|By Sherv||Monday, 16 Mar 2009|
I’ll say it outright, this game is not worth its asking price. I have a strange like-hate relationship with it (definitely nowhere near “love” here), and while I’m happy I played through it I honestly can’t muster the motivation to get the other 4 or so endings. There are a few key components which form the foundation of my favorite Silent Hill titles: atmosphere, story, and immersion (admittedly a subset of the atmosphere). Mix together spooky ambient sounds, a cacophonous score, visuals of dilapidated and derelict locales, and a cryptic story involving some sort of personal journey on behalf of the protagonist – these all form the crux of an effective Silent Hill title and I hold the first two games in the series as paragons of such a style. While certain aspects of the game are quite well-done, it fails terribly as a Silent Hill game and is a very mediocre game in general.
The game begins when Alex, the protagonist, regains consciousness on a gurney that is being wheeled down a hospital corridor and attempts are made to recreate scenes from Jacob’s Ladder’s famous hospital moment. This trite, poorly executed tribute fails as an introductory scene; upon gaining control of my character I felt absolutely no pressure to flee the impending horrors lurking behind the doors, and wouldn’t you know it, there were barely any real threats to my character. Bottles and furniture fly across the room as if jet-propelled if you so much as brush against them, which makes me guess that Silent Hill is exerting some sort of vile control over the laws of physics, but otherwise Alex controls well.
Combat has been radically changed, now Alex can execute specific combos and counters, and to match the challenge the designers gave the monsters in Homecoming quite an advantage in attacking. Ammo is the scarcest it has ever been in the series and Alex is able to only carry 14 or 15 bullets for his handgun, a severely low limit, thus enforcing my belief that the designers truly wanted us players to trek through this game with the trusty knife (quite possibly the best melee weapon, which is fucking pathetic). Although at first I enjoyed the new combat, my pleasure was quickly replaced with loathing as controlling and timing Alex to swing a pipe at yet-another-Silent-Hill-dog-monster was incredibly clunky. Only when I discovered how powerfully versatile the knife is did I begin to appreciate the melee combat, but it is certainly not without its faults. Would I consider it better than combat in the previous games? Probably not, actually, as I found the cruder controls perfectly sufficient to deal with the monsters and bosses and never felt cheated out of a fight because of wrestling with the controls. Combat never figured as prominently in the previous games as it has here.
The game also heaps on plenty of spawning monsters, and I have witnessed Schisms and Nurses materialize out of thin air, which is just piss poor programming. Challenge can be defined by overwhelming odds, but let’s keep in mind that the game should also be fun. I can’t begin to count the number of deaths I suffered when flooded by Schisms slicing and dicing at me.
Monsters also spawn when you complete puzzles or cross invisible tripwires (an old staple for games like Doom) which is far too apparent and makes playing the game a chore (much of the time you can’t really escape said monsters because you’re busy trying to figure out the banal puzzles). That said, this is also the first game in the series to offer humans as regular enemies, which brings me to my next gripe: the cult.
I always found the cult aspect of Silent Hill to be the weakest facet to an otherwise very well designed world (which is probably why I love SH2 so much, there’s barely more than a sentence or two involving them in the entire game!). I realize that it was integral to the beginning of SIlent Hill’s otherworldly presence, but what I drew most offense to in Homecoming was that this cult was seemingly lifted straight out of the Silent Hill movie; they even wear the same damn mining suits. Toward the end of the game you need to fight countless numbers of these idiots, and once again I found myself struggling with the controls until I found a way to glitch them into always failing to block. Yay, what a creative touch.
Fans of the series also know that Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 makes an appearance in this game. I’ll just leave it at this: he has absolutely no role in this game and it was yet another decision the designers did to please the fanbase (along with giving the nurses much more prominent tits and curves).
Being the first game in the series on PS3 and Xbox 360, it is abundantly clear that the graphics are quite nice. A very slight coat of decay seems to cover everything, from the walls and floors to the characters themselves, but clipping issues and absurdly poor facial expressions shatter this veneer almost immediately. After many years of progress in the development of better facial expressions and syncing lips with words one would imagine that Foundation 9 and Double Helix would have this mastered, or at least attempt to make it passable, but it’s a glaring problem that plagues every goddamn cutscene. Super high polygon counts and crazy shading techniques are not requisite for the best Silent Hill experience, and little details in the environment are payoff to the observant player, feeding ones imagination and even perhaps cluing one in to the upcoming twists and turns. I found all this detail to be wasted as very little can actually be examined by Alex, preventing the player from being fully immersed and instead is reminded of the limitations of this game.
I don’t know if anyone is still reading this diatribe but my last point is that of the plot: it involves the cult and a sacrifice gone awry to please their God and to gain protection from it (hence all the monsters, supposedly). Read the wikipedia entry if you’re curious, and I actually would suggest that over playing through this game as I found it stupid. Utterly stupid and not compelling in the LEAST. Another problem with the game is the very hackneyed plot device of a child running away, constantly. This DOES fit in with Alex’s story…but c’mon, this was already overused in the original Silent Hill, with Cheryl running away and disappearing from Harry, but at least that had a logical basis.
So yeah, there you have it. Sit this one out, folks.