Monday, October 29, 2012

Silent Hill Homecoming

Because of release dates and availability, I ended up playing the three most recent Silent Hill games before I got to play 2-4 of the series.  As I mentioned in my previous reviews, I got to Homecoming after finishing Shattered Memories and giving up on Origins.  To say it was discouraging at that point is an understatement.

The main thing Homecoming has going for it is that it was made for the modern consoles, and as such has HD graphics.  Growing up in the 8 bit era I'm not a stickler for graphics at all, but I have to admit that more vivid images do ramp up the horror quite a bit.  I played this game on the PS3, but it's also available for the 360 and PC.

Homecoming's main character, Alex Shepard, is a soldier returning from war.  I expected the combat to be ramped up because of this, and I wasn't wrong.  While the first level of the game, where you are making your way through a nightmare version of a hospital, was relatively easy to get through, things got much harder in terms of enemies going forward.  Perhaps the strangest part was the nurses in the hospital were much easier to kill than nurses I ran into later on.  It's the same enemy, shouldn't their AI be equal?

I could also ask why nurses appeared in the middle of an apartment building rather than in a hospital but the answer to that is "All other Silent Hill games have nurses, so this one does too!"  This is also why Pyramid Head pops up once in a cut scene and then never appears again (unless you get a certain bad ending).

I read an FAQ for this game that described all monsters included as mini-bosses, and that's a really accurate description.  You need a specific strategy to kill each and every one of them.  Given the control scheme of this game, it becomes a difficult feat.  There's a weak and strong attack,  but you also have to hold down the aim button up top.  Even shooting guns requires holding down two buttons plus aiming with the analog stick.  Perhaps those who are used to playing FPS games on modern consoles wouldn't even blink at this control scheme, but I had a really hard time with it.  There's also no easy mode for this game, just Normal and Hard.  As such the health drinks and first aid kits were few and far between.  The item selection screen was also designed in such a way that I accidentally used items when I didn't need them.  And considering their rarity, that's a serious problem.

All of this is to basically tell you that I only made it about halfway through the game.  For those of you who have played, I got stuck in the sewers with no means of recovering health and no more ammo.  I used Youtube user SMacReborn's walkthrough to watch the full storyline and get an impression of the remainder of the game.

I will say that this game does provide a very large number of puzzles along with its increase in combat.  Most of them are fair, where you are able to solve them with trial and error or decent clues provided by the game.  It should keep you busy without frustrating you too badly.

One thing I found strange was that the later levels seemed to have less enemies.  Perhaps the walkthrough I watched simply got lucky, but he wandered halls of levels without running into anything but the boss at the end.  Which is pretty frustrating for me because apparently if I could have gotten past that one point in the game, I probably could have beaten it.

But the real flaw of this game is that it's just not that scary.  There are some horrifying looking monsters, but after a while you get used to their looks.  The jump scares are minimal, the music isn't scary, and there was no "I don't want to go in there!" moment that I can remember at all.  I was more scared that I wasn't going to beat the monsters than anything else, and that's just not what I want from a Silent Hill game.

Without giving too much away, the story of this game was clearly trying to combine elements of the original game's storyline with the "Silent Hill is your own personal hell" angle from the second, but it's done in a way that kind of misses the mark.  I saw the twist of Alex's personal story coming a mile away, because it's one that's been used to death in horror already.

The story of the town Shepard's Glen itself is a little more interesting.  I like the idea of an offshoot town of Silent Hill, if for no other reason then it let me explore a few different areas than the ones I've been seeing over and over again in the other games.  I did not expect the secret of the missing children, and it manages to be surprising while fitting into the mythos of the Silent Hill series quite nicely.  I also really liked the look of the final boss, even if I have no idea how she fit into the storyline.

Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who is fairly comfortable with modern gaming, but I would definitely think of it as going into an action game rather than a horror game. Though I suppose the severe lack of items still allows it to be a survival based game. 

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