Silent Hill: Homecoming
Scare factor: 8.5
Fun factor: 8
Replay value: 7
Another new developer takes a shot at making a Silent Hill title, Double Helix. Do they bring in the support of hardcore fans of the series, or do they disappoint? Well, I wouldn't exactly call myself a "hardcore fan" of the series, but I am a pretty big fan of it. I think that this game is one of the more playable games in the series, overall. It is definitely better than Silent Hill: The Room, although who can say that is an achievement?
The main character this time around is Alex Shepherd, who supposedly just got out of a military hospital for battle wounds. He hitchhikes back home to Shepherds Glen, which is a town neighbouring Silent Hill. When he gets home, he notices that some things have changed, and he goes off in search of his younger brother. It seems like you are always chasing something in these games, so I suppose it is a nod to the other games in the series that they used this sort of a storyline.
I'll start by saying that the game does look a lot glossier than the other titles in the series, at first glance. There isn't a lot of heavy noise over everything, but if you play the game on a large high-definition TV, it seems like it would look a bit better if there was at least more noise. In fact, the game looks almost normal (with minimal distortion) until it goes into the "otherside"-type environments; this does little to cover up the fact that the graphics aren't as polished, detailed, or creepy as they could have been. In fact, I have seen where other fans of the series have compared this game to other games in the series and pointed out the way the other games had more detailed areas with almost similar quality graphics. Anyway, the quality of the graphics has progressed as far as the series goes, (in my opinion), but they seem rushed and not as detail-oriented as they could have been, given the capabilities of the Xbox360. While the character models do look good, with realistic expressions and movement, the environments are a bit on the bland side. There are some impressive textures used in the game, but there mostly isn't. And the lack of better lighting effects is noticeable in some parts of the game.
On top of that, the overall coloring of the game is entirely too dark. Everything has an overall greyish-blue tint to it, and even adjusting the brightness on the game all the way up doesn't help in some areas. And if you change the brightness on your TV set, it only makes all the really dark black areas look almost solid grey instead, so that doesn't really help either. I'm not sure if the game is so dark to try to make it "super creepy" or what, but it just mostly makes it "super annoying" at times.
When the game switches to the otherside, though, there is a bit more detail added to the environments and there are more film effects, as well. Instead of a super-distorting noisy filter, there is a more old-film feel used. The color takes on a rusty tint and there are film scratches overlayed on top of the game's graphics. This is a new take on the transition from one world to the other; although it is a bit more subtle, it is still refreshingly different. There are times when the scenery actually peels off and reveals the otherside. This idea is new to the actual games, but was borrowed from the interpretation of the film. It's actually a really neat effect to see added to the game, and it was one of the points from the film that I actually did appreciate.
Somewhat on the topic of overall game appearance are the different areas and maps that you will explore in Homecoming. While some fans may enjoy these places, others may not. I happened to actually like the nostalgia involved with revisiting basically revised versions of the same places that were in other games. However, I can also recognize that probably a larger group of gamers in general will think that this is not a good way to breath new life into the new generation of the series. Alex explores a hospital, a prison, the town of Silent Hill, and a hotel, among other places. While all of these places are creepy, it would have been nice to have been treated to an almost entirely new Silent Hill experience. I wish that the writers of the game would have picked some newer environments for the characters in this game. I remember when the places that you visited in the game actually had to do with the personal past of each main character. Instead of that continual theme, the areas of the game are merely different places you explore in your pursuit of Josh, Alex's brother. Any kind of environmental connection to the main character mostly has to do with the town itself's history. This is with few exceptions.
Not only do the places in the game seem to not have a lot of personal meaning to the character, but the monsters don't either. Can anybody tell me why Pyramid Head is in this game? Sure he is a scary guy, don't get me wrong, but what does he have to do with Alex? I thought he was the physical embodiment of James' guilt, eternally killing the one he loved over and over again. You only see the guy a couple times in this game. It almost seems like the only reason he is even in this game is that the movie paraded him around like he is the official Silent Hill mascot. It is especially apparent that the idea to use him in this game came from the movie because of the fact that his physical appearance resembles that of his movie-version. Not only does he look like the movie-version of himself, but so do the nurses. It almost makes you wonder if they were trying, with this game, to appeal to fans of the movie, who didn't really follow the game series. Especially since the GameStop preorder came with a free copy of the movie itself.
Anyway, Pyramid Head and nurses aside, the regular monsters in the game are questionably relatable as well. I would presume that the monsters in the game would be more child-like since the theme of the game is the fact that he is chasing his little brother, who he feels guilty about (spoiler censor)... The first Silent Hill game had Henry chasing his daughter (who was a portion of Alessa) throughout the town of Silent Hill, and as a result, some of the monsters took on a childish and tortured hospitalized theme. Basically, given past gameplay experiences in the series, you would expect to have seen something relatable to these new main characters. Whereas the boss monsters are actually really interesting, (albeit having random difficulty levels), and serve to represent elements of the story in this game, the regular monsters do not. They are merely uncreative filler material, as mean or scary as they may seem.
The otherside areas of the game don't have as many things to find or look at as I would have liked. In fact, it seems like a trend throughout the whole game that there really isn't a variety of things to look at or pick up. In the other Silent Hill games, it was interesting to see what the different characters had to say about various props throughout the game, especially in Silent Hill 3. This title pretty much strips that element almost entirely from the game. Instead, you run around bland environments and only look at, or pick up, key items in the game. There is the new concept of collecting drawings and pictures found scattered throughout the game, and there are interesting descriptions of said items in the new file system. However, these are easy to find and getting all of the photos and drawings isn't too rewarding. Sure, you get a bonus video if you find all of the photos, but it is only a short video without any real relevance to the series. So, it's not like you find all the photos and watch a video with some key clue to the happenings in Silent Hill.
