Review by Allyourbase
"Scare yourself silly once again"
Konami's at it again -- making us sleep with the lights on -- with its latest entry into the venerable Silent Hill series. And with Halloween around the corner (at least at the time of this review), it couldn't be more appropriate.
Silent Hill: Homecoming, the sixth installment of the series, puts you in the shoes of Alex Shepherd, a soldier returning to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen -- which is right across Toluca Lake from Silent Hill -- after being discharged. Shepherd is haunted by visions of his younger brother Joshua in trouble and he comes back to find Shepherd's Glen has fallen into a state of severe decay.
After touching base with his semicatatonic mother and learning his father has gone missing as well, Alex sets off to find his missing family members and discover just what the hell is going on in Shepherd's Glen -- and if Silent Hill is involved.
Just like an M. Night Shymalan film, Silent Hill often contains a twist so radical and jarring that it forces us to step back and reassess everything we've experienced. Between the whole person seeks missing loved one motif and the inevitable plot twist, it's easy to dismiss the plot as derivative of earlier games. The true fun, however, lies in what we'll find when the protagonist finds what he or she is seeking and how we will be shocked.
Team Silent flexes the XBox 360's graphical muscles and it shows. Every environment has staggering detail and the advanced lighting effects -- and the resulting interplay with shadows -- add a touch of realism, adding to the the terror. Although it seems silly to be playing a survival horror game during the day, some places are nearly impossible to see in unless you're playing at night with all the lights off. Lighting is often uneven at times, even when the flashlight is on.
There are quite a number of moveable and destructible environments, thanks to the Havok engine. I can't count how many times brushing past a chair or knocking a vase off a table made me jump out of my seat. It's a small detail that adds nuance and depth to the creepy locales you'll be walking through (presumably very slowly and with your weapon ready).
Another modification includes the use of a third-person controllable camera, instead of quirky camera angles. Thankfully, it doesn't detract from the atmosphere, although it doesn't turn as fast I'd like it, notably when turning around to see what's behind you.
For once, Homecoming features a protagonist who is at least not at a complete loss defending himself. Thanks to his military background, Alex has the chops to go toe-to-toe with the abominations that populate the game. Expect to run across anything from demonic nurse to bizarre beasties with needles for arms to even -- yup, he's here -- Pyramid Head.
An added feature is a dodge button, but I found timing an evasive maneuver to be wonky as best. Time it too soon and the enemy will simply adjust its attack to hit you. Time it too late and you either end up merely deflecting the attack or getting hit. It still provides a welcome addition to combat. Melee attacks are about what you'd expect, gritty and visceral affairs. You can inflict quick attacks or slower and heavier blows and in some instances, Alex can perform finishing moves to dispatch fallen foes. My one quibble would be the attack animations. After swinging a weapon, Alex pauses for a few frames before attacking again or returning to his regular stance. After a while, it downgrades to a slight nuisance.
Gunplay switches the camera to an over-the-shoulder view not unlike Resident Evil 4. You can move the targeting reticle to attack different parts of a monster. Unfortunately, you can't invert the aim, which some people prefer. It really made no difference to me though. Your arsenal isn't quite expansive, but then again, this isn't Resident Evil 4, where you're going to blast everything that comes your way. Firearms are powerful and you're encouraged to conserve ammo as much as possible. The majority of enemies can be killed by melee combat.
The voice acting, as is almost custom in the Silent Hill series, leaves much to be desired. The dialogue comes across as wooden and uninspired. Characters plod through conversations with monotone deliberation, robbing them of some needed emotion. Without that insight into their personalities, I found it difficult to care about them.
The branching dialogue tree, shades of Mass Effect in play, is a welcome addition, although its actual effect on the plot is confined to several specific scenes. Still, it takes some of the repetition out of subsequent playthroughs. Speaking of subsequent playthroughs, as is custom in the Silent Hill series, there are multiple endings and several unlockable items to be acquired. It's worthwhile to play the game again and see them all. Of course, having various Achievements also provides incentive to dive back into the horror as well. Thankfully, most of them require no extraordinary and excessive effort to earn and the majority of them can be picked up in your first playthrough.
Homecoming is an aural delight and playing on anything less than a surround system is a serious tragedy. Akira Yamaoka returns to score the music, hitting us with the same haunting melodies and bizarre background noise. It's safe to say that Yamaoka hits another one out of the park. I can't wait to pick up the soundtrack should it ever come out in CD form.
On top of that, the environment seems to come to life with sound. Floorboards creak when you step on them. The ground shuffles as you walk upon the earth. Your footsteps make different sounds whether you're walking on cement, dirt or wood. And you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand, when you realize Alex is standing perfectly still and something else is making that pattering sound of footsteps you're hearing. The radio is once again a valuable tool, emitting white noise whenever a malevolent denizen of the otherworld is nearby. You don't know where it is, but all you know is that it's there.
The Silent Hill series has never been about cheap thrills brought on by ghastly creatures popping out of nowhere. It has always been about atmosphere, being thrust into an unfamiliar and hostile environment and playing upon that overbearing feeling of dread.
Unlike in a horror movie, where the music can provide cues as to when the scare is going to take place, there are no such cues in Silent Hill. The game instead puts you somewhere and adds enough suggestive imagery to let your imagination run wild, often imagining scares where there often times are none.
Let's face it, without the immersive atmosphere, intricate plots and compelling narrative, all that's left is a linear sequence of puzzles and scares combined with sketchy combat scenarios. It would be easy to dismiss any Silent Hill game as a survival-horror knockoff, but the brains behind the franchise have labored to create an engrossing experience that compels you to play to the end.
I have every reason to believe Homecoming is a next-gen step in the right direction for the series. If you're a fan of the franchise like I am, you'll take to this title quickly. So pick up a copy, turn off all the lights and dive into the horror.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/13/08
Game Release: Silent Hill: Homecoming (US, 09/30/08)
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