Destructoid review: Silent Hill: Homecoming

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Silent Hill: Homecoming was a title I’ve been fretting about for a while now. The much-loved franchise was being farmed out to another development team — this time, being helmed by Double Helix Games. In addition, the game was featuring a greater focus on combat, as we could tell from the Resident Evil 4-style combat system.

Is this the end of Silent Hill as we know it? Has the series been turned into another horror game, and lost the deep plot, moody atmosphere, and all the other qualities that made the Silent Hill series what we’ve come to know and love?

Now follow me after the jump to hear not only what I have to say, but two of my esteemed Silent Hill-loving colleagues: Dale North and Colette Bennett.

Silent Hill: Homecoming (PS3 [Reviewed], 360)
Developed by Double Helix Games
Published by Konami
Originally released on September 30th, 2008

Brad Rice

With Homecoming, we start the game in a town called Shepard’s Glen, which resides just across Toluca Lake from the little resort town of Silent Hill. As Alex Shepard, you are returning home after being discharged from the military. Let’s just ignore that nasty little dream we just had about the hellish looking hospital, and focus on getting to see our little brother, Joshua. Oh, and Mom and Dad too, I guess.

Once you get into town, something doesn’t seem quite right. It’s overly foggy, a lot of people are missing, and Jesus Christ, monsters are climbing out of the sewers! Once you’re home, you find that your younger brother is missing, and no one seems to want to tell you where he is. So, it’s time to hunt down your brother, as you ocassionally see him running away from you while he’s off in the distance.

So, what does Shepard’s Glen even have to do with the quaint little home of Alessa Gillespie? Well, let’s just say the two towns aren’t too friendly with each other, and there’s a reason you’ve never been to Silent Hill. I’ll leave it at that, and let you discover the rest.

With the advent of Resident Evil 4-style combat, Homecoming focuses more on dealing with enemies than with puzzles. The combat system is much more fluid, switching to an over-the-shoulder, adding in the ability to dodge. Thus, the mainstay of the game is trying to figure out how to kill these enemies without getting beat to a bloody pulp. Even on normal, the enemies are no cakewalk, as one false move while fighting them will spell major damage for you.

As such, all of the puzzles were fairly straightforward and did not present much of a challenge. Oftentimes it amounts to nothing more than arranging wires, matching up fairly straightforward symbols, and the like. Personally, I enjoy torturing myself with extremely complicated and convoluted word puzzles that have abstract symbols relating to it, so I was slightly disappointed with the lack of puzzles.

I feel now is a good time to get this out and dealt with: Silent Hill: Homecoming is a scary, scary game. The mood in the game is not one of a pervading creepiness like in Silent Hill 2, but one of dealing with overwhelming and sudden threats. The game ocassionally relies on jump scares to startle you, but still does a fantastic job of having you seize up when you suddenly hear the static on your radio, or worry when you haven’t seen an enemy in the last few minutes.

On the first playthrough of the game, I thought that the details about what was going on were sparse and critical plot points were far apart. The thing is, this game is meant to be replayed. Once you start over again, knowing certain things, many elements of the game become much more frightening, and a lot more of the story is unfurled before you when you earn all the different endings.

The game’s faults lie mostly within the technical operation of the game. I ran into several bugs in combat, which I’ll let Dale go into detail about. Also, facial animations were slightly off, although the rest of the game looked beautiful. Throughout the game, you’re constantly hurting for ammo and healing items, but depending on what kind of person you are, that might be a good thing. This certainly isn’t the overload of items you got in Origins.

Overall, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a breath of fresh air in the series after the slump of Silent Hill 4 and Origins. While not as fantastic as Silent Hill 2 and 3, Homecoming has shown that Double Helix has a good idea of where they’re going, they just need to learn the ropes of better developing on the current gen of systems. I’m currently on my second playthrough, and if the game continues to be as frightening as it is, then I’ll be more than glad to leave the series in the hands of Double Helix.

Score: 8.5 – Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won’t astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

Colette Bennett

It would be difficult to describe the level of apprehension I felt leading up to the release of Silent Hill: Homecoming. The series is one beloved of all time, it was being taken on by Double Helix instead of my trusty and true favorite Team Silent, and it was making its debut into the next-gen universe. So many changes! So many possibilities for complete failure!

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by Homecoming, and I think that most hardcore Silent Hill fans will feel the same way. From the opening sequence to the final battle, Double Helix managed to inject this installment of my favorite fog wandering simulator with at least as much tension, gore and complexity as its predecessors.

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first, so you don’t have to waste your time on them if they are dealbreakers for you. First, the one that’s had all the forums on fire since the game’s release: lack of inversion controls. I never would have noticed as I tend to play standard controls in the Silent Hill titles, but if you always play this way, be warned you are going to want to chew your arm off. Second, graphical imperfections and bugs, as Brad mentioned above. It’s not perfect. 

Of course, for a hardcore fan such as myself, these things were merely the equivalent of an annoying fly — I could ignore them. There is a lot more to be had here, some of it brave new additions to the series, which are enjoyable if you don’t go wailing to the internet about how you can’t stomp in beasties’ heads anymore. For instance, some actions, such as prying open certain doors, require a new technique: jamming the hell out of one of the buttons in order to achieve your goal. Succeed, and you survive, but fail and you could treated to such niceties as seeing your body severed in half at the waist (in great detail, no less!).

