Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review #354: Silent Hill - Homecoming

 I'm coming home alright... to Silent Hill.
 I was wary when I first approach Homecoming, after all, it's probably got the worst reputation out of the non-Japanese Silent Hill games. While it's mostly considered an average game, it's also been called buggy, wonky, out of place and a few other less fancy adjectives. Before starting the game, I was already pretty sure that I was gonna like Downpour more. I was wrong.

 In this installment of this revered Survival Horror franchise, you play as Alex Shepherd, coming home after spending a few years as a soldier abroad. But things have changed at Silent Hill's neighboring town, Shepherd's Glen, people are missing, smog covers the air and Alex's younger brother, Joshua, has gone missing. Spanning a trip that will take Alex into Silent Hills, Alex will find out much more than what he bargained for, unearthing the secrets behind Shepherd's Glen and its connection to the Order. One thing to take into account when playing Homecoming is that it kinda borrows more from the movies than from the previous games, which is a bit of a rather huge mistake. Sexy(?) bobble-head nurses return here, for the third time, because they are the popular incarnations of the monster, and Pyramid Head returns as the 'Boogeyman'. To be fair, you can sorta explain the Boogeyman as Pyramid Head being more of a 'monster type'. Y'see, kinda like how most SH games have a Nurse-monster or a dog-monster, well, Pyramid Head and the Boogeyman could belong to the same family.
 One of the beautiful things about the Japanese Tetralogy of SH games is the amount of care and detail that goes into designing monsters and how they relate to whichever character's psyche brought them forth. Here, while I will praise the monster designs, most of them anyways, they are just here to be here without them representing anything, which is kinda disappointing. Regardless, this repertoire of monsters is much, much better than Downpour's stiff humanoid-esque enemies. The Atmosphere also took a hit with this game. Silent Hill has always been about implying horror without making it overtly-explicit, not so here, it feels more like an American Horror movie than anything, filled with gore and blood inflicted upon human victims. Not that the game's atmosphere is bad, au contraire, the game manages to be creepy and unsettling. making the player feel tense and jumpy, which is fantastic, but it's an undeniable different tone than what came before.

 The gameplay has been subject to much debate. At face value, this is your average Silent Hill game, equipped with a Flashlight, which aids in exploring but alerts enemies, and a Radio, which alerts you about enemies, you are to traverse the foggy(Smoggy in this case!) streets of Silent Hill, as you fight or avoid monsters and solve puzzles. But as soon as you dig deeper you'll begin to notice that the game has a rather heavy focus on combat. Alex, being a Soldier, is skilled in battle, being able to dodge in four directions, jump back on his feet after a knockdown, perform weak and strong attacks and even charge them! It received a lot of flak for it, but, me, personally, found the combat to be rather fun, if repetitive, once you get the hang of it. And the sooner you learn that the Knife is the best weapon in the game the better. Damage might be pitiful but its speed is so fast that most enemies rarely get a chance to get a hit in!
 But the game's biggest offense has got to be the menu system, which is all kinds of bad. For starters, in order to toggle on and off your flashlight, you've got to go through a menu. Seriously. Secondly, L1 access the Healing/Key Items menus and R1 opens up your armament menus. Having two inventories is one inventory too many already. But the menu is so clunky that it's pretty easy to accidentally unequip whatever weapon you were using. I sorta understand why they came up with this idea, since they expected players to switch weapons depending on the opponent, I mean, at first, it makes sense, tackling a Nurse with an axe will prove to be tough, but the axe works wonders on the Needler, a creature that is hard to fight with the knife.... Until you learn that spamming the knife's four hit combo is a surefire way of killing most enemies, since their AI's can't deal with the spam!

 I also noticed that sometimes Alex wouldn't dodge in the direction I was push, which became unnerving at times. Plus, it's not uncommon for the camera to get obstructed by scenery when fighting enemies. Lastly, this might be a nitpick, but I absolutely abhor having ammo capacity on my guns. I understand that the focus was on melee weapons, but seriously? An ammo cap!??

 It may seem like I hated Homecoming, but nothing is further from the truth. I had a blast playing the game. As a horror game it succeeds in being scary, it succeeded in keeping me tense and worrying about what could be around the corner, so bonus points for that. Sadly, it falls a bit short when it comes to living up to Silent Hill's legacy... but it's something I can live with. Combat might be repetitive, but I liked it. The environments arrested my attention and the story kept me entertained the whole way through, even if the voice acting left a bit to be desired.

 If you are against non-Japanese Silent Hill games, then you're better off avoiding this game, as this game does nothing to change your mind, as a matter of fact, it will probably make you hate them even more due to how careless they were with a few of SH's concepts. That said, if you can forgive them for that, the game is relatively fun and scary... as least until you learn how to spam the knife.
 7.5 out of 10

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