E3 2008: Silent Hill: Homecoming Impressions
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.. if anyone ever invites you to visit a sleepy little lake town called Silent Hill, run screaming in the other direction because you’re probably dead or have some serious baggage in your past that will soon come back to bite you.
While from the initial impressions I can’t give you an overall sense of the story in this latest version of Silent Hill, I can talk about some of the changes that Konami and its development partner Double Helix Games are making to freshen up the long running horror series.
Silent Hill: Homecoming features a bit of a different protagonist for the series. Previous games always focused on the “everyman” characters in horrible situations, a staple of the survival horror genre. This time out the main character, Alex Shepherd is a former Airborne Ranger who is returning home and apparently is looking to discover the fate of his younger brother Jacob.
First impressions are often based on appearance, and this game exhibits all the same trademark qualities of a Silent Hill game, its dark, grimy and bizzare. The settings are incredibly distressed and the monster designs are more than a little disturbing.
Unfortunately the game suffers a bit from the Uncanny Valley. The main character looks pretty realistic but many of the other human encounters suffer from a slack, doughy look and its a bit jarring when placed against the excellently rendered, realistic backgrounds.
The shift to a warrior protagonist also brings with it a change in the combat gameplay in Homecoming. Not that there was no combat before but this title feels far more like an action game at times when compared – a transition that also seemed to happen with Resident Evil between RE 3 and RE 4.
Don’t let the change bother you too much fans, the game still has a good mix of exploration and puzzle gameplay. The demo I played through required me to find pieces of an X-Ray print to get a door code, a wire puzzle to reconnect power and plenty of combat with busty zombie nurses and bizare head-crab monsters the size of a Yugo.
One surprising thing that felt good was the integration of the peeling paint effect from the Silent Hill film. No matter what your opinion of the film, the sequences when the characters transitioned between reality and the dark world still resonates, especially when you team that with the eerie fire siren.
I noticed a few minutes of gameplay where the camera didn’t quite work for the combat, either leaving the view obstructed by objects or zoomed too far in to make the swinging and stabbing a bit tricky.
Overall I spent about twenty minutes enraptured with the environment. I was wandering through a decrepit hospital chasing the spectre of Alex’s little brother and was distracted a bit because of the anatomical traits of the faceless nurses but once I saw the scalpels coming at me I learned to refocus real quickly.
If the game continues on the path it appears to be on I think we might have another contender to the Silent Hill crown. Silent Hill 2 is still my favorite title and I got a slight glimpse at Homecomings potential and it bears worth watching.