The other elements that stood out as clear differences against the other Silent Hill games were the combat and the difficulty. It may seem at first as if the baddies you come across are fairly easy to take down, and they are — until you progress a little bit. The first time a nurse comes at you really fast, it’ll take you completely by surprise — these are not the stilted, slow nurses of old. By the time you get to fighting multiple Needlers, you’ll need to have honed your block and counterattack skills big time, so don’t just hack everything down before that or you’ll be useless when your defenses are put to the test (and they will be for the majority of the game).

Speaking of defenses, that leads me to the combat, which could be the most user-friendly fighting in any Silent Hill title. Everything feels a little smoother, from use of multiple buttons for different types of attacks (light/heavy), to a dodge move that can actually earn you a counter (and the advantage). This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you like to play the series, as some prefer the more difficult controls, which supposedly lends to the feeling of helplessness you are meant to feel, playing the role of an everyman. Of course, it isn’t perfect, but it’ll have you wanting to chuck the controller across the room more than once — which I personally consider a level of challenge I don’t encounter often enough in the games I play.

Last but certainly not least, the story holds up. I felt near the end as if shadows of other SH titles popped up in Homecoming‘s tale, but it stood on its own well enough to quite earn my respect — and that’s saying a lot considering my staunch devotion to the emotional impact this series has carved on my little heart. It’s quite a respectable entry in the Silent Hill universe, and I’d recommend it for anyone in need of a little gore and terror in their gaming agenda.

Score: 9.0Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won’t cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)

Dale North

My love for the Silent Hill franchise is practically boundless, so imagine the surprise and concern I felt when we first heard that it would not be Konami proper, but Double Helix placed in charge of making next game in the series. Subsequent previews and news releases had me fearing the worst up all the way until the release date. Now that I’ve played the title a couple of times through, I feel silly for ever worrying. Silent Hill: Homecoming is a true Silent Hill title, totally worthy of the name.

Early on, a major concern was that Homecoming seemed to be recycling assets, plugging in series hallmarks like Pyramid Head and the nurses into their game. Each of the Silent Hill titles have largely been standalone affairs up until this point, and series fans were not wanting to play a rehash. Seeing the new monsters Team Silent created for each game was a large part of the charm, and many worried that Homecoming would spoil that with reused characters.

I’m glad to say that these returning characters actually play a real role in Homecoming. They’re a perfect fit, and not just silly cameos. The rest of the monster line up is original work, and while they’re not as freaky as we hoped they would be, they definitely do the trick. They may lack imagination compared to Silent Hill baddies of the past, but they make up for it in difficulty; you’ll fear them more for their ability to kill you. The exception is the bosses — they are fantastic in design. To go into detail would ruin the story, but know that each is a work of art, packed with the delicious symbolism you’d expect from Silent Hill.

Double Helix’s changes to the combat system had me a bit worried, but now that I’ve spent plenty of quality time with it, I think that they did a fine job of overhauling what was probably the biggest point of contention from the older titles. Your analog sticks behave much as you’d expect, controlling movement and camera, while the face buttons and triggers cover combat and items. Alex smartly circles around items as you hold left and right, keeping your focus on enemies. This works great in normal game play, but sometimes puts you at a slight disadvantage in the boss battles. Kudos to the team for limiting the fights to one-on-one. You don’t have to concern yourself with using trying to watch your back while you fight an enemy, as for the most part, they don’t unfairly gang up on you.

He’s dead? Really? 

In the quest for a better battle system, it seems that the team glossed over a few bugs in the code. In my playthroughs, sometimes enemies would get stuck in walls and corners. One called the Needler can jump, and sometimes one of them would be stuck above, incessantly repeating its monster cry as if to say I’m stuck, help me! Don’t attack me! Sometimes other enemies would end up floating above the ground after they’ve been killed. Finally, in one of the game’s final dungeons, I found myself floating off the edge of a platform! None of these glitches gave me any serious issue, but they do stick out in what seems to be an otherwise polished game.

Silent Hill: Homecoming‘s story is what really won me over. It’s a bit more straightforward than the previous SH titles in terms of what’s actually going on on screen, but it’s just as deep and involving as the older ones. As Brad mentioned earlier, it really takes a couple of playthroughs to appreciate the finer details of the story. Trust us, you missed plenty of story points the first time. Homecoming is absolutely packed with “oh!” moments in that second playthrough. 

After my first playthrough, I sat alone and pondered the finer points of the story for hours, just as I did with past Silent Hill titles. It shares that same feeling of immersion that past titles did, begging you to play it again and discover more about its characters and setting. It’s the type of game you keep talking about, trying to get a better understanding of what went on. In my mind, this is what makes Silent Hill titles so great, and this new team nailed it.

In the end, Double Helix did a fantastic job of adding to the Silent Hill universe with Homecoming. It’s quite obvious that the team behind this title are fellow fans of the series. We expected the worst, but in the end, we were pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of the game’s world and the depth of its story. We’re glad to say that the little lakeside resort town of Silent Hill continues to be just as messed up as it always was.

Score: 9.0 – Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won’t cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)

Final score: 9.0

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