By Mike Gilday
Silent Hill and I go way back to the Playstation 1. Having been scared shitless by Resident Evil before it, I was surprised to find a game that actually had me terrified of advancing my character through the environment. The crackling radio static that signified a monster’s presence brought on levels of anxiety that no horror movie before or since has been able to match. It’s story was deep as well, revealing layers that were barely able to be scratched away even with repeated viewings, revealing the hellish monstrosities I’d been combating to be more than just monsters the developers thought would be cool, they had a deeper significance to the plot.
Subsequent games in the series have matched the first in these very basic criteria, but only the second game actually surpassed it. Silent Hill 2 is by far one of the best horror games ever made, if only for it’s fantastic story.
So now we come to the latest entry in the series, Silent Hill: Homecoming. I picked up the game, eager to take to the streets of my favorite horrifying resort town and battle monsters and run around hunting for keys or puzzle clues low on ammo and healing items, scared shitless as the radio static grows thicker and thicker. In this respect, Homecoming succeeds. It nails the atmosphere, borrowing only the successful elements from the recent Silent Hill film by Christopher Gans, and the environments, from the hellish otherworld to the mysterious “foggy world” are exactly what you want from a Silent Hill game.
The monsters are pretty cool as well, many of which are downright creepy. Enemies like the Siam and the four bosses are particular standouts. The nurses, which are ripped right out of the movie are creepy, relentless and create genuine tension when they appear, if only because of their distorted human appearance. They managed to ramp up the fear and anxiety in the game through the monsters as well, because each of them are easily capable of killing you if you aren’t careful.
The combat has seen a significant overhaul, perhaps due to the game being taken over by a Western developer. There’s a precision aiming system for firearms, but ammo is a lot more scarce in this game and you’re better off saving ammo from Siams or bosses than wasting it on the small fries. They melee combat is simple, but rewarding if you take time to master it. It can be very frustrating however, because the dodge system is at times either too responsive or not responsive enough. I can’t count how many times I tried to dodge an attack and instead my character lept into one.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Alex, the main character, is very well done, but the other human characters all look like utter ass. It’s like the character designer let his ten year old brother mess around with the models in 3-D Studio Max then accidentally saved them. The monsters and environments all look great, but the character models, animations and lip synching on the human characters wouldn’t have been acceptable in the early days of the PS2. For an A list title like a Silent Hill game, more is expected and deserved.
Plot wise the Silent Hill games have always been about the mysery. What’s going on in this town? Why is my character here? Homecoming is no exception, creating a gripping mystery as to why the inhabitants of Shepherd’s Glen, a town neighboring Silent Hill, are disappearing. Obviously the gamer knows Silent Hill is involved, but it’s not the how that’s interesting so much as the why. Like most other entries in the series, this one has multiple endings. The one I got on my first play through was pretty unsatisfying, and I’m in the process of beating it again to see the other four. Yet, replaying it I started reading a lot of notes and noticing people’s conversations more and seeing all the little hints regarding the ending I got originally. I thought that was a neat touch.
Overall, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a solid entry in the series. If you’re looking for a game to scare you and make you think both about its plot and its puzzles, then this game is a solid choice. Don’t let the C+ scare you, I’m knocking the game down for a combat system that could use another layer of polish, and character graphics and animation. I’d love to see this developer take another stab at the franchise and produce something a bit more polished and worthy of the Silent Hill name.