Summary [8.0 out of 10]
Silent Hill: Homecoming is a perfect fit in the existing Silent Hill lineage. Fans of the series will look past some slightly weak graphics and directly at the surreal dream-like settings the series is so good at like the Silent Hill sound track, well-executed characters and getting a great story and horror experience out of it.
Non-fans will be just as interested or uninterested in this installment of Silent Hill as previous titles.
The premise of Silent Hill: Homecoming is that you (Alex Shepherd) came home to Shepherd’s Glenn to find your brother, because it seems he’s gone missing. Once you get home, in true Silent Hill-style, you find your town is covered in thick smog and populated with the occasional horrifying monster in the streets. You run across a handful of folks (literally… about 4) that acknowledge that “something is going on”, but don’t seem to have plans to leave soon. You also start to notice that something is really wrong with the senior/important people of the town; like the judge, mayor, doctor, etc.
TIP: If you haven’t played a Silent Hill game before, they tend to play out a lot like a horrifying dream, where something is terribly wrong, but the few NPCs you meet don’t totally acknowledge it. It’s part of the appeal of the series because it ads to the confusing desperation of the situation; are you on your own? or do you have help? or is this your own nightmare? etc. etc. I’ve never been very clear about that issue when playing a Silent Hill game, which makes it that much more twisted/awesome for people that like stories like these.
Did I mention that Shepherd’s Glenn is across the lake from Silent Hill? That can’t be good…
As the story unfolds you start to get a glimpse into what happened in Shepherd’s Glenn and why Silent Hill is involved, but I won’t reveal beyond that because that’s part of the twisted awesomeness that is the Silent Hill series.
The only thing I’ll say, is that with each Silent Hill title I’ve played, the story always starts off weird/simple/confusing and blows out into something much bigger by the end that is all twisted and evil. It’s the same with Homecoming if you tend to like the SH stories.
I saw a few reviews mention that the graphics in Silent Hill: Homecoming were a bit weak, but then when I would see the marketing screenshots, like this:
and be confused… because that looks pretty awesome. Just an FYI for you, while the game is fine-looking, in reality it tends to look more like this most of the time:
It’s just grainier with a lost of post-processing filters running to make it look gritty. For the most part they did a good job, and honestly there were only a few parts where I thought “Oh, that’s a little weak” with regards to the graphics. I was usually so wrapped up in the story or what was going to happen next that I didn’t care.
So in short, Yes, it’s true the graphics are not excellent, but I didn’t find that detracting from the story. In fact, some of the more twisted moments of the game were animated or textured so well that you forgive the little snaffu’s you might have seen up into that point.
For example, you might notice that the textures of cloth on character’s pants are blurry or that their hands aren’t textured very sharply… but when you see meat-hooks pull a boss up out of the ground by it’s flesh, or a broken doll skeleton chipping away to reveal muscle and bone underneath in sufficiently creepy detail… you forget all about the blurry hands.
I’d also point out other nice touches like real-time damage showing on your enemies as you slash them to bits. It’s not quite the gib-ridden mess that Ninja Gaiden 2 is, but it’s nice to see damage inflicted in real time.
Also the game is presented with a constantly thick and short-range “fog of war” blocking you from ever seen any grand vistas or sweeping panoramic shots or anything like that. So given the type of story being told, the graphics are more than good enough to just enjoy the game and not be distracted by bad models or anything along those lines.
When you are writing a review, you try and stick to the main topics that you have in every review (Gameplay, Controls, etc.), but every once in a while some element of a game stands out so much, that you are so impressed by, that you stick another section in the review just to bring more attention to it.
And that’s why this section is here.
Characters make or break a story. Some characters are so underdeveloped and poorly voice acted that they ruin the game, while other characters are so deeply developed by their interactions with others and voice acted/animated so well that they almost make the game. Silent Hill: Homecoming falls closer to the latter.
While Alex, Elle, Joshua, Wheeler and the rest of the Homecoming cast may not be as witty or immaculately animated as the cast from Uncharted, they are all done very well. Specifically the following I found to be excellent:
- The script for spoken lines. I rarely heard a character say a line I found useless or stupid and in most cases found the characters uttering lines I would be asking myself.
- Voice acting was spot-on for the main characters. Joshua was a little weak, but I imagine that’s the side effect of getting a child actor… the remainder of characters were great.
- Relationships between the characters were deep enough to make them seem human and be interesting. Friendships, romantic or otherwise, were implied and delt with in a perfect way given the type of story.
- Mouth and Eye animations were excellent. This is an odd point to make, but keep an eye out for the lip movements and eye-movement during cutscenes… they are brilliant, really capture human touches like fleeting glances, sneers and laughter. All things really damn hard to make look natural.
As for the general environmental sound, it was great. There were many times where I did a double take walking through the graveyard and hearing a whisper, far off, behind me coming out of my surround speakers. It also sounded very much like a real word or phrase, not just “environmental noise”… although there is plenty of that as well, especially with regards to the monsters.
Something new to the Silent Hill series with Homecoming is the new combat abilities of the main character. Don’t worry though it’s not complicated, amounting to what you’ve done in games for years now, and actually makes the combat a bit more interesting.
Fortunately, the Homecoming team realized that combat does not define the Silent Hill series, actually, probably the lack of actual combat and the constant looming threat of it is more likely. Because of that, Homecoming has maybe a hair more combat than previous titles, but it doesn’t break the Silent Hill mold we love.
