Silent Hill: Homecoming

Silent Hill has always been known for the psychological fear that it instills. Something as simple as a foggy street or a rusty old hospital hallway, the subtle changes of the soundtrack or the unknown of what's around the corner are enough to bring about extreme agitation, nervousness, panic, and fear. The seemingly "normal" characters encountered also make up a huge part on the overall eerie effect and atmosphere. It's the one franchise I need to have the lights on, and even then, once you're engulfed in the world of Silent Hill, you are instantly drawn and even the smallest sound is enough to make me jittery.

Ever since I finished Silent Hill 4: The Room, I've been anxiously waiting for the franchise's fifth installment. Each Silent Hill game thus far has felt progressive
yet connected. I'm saddened to report that Homecoming doesn't exactly reach the level of intensity I had built it up to be. Now don't get me wrong, overall as I will soon explain, Homecoming is a fantastic game. But I feel like it loses a lot of brownie points for not getting one of the biggest elements of Silent Hill completely right -- the emotional and psychological horror. Though this level of satisfaction is probably due to the extremely high bar I place when it comes to Silent Hill.

You play as Alex Shepherd, a recently discharged soldier who has been plagued with disturbing dreams that revolve around his younger brother Joshua. He eventually gets back to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen, only to discover its horrible state -- people are missing and the town is ravaged by strange creatures. As Alex investigates his family's disappearance and the incidents going on, secrets and his connection to Silent Hill are slowly revealed.

Great in theory, a bit of a slow start, just a tad predictable in some parts, and throws a great punch on the second half of the game. As far as past characters go, the only icon that has a reasonable role in Homecoming was Pyramid Head and boy did he send nostalgic shivers down my spine with his first appearance. Gameplay is also a bit different. We've still got puzzle action scattered around, and there are a few button press mechanics a la "God of War" making Homecoming a bit more action-oriented. Unlike the previous Silent Hill protagonists like Heather or James, Alex is trained in combat. After all, he is a soldier and you definitely see the difference with his effective combat skills, not to mention his dodging skills. This also makes the game even less scarier in the first half, as I found myself not scrounging around and making sure I have ammo and health drinks reserved. But at the same time, it was sort of nice to play as a character that wasn't completely helpless, whether or not this saps the fearful energy or not.

That being said, the situation makes a 360 degree change in the second half. I felt myself saying, "Now, this is the Silent Hill I know, beautifully grotesque." Despite Alex's accurate combat skills, you quickly will realize the lack of sufficient health drinks or first aid kits, almost never enough ammo, and no where near enough save points. The latter being my biggest frustration, after the absence of health drinks. Every time I felt like I had a good stopping point to take a break, I was forced to continue playing -- I had gone too far to start from my last save point, and there wasn't a save point near enough the corner.

What Homecoming does spectacularly well is in its visuals and soundtrack. The visuals are stunning with lots of detail work and sharp contrast. They are definitely note-worthy. Though not 100% perfect, it is quite beautiful. There are even some noticeable techniques from the movie such as the environment transformation from the real world to the other world. As always and with no surprise here, the pure genius of Akira Yamaoka is evident. In fact, it is the biggest highlight of Homecoming. It is safe to say that the soundtrack was simply too good for the actual game. Eerie and atmospheric, it conveyed a world much scarier than the game had to offer.

While I feel I was very negative in this review, I still enjoyed the game and would nevertheless recommend it to all devoted Silent Hill fans. Of course, for said fans, I'm sure you already have the game. This isn't to say that Homecoming isn't an emotionless game. It still manages to provide a scary and tense experience, just not to the highest degree imaginable. It ties nicely to the Silent Hill franchise without trying to tell a completely separate story or try to "advance" it horribly. Homecoming is a nice story, awesome graphics, stellar soundtrack, great gameplay, and overall a nice experience. It was perhaps the enormous level of anticipation and expectations, that maybe made the experience rank a little lower on the horror scale. But I will say, I felt like the end was short and abrupt, it took me a while to take it all in, to finally reach approval and satisfaction.

I've read a few reviews and the overall thoughts of the game are anything but unanimous. So in cases like these, I think it's best to judge it for yourself. [Edited: 10/13/2008]

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