Silent Hill: Homecoming Xbox 360
Published by: Konami
Developed by: Double Helix Games
With Silent Hill: Homecoming being the first Silent Hill game on this generation of consoles it would be correct to say that most fans of the series have had high hopes for it. At the same time however, a lot of fans of the series have been rather cautious about the game. Silent Hill 4: The Room saw the series in transition and Silent Hill: Origins, which we reviewed on the PC, saw the focus shift more towards being an action game. Origins was a good game but it certainly wasn't very true to the nature of the early Silent Hill titles. The big hope then was that Homecoming would really take the series back to its true nature.
The central character in Silent Hill: Homecoming is Alex Shepherd, a soldier, who is returning to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen which for some reason is virtually abandoned. Alex isn't coming home on a social visit however. He's coming home in the hope that he can search for his younger brother Josh. In fact, he's so obsessed with this task that the game begins with a dream sequence of Alex venturing round a typically gruesome Silent Hill style hospital in search of his brother. Alex awakes from his dream just in time to find that the truck driver he hitched a ride with has just arrived back in his hometown. Something's not right with the town however. It's shrouded in a thick fog and the atmosphere just seems foreboding. On finding his mother just sitting in her chair with a seriously disturbed look on her face and a revolver on her lap, Alex knows something is seriously wrong. The story on the whole is quite good but it should be pointed out that it takes a long time to get moving in any purposeful sense and this does make the pace of the early part of the game feel much more lethargic than it should.
One thing that becomes obvious after an hour or so of play is that the game isn't even trying to be the Silent Hill games of old. Part of what made the earlier Silent Hill games so terrifying was that you never knew what was going to happen. It was the anticipation of something horrific occurring that kept the hairs on the back of your neck standing throughout the whole game. Personally I think the tension you experienced when you were anticipating an attack was worse than the disfigured enemies you were confronted with. This psychological horror aspect of the series is practically none existent in Homecoming. Almost every enemy attack seems predictable. Maybe it's because of the sheer amount of doors you come across that are locked and when you do come across an open door you're expecting something to happen on the other side? Maybe it's simply because Alex is a soldier who is more than capable of defeating the majority of the enemies in the game without much hassle? He's adept at not only handling himself rather well but also evading enemy attacks. He's also not too shabby with guns as well as a variety of melee weapons. Whatever the reason, one of the key ingredients to the Silent Hill recipe is missing from Homecoming.
The combat in the game is certainly mixed in regards to its quality. Initially the game offers two difficulty levels and on the default difficulty setting it's pretty straightforward most of the time. Choosing the right weapon to suit the enemy in question and being aware of their attack patterns, so that you can counter them, will practically get you through most of the game with ease. Some enemies are a bit more challenging however. Sometimes it seems as though you're not going to get much action as you'll find yourself faced with doors which can't be opened, for some reason you can't smash them down even when you've got the correct tools to do so. If the amount of locked doors you'll encounter is frustrating then the spacing of the save points will really tick you off. There seems to be a real lack of save points at times. Some of them are hidden and require you to go off the beaten track in order to find them which is annoying. Thankfully you won't always be dropped back at the last save point if things go wrong but it's still very irritating and makes playing the game awkward if you don't have plenty of time to do so. At least the puzzles in the game won't annoy you, unless you're looking for a challenge that is. The ones here are far too straightforward and quite unlike those in the previous games.
The Silent Hill series has always been known for the rather disfigured enemies it throws your way and Homecoming is no exception to this. In fact you could definitely not argue that the developers have failed to capture the look of the Silent Hill series. Those strange and unnerving looking enemies that move so disturbingly are present and correct. The grainy filter has once again been applied and rolling fog covers the eerie streets that are reminiscent of those in earlier games. The characters, including Alex, also have that rather disturbed air about them. The graphical quality naturally looks better than any other Silent Hill game but it's certainly no graphical showpiece for what the Xbox 360 can do. The lighting effects, at times, are rather impressive and add to the atmosphere. Generally the frame rate is fine but at times dips are noticeable, although they are never problematic.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is subtitled although the subtitles aren't enabled by default. The subtitles enable you to follow the game's storyline and dialogues without any real issues. The subtitles don't have any character names or portraits alongside them, to highlight who is speaking, but this doesn't seem to cause any problems. Interestingly some sounds do have text descriptions but there are only a few of them and that's a real shame. Unfortunately the eerie radio static noise that alerts you to nearby enemies isn't captioned. Being aware of the sounds coming from the nearby enemies really helps to create the intimidating atmosphere that you expect from a Silent Hill title but deaf gamers won't be aware of most of the sounds. At least the tutorial messages and the various pieces of information you'll find as you play through the game are either pictorial or textual and these won't cause any problems.
I think that Silent Hill: Homecoming is going to be a game that divides opinion. On the one hand it's a solid survival horror action game that's definitely worth a play through for fans of the genre, and our rating reflects that, but on the other hand it does a poor job of attempting to recapture the psychological horror that the earlier Silent Hill games were so good at creating. Those hoping for a Silent Hill game that remains true to the series are going to be disappointed in some respects. The psychological horror aspect of the series has all but disappeared and the shift to a more action orientated game will definitely leave some feeling that the series has lost its identity. Taking this game on its own merits, and not simply comparing it to earlier titles in the series however, it has to be said that it's a game that starts off at a rather laboured pace but as the game progresses the story becomes more and more interesting and the game itself more enjoyable. There are some frustrations however, such as the unbelievable amount of locked doors you'll encounter, the weak puzzles which take virtually no effort to solve and the amount of save points (the lack of them and those that are hidden away) but it's a game that most will find worthy of their time. It's just not as good a homecoming that most Silent Hill fans would have wanted.