Konami NYC Media Day: Hands-on with the busty nurses of Silent Hill: Homecoming

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When I told Tomopop Editor-in-Chief and Silent Hill fangirl Colette Bennett I would be playing a final build of Silent Hill: Homecoming, her response was an interesting one. 

“Play it and please give it to me straight,” she said. “Tell me if it sucks or not.”

It’s a given that Silent Hill fans would be skeptical of Homecoming, set to hit the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC later this year. For one, it’s being developed by Americans, the folks at the Irvine, California-based Double Helix Studios. And just what in the hell do Americans know about horror, much less the ambiguous twists and turns of the Silent Hill universe? 

OK, so they’re not the team, collectively known as Team Silent, that created the original titles. But Double Helix does have a pretty decent catalog of work behind them, comprised of team members from The Collective (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Shiny Entertainment (Earthworm effin’ Jim). And members of Team Silent, including producer/composer Akira Yamaoka were involved with the development of Homecoming, to some extent (Yamaoka is back providing the score, for instance). 

So I went in to my play time of Silent Hill: Homecoming not as a fan of the series, but as a fan of survival horror and actions games in general. And so far? Maybe things aren’t as bad as fans are expecting them to be.

A room full of bright LCDs, coupled with the loud cheers of the crowd blaring from Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is probably not the best environment to be playing a survival horror game in. Still, it was hard not to feel a bit uneasy during the opening scene of Silent Hill: Homecoming.

Shown in first-person perspective, protagonist Alex Shepherd is being wheeled through a dark, dingy hospital on an even darker, dingier gurney. He gets a glimpse of the sights as a large man in hospital garb hurries him through the narrow halls. To to his right he sees the silhouette of what is likely a Josef Mengele-like experiment or torture. He hears screams. He hears moans. 

This place is f**ked, and he really doesn’t want to be here. But he has no choice; he struggles to get up, but is strapped down. The handler stops pushing the gurney and leaves the room. Shepard cranes his neck up to see where he’s going, only to watch him get gutted by what appears to be a monster in the next room. Blood splatters on across the dirty glass window of a door. 

Here’s his chance to escape, and here’s the first time that you, as the player, gain control. The game switches to third-person, and tapping A quickly causes Shepherd to tear his way through his restraints. Then the game begins. From here on out, it seems like pretty standard third-person survival horror fare.

You move Shepherd around the dimly lit hospital, an impressive lighting system casting eerie shadows and flickers across walls. You can pull up a map with Y; it’s a standard Silent Hill style map, with red scribbles indicating doors you’ve been in, areas you can’t pass, and areas that are locked. There’s no loading between rooms; no door opening screens here — everything is seamless. 

Working through the hospital you encounter a creepy little child scrawling on a piece of paper with crayons. You can have a conversation with him, and are given various reply options (you’ll help him, you won’t, etc.) that are said to have an impact on the direction of the game (and ultimately the ending). You need to find a key code to open a cell, which ends up being scribbled on two pieces of X-Ray film. One is easily found, the other have to do some more searching for. 

Hunting. Fetching. Exploring. Picking up papers with random bits of story information on them. Yup, this definitely feels like Silent Hill to me, and more importantly, like just about every other survival horror game. 

Some control differences are notable, though, and I’d say they’re a pretty big step up for the series (although not necessarily ground breaking in terms of third-person titles). For one, Shepherd can interact with the environment in a number of ways, tapping buttons to hop over things, or break glass with his elbow. Or stabbing a knife into a creepy, leathery looking wall and tapping X to slide the knife down, ripping an entrance to a new area.

Combat has also been updated, and makes handling the creepy (and dare I say busty and sexy) zombie nurses a bit easier. Pull the left trigger will ready a combat stance, and you’ll use X and A to deliver various blows with your weapon of choice (I spent most of the time with a knife). It’s possible to string different “combos” together, and pressing B will allow you to dodge attacks, giving you the opportunity to parry. 

Even with the control tweaks, all in all, Homecoming feels like a Silent Hill game … at least from a gameplay perspective. Because I didn’t get too deep into it, it’s hard to speak on the game’s narrative or the overall ambiance, the thing that truly set the series apart from games like Resident Evil. You can scratch off the “dingy hospital” and “zombie nurses” on your Silent Hill checklists. And once I got to the game’s spooky town of Shepard’s Glen, there was plenty of dense fog. 

We’ll have to wait to see whether or not that’s all it takes to please Silent Hill fans, though. Silent Hill: Homecoming hits PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on September 30.


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