Silent Hill Homecoming

November 20, 2008

The first Silent Hill is almost a decade old, and were it not for the PSP’s first Silent Hill title, Silent Hill: Origins, fans would have assumed the series retired. Origins and the last major console-based title, Silent Hill 4, were considered oddities; 2008 brings us Silent Hill: Homecoming, the first Silent Hill game to be developed by Americans.

Silent Hill’s success has come mainly from unique storytelling that adhered to cinematic horror conventions. If you love horror, you are aware that there are Japanese and American styles of horror presentation. If you aren’t, a brief and incomplete summary: American horror usually reveals the root cause of the problem as the story goes along; the problem usually involves lots of blood and dismemberment. Japanese horror is allowed to involve blood and dismemberment, but not required to; it is, however, required to steep the viewer in mystery. Even if the threat is abated or escaped, its full nature still lies in question.

So previous Silent Hill games had a particular Japanese flavor; really scary monsters and situations combined with puzzling situations and endings where you mostly knew what happened, but you didn’t know why, or even sometimes how.

Most of Homecoming is by the book Silent Hill.  The combat, while better than previous releases, is still uncomfortable; it is almost impossible to dodge something using the new combat dodge. The puzzles are usually easy but occasionally maddening, the monsters are strange (except those who come back for an encore, due to familiarity), and the scenery and music perfectly support the urgent and intense need to sort out family matters. Akira Yamaoka of previous Silent Hill titles wrote the soundtrack for Homecoming, and the graphics on the PS3 and 360 make it feel like a new and improved experience. The screen sometimes looks like it’s displayed by projector, complete with grains and occasional spatters of black–surprisingly this doesn’t annoy but manages to sink into your brain, unconsciously making you accept it without question.

It’s unquestionably still part of the canon; some may view it as a half-sibling and a stepchild. You play Alex Shepherd, a young man discharged from the military. On your way home, you discover that your younger brother Joshua is missing; when you get home, your father is also missing and your mother has become catatonic. The plot is still unpredictable, but it doesn’t feel original. The biggest divergence here is that while a few questions are left open, most are answered; if understanding why all the characters do what they do and become what they become would ruin Silent Hill for you, you may feel betrayed by this game (do not worry: there is still a UFO ending).

This is legitimate horror. The fights are not fun and not easy, and the save points are spaced apart terribly, but this is still Silent Hill. Think of it as spicy and bold cover of your favorite classic song: you will always think of the original, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good in its own way.

ESRB: M for mature for language, dark themes, and horrible deaths and gore

Plays like: A polished Silent Hill with less obscurity and improved combat mechanics

Pros: Makes good use of current-gen systems in presenting a horror experience, voice acting is passable and it (whew) manages to be scary and engrossing

Cons: Diehard Silent Hill fans may dislike some stylistic changes in storytelling, the combat is still not that good and the save points are far apart

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.