Silent Hill: Homecoming

I like Alex, but his under development doesn't quite put him on the same level as James Sunderland.

I like Alex Shepherd, but he feels under development compared to James Sunderland.

There’s always a sense of nostalgia when a long time Silent Hill fan goes back for a visit. There’s a few monsters who are just, classic. The creepy atmosphere. The same sense of foreboding and the story concept often have to do with the subject of sins left without atonement.

Let’s start with the story and characters. A major difference between this Silent Hill and others is that the likeable main character, Alex Shepherd, knows almost everyone in his home town. This sets the plot apart in that Alex has existing biases (both favorable and not) for the people of his hometown. I feel this better drives the story than a handful of strangers. Yet at the same time, the story itself wasn’t exactly well executed. I had to deduct points for the poor voice acting with memorably bad lines like, “Where’s… my… brother?!”

Although the developers did a great job of maintaining the mystery element, the ending was not quite what I expected.

One can draw a lot of parallels between Silent Hill 2 and Homecoming. At its heart is the denial of one’s sins and atonement. However, it is hard to top the overall experience and discovery of the earlier game. Homecoming‘s ending surprised me, just as SH2‘s did. But it does not give you time to really reflect on the surprise. I like, if not love, twist endings. But the main character needs a bit of time to really reflect on the surprise. That was something I got with SH2 but not with SH:H.

Another point of contention that many fans feel is how Pyramid Head was resurrected strictly to draw upon SH2 appeal. Rather than as a masculine avatar of self punishment that he was for James Sunderland, Pyramid Head was used as the Boogeyman for Shepherd. A scary entity of revenge.

Although the third possible ending made some sense of Pyramid Heads return, Konami blew two great opportunities here. First, they had a great opportunity to develop a monster that is parallel to the original Pyramid Head, but different and just as memorable. Considering how awesome the bosses were in this game, they have no excuses.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget, and hard to compare too.

Second, they never successfully developed just what the Boogeyman was, a conjuration of childhood fears manifest from one’s lack of parental protection. Instead, they plugged Pyramid Head into a role that didn’t quite fit.

Again and again, the developers wrestle with the combat system. I admit they have to strike a difficult balance between keeping the main character as combat green as possible, while allowing the player to succeed against rough odds.

One considerable difference is that Alex Shepherd is a soldier, and it shows in the game. He can switch weapons on the fly, which is great because the various monsters are weak to various weapons. He can evade and duck, and recover from being knocked down. Getting your timing down for dodging is very tricky.

The music is good as ever, as are the sound effects and the atmosphere. I got a little frustrated by the shadow effect that creates pixel-shadows on the characters during cut scenes.

I think what frustrates me the most about the Silent Hill series, and SH:H, is that the game developers don’t want to get off the path they’ve worn. Sure, there was Silent Hill 4: The Room, but the game play wasn’t terribly different.

Personally? If I were to develop another Silent Hill game, I’d focus a lot more on sneaking around. Sure, you can cut out the light, kill the radio, but there are areas where combat is unavoidable. I want to move with stealth across the map. Even with bosses, I’d try to avoid being spotted and steal or undo something important that kills them. Combat would be a last resort. Shake it up already.

Silent Hill: Homecoming was satisfying enough, but will not enter my hall of favorite games.

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