Another thing that may disappoint dedicated fans would be the lack of true anger-provoking seemingly unsolvable puzzles. In previous games, there would always be that one stumper, or maybe something that you overlooked and had to go back to. In this game, the puzzles are pretty much laid out in front of you. The game says "here is something for you to do", and the player merely has to connect the dots in order to progress. On top of the fact that, as previously stated, there really aren't that many items to even find in the game or places to explore. If you find a part in the game where you need to put something, you either automatically know what goes there, or you are mentally deficient.
Not only are the necessary items in the game predictable, but supplies are randomly scattered. For example, you go into a boss fight thinking this is the time when you should use all of your supplies up because this is the part you have been saving them for, right? Then, after the boss fight is over, there is a draught of healing items and ammo for what feels like an eternity. After that happens to you once, you go into super-saver mode with supplies and then reach random areas of the game that are stockpiled with heals and ammo. I saved up almost all of my healing supplies and ammo for the final boss because of this unpredictability. Then, the difficulty level of the boss was so skewed that I didn't even really need them. The random scattering of items and the random difficulty of bosses and enemies makes parts of the game hard to predict and a bit frustrating if you are trying to skillfully move through the title.
Despite the game's rehashed downsides, Homecoming actually is fun to play. Unlike The Room, which introduced too many retarded frustrations to even play; and Origins, which upped the difficulty level to an almost unenjoyable level; this game actually moves at an enjoyable pace, with interesting characters and dialogue moments. You are able to pick what you want to say to different characters. And even though this doesn't alter the course of the game, it still adds a bit of variety to the linear-ness of the overall experience. I really enjoyed the concept of the game and the new story elements, (the new town, child sacrifices, etc). Even though the story is revealed in a very non-clouded way, it still kept me interested until the final reveal at the end of the game. Which, is something that the ending of all Silent Hill games should have -- that one moment that brings it all together. I really enjoyed the end of the game, and thought that the final boss was really a creative take on the whole situation.
I do, however, wish that the actual different endings to the game would have been a little more creative and somewhat harder to achieve. They were incredibly short and uninspired, I felt. I didn't really get any sense of real achievement when I got them all. It was just like "oh ok".
But, on the topic of achievements, the Xbox Live achievements in this game were a bit disappointing to me. This is actually one of my main complaints about the game. The achievements are so obvious and easy to get -- all of them. There is one for each ending, one for each boss, one for killing each type of monster, one for beating hard mode, one for finding all photos, finding all drawings... The list is not very long, and completely obvious. I wish that there would have been some more interesting achievements like headshotting needlers, or doing so many counter attacks, or something. Even the achievement for beating the game on hard mode isn't really that hard to come by, considering that hard mode is a walk in the park once you pick up the laser pistol. Not only does everything die super easily, but there are still a lot of healing items all over the place in hard mode. Overall, there really aren't any achievements that relate to game-playing skill; and I found that to be very non-rewarding.
One element of the game that is vastly improved, however, is the combat system. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. I really liked fighting the monsters and using different dodges or techniques to taking the monsters down. There is a regular attack button, and a hard attack button. And, you can control the severity of your attacks by holding down the button for a longer period of time. If you do a hard enough attack, or hit a monster in its weak point, you will stun it, leaving it open to a critical attack. There are also counter attacks in the game, but I found the counter attack system to be too complicated to figure out during the fast-paced battles in the game. The only glitch in the system seems to be that sometimes the game doesn't register the fact that you dodged something, or it will dodge you and roll in the wrong direction. But, this didn't really slow me down enough to irritate me. Especially since random areas of the game are completely littered with healing items... I also wish that they would have made melee and ranged attacks either both auto-aim, or both not. Because melee attacks are auto-aimed, but when you use guns, they're not. This feature made things slightly confusing, so I found it easier to mostly knife-fight everything in the game until I got the laser pistol. Note that it is possible to knife-fight the final boss.
Do I even need to mention the music? It is Akira Yamaoka still. Even though it isn't as good as the music from the first game, it is still really good. The only problem I did have with the music, however, is the fact that it has "staticy" radio noise and generally weird sounds included in the music at (just about) all times. So, you can not tell if something is a monster or just the background music. Sometimes I found myself so used to routinely hearing strange noises, that they failed to scare me.
All in all, I think that this is a pretty enjoyable game. It is successfully creepy and does have an interesting Silent Hill-esque story line, with new elements. The new battle system is really impressive, as I know they have been trying to perfect the battle in the games. Yet, while the graphics are improved for the series, (again, in my opinion), they aren't necessarily amazing when you consider how other Xbox 360 games look. The game has some really good points, but also some that drag it down. While this game is fun to play, the fact that it seems aimed at a more generalized audience, but then does not have enough generalized enjoyment (to hold the attention of a general audience) is confusing. If they would have just made the game completely immersive and difficult, instead of awkward and non-thought-provoking, I think more hardcore fans of the series would have appreciated the experience more. Less casual players would have picked up the game, but at least Double Helix would have been granted the greater acceptance of SH-dedicated fans.
I recommend this game to casual Silent Hill fans, and horror-genre fans in general. But, I recognize the fact that certain aspects of this game may not sit well with the super critically-hardcore breed of Silent Hill fans, which is why my review is somewhat on the fence.