Review by David Newton
"Silent Hill: Horriblyannoying"
The odd thing I found about Silent Hill Homecoming is that even though it looks like Silent Hill, and seems to get a lot of things about Silent Hill's symbolism and imagery objectively right, it somehow just doesn't feel as good as you would expect. It's a series that started off well (it managed to get me interested in survival horror, which was a feat in itself) and peaked with the sequel, then got a bit shaky and has been floundering a little with titles of varying degrees of lacklustreness ever since. Like most recent entries, this one tries and falls short in different ways from before.
You're started off completely un-gently in the best of the series' traditions with an area called "NIGHTMARE". From the start, the control differences from previous games are obvious - the game is more action-oriented and plays much more like a third-person shooter than before. I would even go so far as to say that it's like Resident Evil 4 - a similarity that's only furthered by the way that each individual room is no longer a separate area, so in the rare event that the doors work you can choose to open them gently or barge through them with your shoulder and knock out everyone on the other side like skittles, meester Kennedy. The game no longer pauses when you read or interact with things, which can be a difficult adjustment to make at first - the monsters seem to think so too, as they'll politely stand behind you and wait for you to finish whatever real-time cutscene you're playing out before biting you in the back.
From that introduction, it seems perfectly all right - you wander through a dingy hospital piecing together door codes and having to find keys in the gloom - but it's only after you get into the game properly that you really begin to notice the differences. After awakening you're introduced to Alex Shepherd, who is coming home from a stint in the army, and are directed to go to his creepy old house, where you meet his creepy old mum and then have to go and explore the creepy old graveyard. Soon, as you would expect, things start getting a bit weird, with the town's population gone and replaced by monsters with their eyes full of teeth.
Now, after Silent Hill Origins showed promise that the inventory and combat system was not going to be kept as entirely mad as they were in Silent Hill 4, this one throws you straight back into reliance on hand-to-hand weapons again in a remarkably clumsy way. You have certain classes of close-up weapons - stabbing weapons, blunt things and sharp things - and using any of them involves having to hold L2 and press X to swing them quickly, Square to swing with a hard hit, or O to dodge. Though this last button would be much better called "move", because the chances of it dodging anything are slim to none - the addition of it to the combat would be something that you would think would alleviate the classic Silent Hill problem of having a direct choice between moving about and fighting back, but you'll usually just be knocked off your feet with a bit of your life bar gone whether you use it or not. It's only right that you should fear the appearance of monsters in a survival horror game, but this shambles well over the line into annoying territory, superseding dread by some margin.
If you get fed up of the hand to hand combat, which you will fairly quickly, guns still exist in the game, and are used by holding L2 to aim manually and pressing R2 to fire (NB. not X, the attack button, which will instead make Alex whap the gun in front of him uselessly). Ammunition is very scarce, though, encouraging you to save up your bullets and then swiftly discouraging that again when you find out that you have limited space for them and can't carry more than about ten at a time. So you're going to get very little use out of them either way.
The other primary aspect of the Silent Hill is the puzzles, and admittedly this game does surpass Silent Hill 4 because they are at least present. However, apart from a couple of decentish efforts, they seem to have got the idea of them rather wrong - most of the conundrums that you come up against are glorified sliding block puzzles which would seem better suited to Professor Layton. And it's even more frustrating to get past them when the "move" and "switch pieces" controls are placed on the same analogue stick, allowing you to slide things off into nowhere accidentally very easily. There's one that almost seems to show some promise by providing you with a cryptic poem scrawled on the wall, but it turns out that you can ignore that entirely and just place the doll in your inventory in the one of four windows that's obviously lit up.
To sum it up, the biggest issue that I had with the game, a feature common to the puzzles and the combat, was the almost wilfully stupid controls throughout - the primary attack button is different for guns and melee weapons, you need to press the right stick in to toggle zoom on the map rather than just sliding it back and forward as you'd expect, and the same technique is used to examine items in your inventory even though there are face buttons still free. There's a bit later on in the game where you're suddenly blasting through a prison shotgunning down human enemies while being assisted by a partner making cracks about "I'll cuff him, you read him his rights", and I was initially going to complain that this Simon Peggery was about as far from Silent Hill as it was possible to get, but I then realized that I honestly enjoyed it a lot more than the majority of the game where you had to fight by stabbing faceless nurses with a toothpick.
I haven't really left myself much room to describe if there was anything I liked about it, but it wasn't all bad - an effort has been made to make every area of the game very different, breaking up the very level-based exploration of a lot of the other games (school, possessed school, hospital, possessed hospital, etc etc) by making the "otherworld" not just the same buildings again but rustier - the area that I feel compelled to call the Doom House was probably my favourite part because it really felt like something familiar had become very oppressive. And speaking of that, I really liked the real-time dimension changes where the floor and walls peel away to reveal the decay underneath (rather like 1408). It's a shame that they're only used a couple of times.
Still, after suffering a couple of frustrating attempts at the final boss where I just had to hope I had enough recovery items to withstand its constant swiping, we got the "Hospital" ending, then we looked at the others on Youtube and concluded that the one we got made the most sense. I seem to remember there was a time when I actually had the drive to complete a game more than once.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 06/29/10, Updated 01/24/11
Game Release: Silent Hill: Homecoming (US, 09/30/08)
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