Game Review: Silent Hill: Homecoming

We don’t normally review games on this site, but I felt this one merited some attention. Silent Hill is an amazing, cinematic series, typically filled with film-like mise-en-scene and suspenseful camera work. It’s a series that plays games with your head, just like a good David Lynch film.

This is a re-post of my review on Gametrailers.com, the same place where System Shock 2: The First Encounter, premiered. I am reviewing this game because the series has had a huge influence on not only my taste in video games but also my feelings towards film as a narrative tool of  subjective perspective and reality-bending. If you wanna see what movies I’m talking about, just look at either Car Trouble or the recently released Clarity. Anyways, here’s the review! Read behind the cuts for more information. Very limited spoilers.

STORY

Alex Shepard has returned home from the war wearing some old-style army jacket, a couple of dog tags, and carrying a combat knife. I have no idea why. The first scene in the game mimics the series’ vaunted inspiration, Jacob’s Ladder, by having you wheeled through a Hell Hospital on a VERY bumpy gurney. From the outset everything is going well, we even see P-Head lurking the halls…but then.

Alex sees his younger brother and tries to save him from the freaky place he’s in with little to no explanation of what’s going on.

Well to tell you the truth I kind of always liked that angle that Silent Hill has: Your main motivation is that you’ve lost someone you love and you have to find them at all cost (with the exceptions of 3 and 4, hence being the weak parts of the series. Origins was about discovering who Travis was than finding your loved ones, but it worked on its own level). Stories like this tend to work if you care about the character and their motivations, and over time we get to learn a little about Alex, but certainly not enough to see why he’s so nuts about finding Joshua– except for the fact that he’s supposed to. This is what made the protagonist of Silent Hill 2 so interesting: James was looking for his dead wife because he had no where else to turn for answers, but the town of Silent Hill, when he got a letter from her.

As Alex awakens into the real world, he learns that the townspeople of Shepard’s Glen have gone missing, that grotesque monsters have torn into the city streets, and that his parents have become…kinda crazy. Oh, and dudes with pipes are attacking from Silent Hill- the sister town of Shepard’s Glenn that somehow! shares in its evil secrets.

You do meet some creepy supporting characters, a hot chick you’re obviously gonna dog at some point when you get out of Pyramid Head’s grasp, and a tough-as-nails cop who gets a half decent ending. The villains are also pretty decent in tone, and while none of them are fleshed out, they DO get fleshy endings!

GAMEPLAY

Silent Hill: Homecoming takes the best of the old and new and puts it together in terms of combat, but lacks in puzzles and tension.

Combat:
I actually really enjoyed it. Up to a point. Then hated it. Then loved it again. Then realized it was…well. No more complicated really than past games in the series. The new Homecoming’s fighting system revolves around counters and dodging in order to bring a more skilled warrior into the story, and succeeds. Alex Shepard kicks ASS like Liam Neeson in Taken, especially with his combat knife. Which is 90% the only weapon you’ll ever need.

The pros? Combat does look REALLY good. Smooth animations, visible enemy damage, and lots of nifty ways to kill things really gives the combat a visual dynamic if not a functional one. Blood and guts go flying when the shit goes down, and because of Alex’s training, he is rarely squeamish, even when you are. The shooting, when enacted, is actually precise and well-rounded in terms of gun balance, with more firearms than you’d expect. The only trouble with it is the somewhat clunky transition from shooting to dodging, and the near impossible transition between weapons in the PC version. Best part about the guns- when they hit, they hit HARD.

PRESENTATION

The environments that look the best are the Hell levels, which actually gave me goosebumps. It felt like the walls could move at any time and I wouldn’t be able to escape. The feeling of claustrophobia that shot out in these zones really added to the experience, and made the game worth playing on an aesthetic level. This was one of the creepiest games I’ve ever played, just like the old one, and for that it gets major props in areas where others wouldn’t. Silent Hill has a mise-en-scene much like a movie, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Character models are exceedingly well animated even if the textures and polygons aren’t up to snuff on the humans, and the monsters have a sick oily sheen to them that gives off an alien-like quality, as if their whole bodies were covered in blood and saliva. I also dug their look and design, especially the new ones like the Zipperhead and the movie-styled Pyramid Head. Bosses were threatening in appearance, even when their encounters were yawn-inducing at worst. Their appearances, both random and scripted, always was an intense cause for alarm, as the could burst through doors or appear from the shadowy rafters at any time.

Music is once again done by the irreplaceable Akira Yamaoka and it shows- there is no dull moment in the score, and the mood is ALWAYS shifting between somber and terrifying. In a good way.

Even more impressive is the audio design in certain more hellish environments, wherein it feels like the walls are practically alive, and very, VERY angry. I never have felt like an environment wanted to just come alive and crush me more than Silent Hill: Homecoming. And that was with crappy laptop speakers.

VERDICT

What’d you guys think? I can’t wait for another chance to take a trip to Silent Hill. I thought this one had a lot of original ideas it ended up spoiling for no good reason except to wrap the story up into a neat little package. The lack of a thrilling final boss fight was also a major problem, but in general I really wanted to see where this game went. Maybe at some point I’ll reinstall and see different endings and outcomes, but for now, I’m done with it giving me nightmares. I don’t feel like stabbing anyone in my sleep any time soon.

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