Konami Gamer’s Night ’08: Silent Hill: Homecoming

Following the unexpected announcement of Konami’s new music game, Rock Revolution, the projection screen faded from the candy-colored lights of the concert stage and transitioned to the glowing embers of the title Silent Hill: Homecoming. As it was still early on in the presentation schedule, excitement brewed amongst the audience as game designer Jason Allen took to the mic to deliver the low down on what to expect for the fifth title in the Silent Hill franchise.

It’s a terrifying responsibility to create a Konami sequel out of Konami’s house (aka, at The Collective). For a series that represents a significant and beloved turning point in horror and suspense games, will Silent Hill: Homecoming play steady as an ‘evolution’ as opposed to a ‘revolution’ of the series ? Will it manage to satisfy the standards of the games’ die-hard fans? Hit the jump for more details of Allen’s presentation, and my personal hands-on experiences with the game while at Konami’s Gamer’s Day.

Jason Allen cut straight to the chase by outlining the challenges and outlook that The Collective encountered when given the fortuitous (and/or cursed) duty to create the fifth Silent Hill game. Since none of the original Silent Hill team was on board during development, The Collective was tasked with transposing the qualities that truly define the franchise into the sequel, while additionally implementing features that would potentially open the game up to a new audience. Note that the smell of ‘new’ is particularly discerning in this context.

Creating a visual ambience of horror

Pointing out the unmistakable qualities of detailed artwork and atmosphere in the previous Silent Hill games, Allen demonstrated Homecoming‘s equally chilling landscape in a few of the game’s introductory scenes. One scene involved the protagonist Alex Shepard suddenly waking up in Silent Hill and exploring the street to understand his location. As Alex moves down the sidewalk, the atmosphere aptly captivates a mute and unsettling hush over the landscape, met by a blanket of uncomfortable grey around every corner. So: spooky weather and petrifying void of sound…check.

The ratio and effect of light to dark was also very well rendered while playing the game. The majority of the spaces are entirely engulfed in darkness until revealed by Alex’s flashlight, providing the right amount of suspense-laden limited perspective. A faint yet constant film grain effect is also used across the screen to adhere the worn and uncertain visual ambience over damp hallways and darkened hospital rooms.

Combat

Due to the fact that Alex was an overseas soldier (discharged early due to a sequence of disturbing dreams), the combat system in Homecoming is a lot more interactive and manageable than in previous games. When an enemy approaches, Alex can utilize a targeting system implemented by the left trigger to hone his flashlight in on a singular beast for attack. A combination of properly timed light and heavy jabs or chain attacks, in succession with perfect dodging to either side of the enemy, will do the trick. Imperfect dodging will still allow Alex to defend himself, but not without receiving a little damage in turn. 

Alex will encounter a variety of weapons over the course of his journey, including the knife, pipe, and axe that were shown in the combat demonstrations. Each weapon will also have a unique finishing move, which will have a unique reaction for every creeping, flesh peeling thing that you encounter. In some instances, regardless of your dodging techniques, you’re required to act fast on do-or-die button actions to avoid a killer attack from, say, that hammer-head split-neck thing shown above.

I had an opportunity to try the combat system upon running into a couple of classic nurses in the hospital. The targeting system is easy enough, and truly helps orient the player for attack. Upon initial play, it was hard for me to decipher the moments when I would need to dodge, but eventually I became more familiar with the enemies’ signals for attack and learned to defeat them with ease.

While the targeting system is of great help compared to the meager and frustrating attack moves from the past, I felt as though this combat-oriented aid greatly diminished the sensibility of helplessness that was so essential for harboring the terror and fear that defined the experience in the previous games. At one point, some nurses were stumbling up directly in front of me while I was trying to figure out my attack moves, wallowing around in a sort of repetitive AI manner. Once I had figured out how to use my weapon again, I came to realize that I wasn’t at all afraid of these monsters — that they were more like enemy bodies waiting for aim than looming figures of impending doom. 

Scare Tactics

Finally, Allen closed his presentation with a definition of Silent Hill‘s distinctly Japanese horror sensibility, citing that the use of subtle terror is key to delivering fear. Pairing once again with composer Akira Yamaoka, players can expect a unique and disturbing soundscape that will take advantage of surround sound while progressing through the game. This includes a uniquely composed soundtrack, as well as random and indeterminable sounds that appear and disappear with no source.

Allen then showed a sequence of Alex being wheeled down a dingy hospital corridor, strapped to a gurney towards an unknown destination. Frantically viewed from Alex’s first person perspective, the screen rapidly cuts in between shots of the figure in blood-splattered scrubs that’s pushing you and side views of passing by hospital rooms in which shadowed bodies are being dismembered and disposed. Mystery and confusion is plentiful in this instance, but had a very familiar feel as the sequence was almost identical to a scene from the movie Hostel.

Another unrelated scene followed, upon which Alex tiptoes into a dark basement filled with water. With the water occasionally bubbling as he slowly wades in, a seemingly placid patch of water suddenly reveals a split-face monster, à la the most westernized method of jack-in-the-box scare tactics. Thinking back to how Allen prefaced the definition of fear in earlier in his explanation, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was actually showing examples that met his ideology.

All in all, I left the Homecoming experience a bit mystified about what direction the game is actually headed in. While key elements such as the detailed and eerie atmosphere seem to carry over in proper fashion from previous Silent Hill games, elements like the crisp, focused combat and the occasional suprise attack scare that were demonstrated seem to cater Homecoming towards more Western ideals. One can only hope that these opposing details won’t clash too greatly when playing through the entire game. What a scary thought that would be.

Tiff