I review possibly the most divisive entry in the series.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is four years removed from The Room, and in that time, the series took some drastic changes in gameplay. Some of these changes are in my opinion excellent, but others are somewhat problematic.
Alex Shepherd takes the reins as this iteration’s main character. He wakes in a military hospital after returning home from war to see that something is seriously wrong. Monsters are loose and his younger brother Josh is trapped with him. The opening serves as a dream sequence before Alex wakes in a truck dropping him off in his hometown, Shepherd’s Glen.
I am going to put the storyline on hold for a moment to discuss the gameplay changes. The game is completely combat focused. The camera is now behind the shoulder, and your skills in combat are largely needed for survival. The graphical upgrades make this change feel more pressing as the enemies move a little bit less like waterlogged dumpsters and instead appear alive. The combat is fast, and when it works, it works. Unfortunately, Alex is not entirely reliable in how the character responds to the controls. Sometimes he dodges when you push the buttons, sometimes he seems to spaz out.
The change of gameplay type marks a major shift in the survival-horror genre for consoles. Resident Evil chose to go more combative with their fourth iteration (I will be reviewing the Resident Evil series after Silent Hill). With the change towards combat, the survival becomes more about winning the encounter than outthinking the enemy.
I approve of the change, but it is important to mark these decisions as perhaps part of what caused the lack of survival horror for many years on consoles. If I had to pick, I would argue that Resident Evil 4 has the superior combat system, but I will save more details on that until the review. Alex is a soldier, but he does not have access to many firearms. Further, the ammunition is woefully limited, which means you’re going to be using the knife for a lot of the game. I don’t mind melee combat, but it did get a tad repetitive.
A change I do not approve of in this game or any other is quick time events. If it was announced that QTEs would cease to exist in video games forever, I would celebrate. “Here we will have them break their damn controller”—I swear this had to have been said in the meeting rooms.
Perhaps the most problematic part of the game is the odd (and often non-linear) difficulty spikes. The sewers are hard. Too hard, in my opinion. However, the hell house dungeon (which is after) is easier than the sewers and hotel segments, but the doctor’s office is another spike. I never felt like I, or Alex, through any upgrades, really got any better at the combat. There is a stiffness to it due to the technological limitations, but it still seems unsatisfying. The limitations make this less of a skill-based game and more a test of perseverance. The inconsistencies of save locations made some of the areas more frustrating than fun.
Overall, the gameplay is a mixed bag, but taking the story into account makes it a worthwhile venture. I am going to discuss the story, but there isn’t really anyway to do that without spoilers. So, if you haven’t played the game, stop here.
Alex is one of the more nuanced lead characters in the series, but he still seems a bit wooden in the face of completely insane situations. The side characters are likewise odd. Officer Wheeler arrests you, but once you mention monsters, he lets you go and gives you a gun! With all of these games, the story is more about what is inferred more than what it shown, so we can forgive some of these oddities.
The level designs are excellent and play into the story in a way that makes sense. The degraded and disturbing sites you visit reflect the inner corruption of the city, and each small piece of the mystery uncovered makes the world seem more real. However, once the final twist is revealed (that Alex was in a mental hospital and not a military one) a lot of aspects of the story don’t make sense. After several playthroughs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that so many people play along with Alex.
The second major twist is that Alex killed his brother Josh in a boating accident, and in doing so damned the town. Shepherd’s Glen is an off-shoot of Silent Hill, and the founders made a deal with the dark God that they would sacrifice one of their children in exchange for protection. When Alex killed Josh prematurely, the sacrifice could not be completed. The game makes a big deal that it was Alex who was selected to be sacrificed, but does that really matter? The ritual was broken no matter what.
All of the horror seen are manifestations of the parents’ sins from their killing their children. The darkness of the Silent Hill series is present, and even surpasses some moments in previous entries. However, the harder you look at this one, the less sense it makes. The other Silent Hill games do a great job of leaving you with questions, but they aren’t the type of questions that point to a plot weakness. For example, sometimes children die. Why did the town not have some sort of contingency? Why not three children a family? Why is it so important for Alex to have a mental issue?
Further, the twists are somewhat predictable. It is clear from the bosses that these are manifestations of dead children. The bosses are excellent, by the way, and the new camera angle allows us to enjoy them much more than the old top-down style. It is hard to answer whether or not I saw the twists coming. It has been nearly ten years since I first played the game (which is bothersome to me), so I don’t know. I think I was surprised that Alex wasn’t a veteran, but I can’t say for sure. The game drops a lot of hints that something isn’t right with Alex, but I could be reading deeper due to knowing the twist.
I liked the story. I thought Alex’s relationships with those around are interesting, and it was great to revisit some of the familiar haunts of Silent Hill. The story isn’t perfect, and to an extent doesn’t reach the emotive heights of the second in the series, but it is interesting. The narrative strength of Silent Hill as a series is consistent, even if the gameplay suffers a bit. The imperfect gameplay and a somewhat uneven story might detract some, and a lot of people did not approve of this game (at least in my circles). I recommend, probably not for a newcomer to the series, but if you’re a fan, don’t let the frustrating parts hold you back. 7.25/10