re right! Quick -- give them healing items!

The rest of the game suddenly has healing items.

The invert disaster, for those not following keen internet drama back in September 2008, represents a disturbing lack of care from the series’ new developers. Though they should certainly be given credit in most of the cosmetic aspects of the game -- like the brilliant reality tearing effect (also ripped from the movie) that strips away the world from around Alex and replaces it with the rusty, bloody-soaked Otherworld -- they should also be condemned for, seemingly, being twits. Though the option to invert your firearm aiming exists, there’s no way to do the same for the camera, meaning the strange people out there who invert their games are stuck having to control the camera uncomfortably and then try and fight against that familiarity when trying to shoot something.

Double Helix’s excuse? No one on the dev team used invert, so the issue never came up. Their solution? Ignore the issue and hope it goes away.

It’s a lack of attention made unsurprising by players willing to see the game to the end -- that being, those who don’t play their games inverted. Silent Hill: Homecoming is, if nothing else, a cosmetic masterpiece, back-dropped to dilapidation, drying gore and screaming insanity. But these elements are doomed to forever be nothing but cosmetic because they wallow in the relevant danger level of a sack full of soggy kittens. Spare a thought for long-time series composer, Akira Yamaoka, who provides a soundtrack more deserving of a better game. Spare a thought for Team Silent who get to watch an American company take the ideologies of their foundations and decide what it really needed is more stubble and better guns. Spare a thought for me, who had to play through this game nursing a broken heart.

In 1999, I vividly remember Silent Hill giving me nightmares. Creeping, confusing nightmares that stayed just on the edge of my understanding, all the more terrifying in its hazed outline. If I was to awaken in a cold sweat this night, it would be out of concern for a series I loved and the inescapable hole it’s dug for itself.

*That joke would be “It’s literally talking out of its arse!”

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 10, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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pickhut posted May 10, 2010:

I enjoyed reading this review! You did a good job explaining how great the first game was and how it handled horror, then went into how this sequel basically went against everything that game stood for. As someone who has never played a Silent Hill game (but has seen and read about it on and off), I never once felt lost during the review.
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EmP posted May 11, 2010:

Thanks! I was worried about just writing "It's not Silent Hill 1!" over and over again, so I'm glad I got at least some balance in.

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