Silent Hill ... the mere mention of the forbidden hamlet is enough to send shivers down most horror gamers’ spines. The creepily thick fog, the empty yet rundown streets and the well-done music create an atmosphere thick enough to get lost in. Over the years, the horrific hamlet has had two different sides: a place that calls out for people to purge their souls and a town that is perverted by its inhabitants vile violations. One of the more recent additions to the series is Silent Hill: Homecoming.
Silent Hill: Homecoming for the PlayStation 3 follows 22-year-old Alex Shepherd from the town of Shepherd’s Glen. The people who live in Shepherd’s Glen never leave — except Alex, who joined the Army to fight the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, Alex keeps having visions about horrible things happening to his brother Josh. So he returns home only to find everything has changed, and a deep fog has settled over the town. People are disappearing left and right. And Alex’s mom is downright catatonic. So what is happening to Shepherd’s Glen? And how is it connected to Silent Hill?
The plot for Silent Hill: Homecoming is pretty darn good and intriguing. Even though the game has a greater emphasis on action, there’s still enough imagery to support the hypothesis that Alex is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. However, one thing separates this game from others, and that’s the adult language. The F-bomb is dropped several times during the story. What’s wrong with the S-word? Or any other curse word for that matter (even fictional ones)? This exceeds the usual M-rated game and brings up the question about what makes a game “mature” — that is, something that can be dissected on many levels while still being fun — and what it means to be an “adult” game. There’s no rule that states adult language has to be used, so I’m not sure why it had to be so abundant in this game.
Graphics in Silent Hill: Homecoming are downright gorgeous! In a grainy purgatory way. The town looks completely deserted, with trash and debris scattered all over the place. And I love the way the world shifts from the “real” world to the rusted “other” world: Little bits and pieces of the walls and floors gently fly upward, revealing an industrial setting in its stead. Blood splatters everywhere — even on the camera lens! Facial movements are cool to watch and add a little extra drama. Monsters are wonderfully horrific, such as a spider with a phallic sac hanging under it. The ever-popular nurses look more demur than ever, even though they’ll slice Alex in half at a drop of a hat. Plus, the horrifying “spitter” monster returns with a passion.
This is what you’d expect from a horror game: atmosphere piled upon mood piled upon atmosphere. If there are two towns you do not want to be near, these are the ones. But there is a downside to the graphics: There are a few moments that when the story gets a little too gory for its own good. For example, while waiting for a boss battle to start, you have to watch a guy bleed out for 5 minutes before the boss bites his head off.
Gameplay is a mix of action and some light adventure elements. Unlike the other protagonists in the series, Alex is comfortable with any weapon. His arsenal is just as thick as any other characters: knives, a pipe, crowbar, an axe and guns. Each weapon has its own tactical advantage, and combos are easily created. Knives are perfect for light but fast damage. The axe is slow but causes massive damage when it connects. And the pipe is right between them in speed and power. Guns are perfect for taking down monsters from a distance. In fact, I wish Alex was allowed to carry more ammo as gun fighting is downright fun and intuitive. (I honestly don’t understand the inverted aim issue.) Monsters can be shot in their weak points, so the least amount of ammo is used. And besides, it’s always fun to see a nurse fall to the ground due to capital punishment. Or slicing the head off an axe-like creature. Yes, this might make me a horrible person. But they’re monsters. They deserve it for causing Alex and the rest of the town trouble.
Then there is the adventure part of the game. Exploration is essentially kept to a minimum. In other words, it’s pretty linear. Locked doors haunt the two towns. On the one hand, it’s rather refreshing. It makes the game feel like you’re on this tight rollercoaster, that you’re being dragged [almost] unwillingly from place to place and there’s no escape until the ride ends. This is something that Silent Hill: Homecoming does exceptionally well as the game can get rather intense. I also like Alex’s responses to certain parts of the environments whenever you examine them. There has never been so much info from a protagonist before. On the other hand, I miss being able to stick my nose into all the corners. It feels weird that it is lacking the exploration of a person’s psyche. Furthermore, puzzles are not that tough. There’s some trial and error here and there but nothing that’ll truly stop one from triumphing. There are a few barriers, such as wooden planks, padlocked spots and sheet-covered entrances. All you really need is the proper weapon to take the barrier down. The real puzzle comes in the form of combat: What’s the best way to take them down?
This makes Silent Hill: Homecoming very playable yet challenging. If you can’t get past a monster, mostly it is your own fault for not using the right strategy or dodging at the right time. Healing items are somewhat rare. The game is incredibly dark as you’ll rely on Alex’s flashlight to illuminate the area. Or increase the brightness of your television. However, outside of combat, Alex moves like a tank as you have to rotate both analog sticks to properly move him around. In a way, this perfectly represents his military training. But it gives me a headache for some odd reason.
Sound design wise, everything is in its proper place — knife slashing, gun shots, battle cries of the monsters and the creaky openings of doors. The music is just as moody as its siblings: moody pianos, strings and industrial sounds all come together to create a “troubling” experience. I cannot do it justice. The voice acting fit’s the duress of the atmosphere. In other words, it’s just well done and sells the story.
So how does Silent Hill: Homecoming fare against other games in the series? It actually stands on its own feet rather well. Just like the other games, it is a self-contained story that has little nods to its older siblings. Combat is intense and challenging, there are nice little puzzles to take care of, and by far, it is the prettiest purgatory in existence. All silliness aside, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a solid action game with some strong horror elements. I was fortunate enough to find a copy for $20. And that’s the perfect price for it. It’s something fun to do over a long weekend. Some people may not be able to identify with Alex, but that’s only due to life experiences. Part of any homecoming is realizing things about yourself and the world around you. All you need now is a quiet hill for meditation.