The sixth installment of Konami's venerable psychological horror franchise Silent Hill breaks ground on current generation consoles, now in the hands of a new developer, Double Helix Games, formerly known as The Collective.
The titular homecoming is that of white bread war vet Alex Shepherd, who has returned to the town of Shepherd's Glen, exactly one lake over from the perennially cursed town of Silent Hill, only to find his younger brother Joshua and his father missing. While on the hunt for his baby brother and an explanation for the decimation of his hometown, Shepherd encounters all manner of hell-spawn and cultist conspirator, dispatching them with steel pipe like a true American hero.
With a new developer at the helm and new, more powerful consoles to showcase the world(s) of Silent Hill, does Silent Hill: Homecoming bring the series into the next generation? Or is just pure hell?
Thematically Strong: Silent Hill: Homecoming delivers on a solid, exciting storyline, one peppered with dense themes: child abuse, infanticide, religious fanaticism, mental illness. It's far more straightforward in comparison to other Silent Hill games, ones which often needed the aide of a plot guide to disassemble, but it's administered with finesse. Double Helix supports their storytelling with brilliant symbolism, little of which rarely detours into the obvious.
A Reasonably Good Facsimile Of A Silent Hill Game: If you're desperate for another trip to Silent Hill, Homecoming fits the bill. At times, the game feels like a "greatest hits" compilation, borrowing monster and environmental designs too liberally from previous entries and, unfortunately for this reviewer, the Silent Hill movie. At others, it feels more like a tribute band doing a well-worn cover version of older games, abstracting subtlety and nuance.
Improved Controls: From a mostly better inventory interface to more logical action controls, Homecoming is much easier to get a handle on than its predecessors. That doesn't necessarily mean that hand-to-hand combat is any fun. It's not. It's just better than what Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo was capable of with the older, more cinematic camera style.
Hell Looks Hellishly Good: The "Descent to Hell" portion of the game looks stunning. If only the camera were pulled back just a few more feet to get a better view...
Graphical Letdown: While Double Helix nailed portions of Silent Hill's "otherworld," the game is disappointingly inconsistent in its technical execution. Alex Shepherd looks well detailed in comparison to Shepherd's Glen's other inhabitants, with fathers, mothers, sons and daughters all looking, curiously, the same age, more like action figures that human beings. Homecoming also has some of the worst water we've seen this generation. Ugly textures abound.
Odd Bugs and Visual Quirks: Getting stuck on an invisible platform in the first fifteen minutes, forcing a restart of the game, did not leave a good first impression. Fortunately, this was a unique circumstance, but it made moments of geometry clipping and moments of violently spinning camera angles tied to enemy death animations that much more noticeable. Some lip-syncing in the game feels like it was left unfinished.
Annoying Enemies: While the game's combat mechanics are somewhat improved, it doesn't prevent the battles with the blade-limbed Needlers from being any less controller-throwing. A severe lack of supplies, that tends to irritate more than add to the "survival" of the horror, required reverting to an older save to beat one of the tougher bosses.
Obtuse Puzzles: Even for a Silent Hill game, Homecoming's puzzles are simply... puzzling. Too many simply devolved into a frustrating series trial and error attempts.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is a very capable entry, maybe better than cynics were expecting, one that should please most fans of the series and anyone looking for a good scare layered with respectable storytelling. Homecoming fluctuates from moments of brilliance to shades of mediocrity, a bit of a junk food entry that may leave you hungering for something meatier. But less picky players, ones who don't mind the graphical quirks and sameness, will likely not take issue with the final product. There's plenty of frustration to be had and little in the way of traditional "fun," as the game's mechanics are starting to feel in need of a revamp, but Homecoming gets the job done.
Silent Hill: Homecoming, developed by Double Helix and published by Konami was released on Sept. 30 for the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3. Retails for $59.99. Played Xbox 360 version to completion on normal difficulty.
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