The moves you have at your disposal now are:
- Light, Quick Attack (e.g. knife slash)
- Heavy, Slower Attack (e.g. knife stab)
- Really Heavy, Very Slow Attack (e.g. charge up your Heavy attack to do this)
So really just 3 things, and your heavy attack you can charge to execute a big-damaging attack for a total of 4. Honestly I never needed to use the charge-attack… almost every creature I battled (fast or slow) was easier if I just spammed Quick-Quick-Quick-Heavy (COMBO) then a dodge and repeated. The Smog doesn’t respond to this series, but almost every other baddy did, so I just stuck with it.
I saw in some other reviews/comments by folks that they felt combat was too hard/cheap with some boss fights… I can’t really agree with that. Some boss fights are harder than others, but none of them were hair-tearingly hard and no where near the difficulty level of something like the Ninja Gaiden series. I’d also point out that my tolerance for unnecessarily hard game-play is much-much lower than most people, so if I didn’t think it was hard, chances are you’ll breeze through it.
I was also happy to find out that for the most part, you didn’t need to find patterns with how bosses fought and exploit those as the only means of winning (like some maddening games). You could pretty much tell when they were going to swipe and just dodge and then counter… or use a lot of health and run right at them swinging.
The best was using guns. Guns in Silent Hill: Homecoming are awesome, they do a lot more damage than close-quarters combat, taking down enemies with 2 or 3 shots (instead of say 7 knife attacks), but there is so little ammo strewn about the world that you should really save your guns for boss fights.
NOTE: I read a tip saying that all gun ammo should be saved for boss fights, but in reality I had just as much trouble with normal enemies like the Needler as I did with bosses… and also found bosses just as hard/easy to take down with melee as I did with ranged weapons. So I would suggest using your guns for any enemies you have a hard time with, boss or otherwise.
Other than that these newer changes in the SH gameplay mechanics felt just fine to me. I never felt like the controls were awkward or hard to grasp, everything made sense from the get-go.
The only qualm I had with the controls was that bringing up the Item or Weapon menu (L1/L2 respectively) had two different behaviors depending on if you tapped the button (bring up menu and keep it there) or held down the button (bring menu up until you released button). The few times I tried to popup the item menu in the middle of a fight to use a med-kit, I found myself fumbling with the menu… popping it up then accidentally closing it then popping it back up again, afraid to let go of the button for fear of the enemy attacking before I could use the med kit.
That was minor though, not a show-stopper at all, just something that I wanted to note.
Feels very similar to other Silent Hill titles but with a quick blend of “action”. “Action” here meaning the new combat stuff and the ability to barge through a door, shoulder-first, if you double-tap the Open button instead of just clicking it once. Besides that, it’s very much a Silent Hill game.
Puzzles… there are puzzles. This isn’t a puzzle-intensive game, but they are spaced perfectly to keep the feel of the series. You get through a lot of story, maybe through the dark world and back again and then you have a puzzle to complete. For the most part the puzzles are straight forward pattern-recognition and problem solving; like organizing military medals or rewiring a circuit breaker so the generator will start. Mostly the fun kind of puzzles that you can just either brute-force by clicking a lot, or sit and think about.
I’ll be honest, I just guess-checked my way through most of the puzzles except for one… one damn stupid puzzle. It’s the family-crest puzzle in the attic, where you have to arrange the odd-shaped pieces on a 4×4 grid with 2 empty spaces.
TIP: Don’t try the puzzle yourself, just follow this walkthrough of it.
TIP: OK… you tried the puzzle yourself and couldn’t get it after an hour hu? You have to reset the puzzle before you can use the walkthrough from the previous tip 2 lines above. In order to do that, you have to walk out of the attic (load scene), out through the basement (load scene) and then out the back gate into the alley way behind your house (load scene w/ tips). It’s only then that the puzzle will completely reset.
Conclusion [8.0 out of 10]
Silent Hill Homecoming is an excellent Silent Hill game and another great entry into the horror genre for gamers. Even though the responsibility of developing this title was handed off to an American company this time around (and not Team Silent), the result is something to be proud of.
While Silent Hill doesn’t restructure the SH series in any significant way (besides combat) that would attract gamers that haven’t tried it before, it’s a good enough game on it’s own to not need the SH franchise standing behind it to entice folks to try it out.
Areas of Improvement
As with our other reviews we do like to provide feedback on how a title could have scored higher instead of just dinging it for certain things. Here’s our short list for SH:
- Slightly better graphics: The existing graphics are mostly “fine” and “excellent” in a few select parts. It would have been great if the whole game had been “excellent” from head to toe, but I imagine this would have run the team over budget to do that level of art work and detail engine tweaking.
- Less or faster loading scenes. Seemed like I was staring at the “Loading…” screen a bit more than I would have liked, especially when back-tracking through buildings and towns is part of the fundamental game.
- A “Very Easy” mode. This is just for the woosies in the group (like me) that have a heart beat of like 120bpm when playing horror games. Homecoming is almost balanced perfectly to keep you pretty much constantly on the edge of your seat with regard to health and ammo… the team deserves some major props for getting the balance and anxiety level just perfect — but it also almost gave me a stroke
- Revise the attic puzzle so it’s not a creation of Satan sent to earth to make me loose my mind — seriously, I’m either dumb as hell or that was a really hard puzzle if you get unlucky enough to miss 1 or 2 key moves.
- Get rid of random-monster-respawn. I hate this gameplay tactic to increase suspense. Basically when you leave a common area, like the street in the town, and come back, there are suddenly monster repopulated in the street. It definitely increases suspsense because you are technically never safe, but it’s maddening because if you don’t know that is going to happen, you might blow through all your ammo and some health kits trying to clear out the street just so it’s safe for future travel — like I did.
Gameplay Video Gallery
You can catch all the gameplay videos recorded for this review over at the YouTube Silent Hill: Homecoming Playlist. Be sure to use the “watch in high quality” link at the bottom-right hand corner of the video to improve the playback quality.