Hands on: 'Silent Hill: Homecoming'


Posted July 18, 2008 - By Stephen Johnson

I’m a huge fan of the Silent Hill series. Silent Hill 2 was the first videogame that genuinely scared me, and I’ve like all the other iterations of the series, so I was really looking forward to the current-gen Silent Hill.

While it’s hard to get much more than a general impression from a brief time with a pre-release version of any game, it’s particularly hard to get the feel for a survival horror title at a glitzy conference room suite--if you’re not playing in the middle of the night, alone in a dark house, it’s just not going to be that scary--but, I’ll do my best here. This is the first Silent Hill game from developers Double Helix and Silent Hill Homecoming seems like it’s casting a wider net and abandoning some of  the quirks from previous games—it seems like a more general-interest title than, say, Silent Hill 4: The Room.

Plot Thumbnail: Homecoming centers on Alex, an ex military man who’s looking for his brother, a pale, ghostly little kid who holds the key to the mystery of Silent Hill. Obviously, the story and puzzles is hugely important to Silent Hill, and there isn’t much to say about it without a long stay in the haunted town, so you’ll have to wait until closer to release for that.

Look: Creepy atmospheres have always been integral to the Silent Hill series, and Homecoming is suitably, Silent-Hill-style-spooky: Shrouded in fog, grimy and abandoned, the town looks dangerous and dreary, just how you want it to look, but the graphics don’t have the power that some current-gen games feature. But here’s a huge improvement: A free camera. Go ahead and look at anything. You won’t be trapped in certain views like in previous Silent Hill games.

A  feature back from previous games: Homecoming features a “grain-filter,” that makes everything look like it was shot on 16 millimeter film that was left in a closet to rot for a few years. Definitely a creepy touch.

The transition between reality and the haunted world of Silent Hill borrows a bit from the film, and we get that cool, chipping, peeling paint effect rendered in-game. Impressive.

Play: The big change in this version of Silent Hill is the combat. A lot of work has been done to keep the fighting fluid and intuitive, and to a point, it is. While most people will probably regard this as improvement, I’m not so sure. When I first played Silent Hill and tried to take out those demon dogs with a crowbar, I died again and again—I could never get the timing right. Every fight was an ordeal, and I started to fear the dogs, knowing that each encounter would be brutal and horrible, then it sunk in: That’s the point. You should be afraid to fight abominations. In past SH games the combat made you feel powerless and vulnerable, like your character. In Homecoming, the fight system create a different paradigm. Not worse, just different. Example: A ghoul lurking in an alley was quickly dispatched with a couple headshots. It’s justified in the plot: The game’s protagonists is ex-military, so he has combat skillz—but how it will play out over the long haul remains to be seen.

Overall: Homecoming doesn’t seem like a huge leap in any direction for Silent Hill, but more like a small evolution. It looks better than previous games, contains some improvements in handling, and seems (again from the brief time I played it) to have that “Silent Hill feel.” Whether the game’s plot, puzzles and play will stand up to many hours of creeping around remains to be seen.

Silent Hill: Homecoming comes out in the fall for the PS3 and the 360.

Check out Adam Sessler's Hands-on with the title by clicking the video below:

Hands On: Silent Hill: Homecoming »

Hands on: 'Silent Hill: Homecoming'


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