February 21, 2009 Seth Perkins

Silent Hill: Homecoming

I’ve been well overdue in writing this.

For Christmas, my family gave me a copy of “Silent Hill: Homecoming“.  This was the major reason I wanted a PS3.  Silent Hill has long been my favorite video game franchise since the original title’s release.  Of course, if you read my previous entry about Silent Hill Origins, you’ll know that I was a bit let down and hoping this game would redeem the bloodline.  It did so in spades and had me so hooked, after 3 evening / early morning jags, I had completed the game.

Silent Hill: Homecoming, in my mind, is what the franchise was always meant to be.  Silent Hill 2, by many accounts, was the pinnacle of the series, and I think in this latest installment, Homecoming meets the mark set by that early title.  There are many detractors who have described Homecoming as drawing out what should’ve been a graceful end to the series.  Of course, I was going into this game skeptical as this was the first console game designed entirely by an American studio, and many critics said the American aesthetic had detracted from the Japanese style horror.  However, Silent Hill: Homecoming has all the elements that made the series excel : story, environments, music, and that unique combination of scares that only Silent Hill can pull off.  Moreover, this particular title brought in a whole new set of elements which stand it apart as being the new flagship in the series.

1) Graphics – The game is just plain gorgeous.  There’s no getting around it.   Unlike the previous games, the player has complete freedom to view the environment from any perspective to really soak in the masterfully crafted world.  This just wasn’t possible in the previous platforms and on the PS3, the environments just envelope you.  Moreover, the monsters become much scarier when you actually have to look to see them.  It’s quite a rush to be in a dark hotel hallway and suddenly hear the steps of some monster directly behind you.

The monsters have real visual depth.  The prime example are the nurses which have been in the games since the original title.  In Homecoming, you can actual feel, with your eyes, the textures of their skin, clothing, weapons, it’s just so much more real and frightening.  The physics guiding those movements are believable and the rules of combat are much better defined than in previous titles (especially Origins).

2)  Music  – Of course, Akira Yamaoka, who has been the series composer since the beginning, came back for this title, but what struck me as interesting in this incarnation was the way music would come and go as part of the environment.  Unlike other titles where music was a separate layer on top of the game, in Homecoming, music actually fades in and out as the player runs through the world.  This use of music as a component of the environment spatially really enhances the world’s depth.

3) Gameplay – Homecoming has a whole new level of complexity in the game controls.  It takes some serious getting used to, however, once you’ve started up the game, you’ll be so engrossed learning the controls will come fairly quickly and progress as the game progresses in difficulty.  The combat is certainly more prevalent in this game, but this is not a first person shooter by any means, you still need to use your brains to run when it’s appropriate and fight when it’s necessary.  Again, though, the very act of having to control the perspective of the player, and the aim of the attack adds this new layer of tension to the experience and an increasing feeling of “being in the game”.

Overall, Homecoming is a piece of art.  The developers deserves praise for maintaining and reinvigorating a tradition through some powerful inventions.  I sincerely hope this becomes the new standard for the series.

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