Wednesday, April 20, 2016

VGR Silent Hill: Homecoming

After a standalone portable prequel and a movie adaptation, the Silent Hill series was back on track with a proper follow-up installment.

Only this time, it was a much more straightforward sequel.

VGR: Silent Hill: Homecoming also known as Silent Hill V (or alternatively as Silent Hill 6 for those that count Origins as SH5)
From Double Helix Games/Konami Digital Entertainment
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 and PC

Type Survival horror/Psychological horror/3rd Person Action game
Year 2008/2009

After a complete retreat back to the original game, the Silent Hill series came back with a much more modern and combat-oriented sequel. Which would be the reason for the radically different reimagining of the first game, Shattered Memories,which would take the combat out to focus more on narrative and the exploration of the town.

Silent Hill: Homecoming is the 5th Silent Hill title, released on September 2008 for PS3 and Xbox 360 in the US while the rest of the world until February 2009, and the sixth game in the overall Silent Hill series (7th if you also count the arcade rail shooter!).

SH1 and 3 revolved around the same storyline of the local cult, the fan-beloved SH2 was a standalone perfect "psychological horror" game and while different SH4 was a very creepy horror game. After the license was adapted to film by Christophe Gans with his tribute to the franchise, we finally got a proper new episode which really felt like a best of the series, cherry-picking ideas in everything that game before.

Homecoming was a long in-development proper next episode by a Western developer. Originally UK developer Climax pitched what would be the 5th game in the series to Konami, which would have been a PS3-exclusive title. But Konami ended preferring to go on a different direction and choose an American studio instead. The game started at The Collective, during production they would merged with Backbone Entertainment in 2005 to form Foundation 9 Entertainment, and then they also later merged with Shiny Entertainment to finally create Double Helix Games in 2007, with Silent Hill: Homecoming acting as their first title.

Only series composer Akira Yamaoka returned from the original Team Silent, also acting as executive producer of Silent Hill ever since. Plot-wise, there were several hands on the script of this game, Patrick J. Doody and Chris Valenziano writing the in-game journal entries, based on the story provided by lead designer Jason Allen, lead artist Brian Horton and lead level designer Daniel Jacobs.

Also interesting to note, the release of the game was accompanied by a few "diary entries" written by some of the main characters of the story, providing additional backstory - which can only be found online, but don't worry they can still be found nowadays: Alex, Elle and Wheeler's.

Like most Silent Hill games, the game begins with a nightmare sequence foreshadowing the entire plot. An introduction taken straight out of the series' first inspiration, Jacobs' Ladder.

The story of Homecoming follows this ex-Special Forces soldier back from war, Alex Shepherd. Like the title indicates, the plot is about his return to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen. Yes, the game is actually not set on Silent Hill but right East of the nearby Toluca Lake.

Alex arrives after a truck ride thanks to truck driver Travis Grady, from Silent Hill Origins. Alex is greeted by his town completely deserted, hidden under a deep mist. His father and young brother Josh are both missing and his mother appears to be catatonic. He goes looking for them in the town covered in fog. Most people seem missing, but now there's these strange creatures roaming the streets. As the story progresses more and more monsters start invading Shepherd's Glen. He only finds this old time childhood friend of his, Elle Holloway and the remaining cop, Deputy Wheeler.

While looking around he does find some key people of the town such as a doctor and the mayor. They all lost their own children. When Alex returns some belongings to them, they're immediately killed by these giant monsters in this "Otherworld". They appear linked to those creatures.

Who killed these kids anyway?

Alex soon learns his own father might have been involved in some affair with the descendants of the town founders. People tried to bring the cult of Silent Hill back to Shepherd's Glen, and things went bad during a ritual.

Alex, Elle and Wheeler take a boat across Toluca Lake, and reach Silent Hill's penitentiary. The truth may lie in the town's church...

During the course of the game the player can decide some dialog choices which might affect some outcomes of a few key decisions (and therefore, the ending). Such as trying to save Alex's mother or not as well as forgiving his father...

Oh, and Alex seems to be followed by this "Bogeyman", as per Silent Hill tradition. Only this time it's basically Silent Hill 2's iconic Pyramid Head again, which actually acts much more like a cameo than a tormentor here.

Despite the update to a 3rd person perspective closer to modern games like RE4, gameplay of the game still felt fairly close to the original games. Maybe too close, since this was one of the major critics against the game, that it felt like an old clusmy game.

Alex, our protagonist in this episode, is "supposedly" a soldier. Which means you can actually fight for once in the series. The controls didn't change that much from previous episodes, you can do the same type of interactions with the environments to solving puzzles and using the map, but there's actually more emphasis on fighting the monsters directly and not running.

There's the usual variety of weapons from a knife, to a metal bar, the pistol, the shotgun and even a rifle (not counting secret unlockable weapons). They're pretty simple to come by, as well as you can find some stronger versions of all these weapons later in the game (even if you missed a previous one). Bullets are not that rare (but don't go wasting them around nonetheless), and you can find plenty of health items around (up to a point). You can also freely aim now.

It's easier to fight monsters since you're not an everyman protagonist like in previous games. Some ideas first experimented in Origins make a comeback here, you can do combos as well finish moves.

You can also dodge attacks and perform counter-atacks!

I also loved seeing the dialog choices making a return which was a first since SH2, only a couple of in-game dialogs really affect the plot though.

This marked the first game not developed by Team Silent, like Origins which came before it. Double Helix even put their own original IP Harker on hold (before canceling it altogether) which would also be a survival horror around a vampire hunter. The chief designer of Silent Hill: Homecoming was Masashi Tsuboyama

The game was first announced in 2004 as a "next generation" title at the time. Over the following years very little to no info was discussed about the game. The game was said to be a throwback to SH2, just like SH3 was linked to the first game before, with a design and plot closer to the second game. Finally after a teaser trailer shown at the E3 2007 the game became first known under the title Silent Hill V

Homecoming takes most of its inspiration from all past episodes in the series, which explains the way it feels like a "best of" of the series. But it also took some cues from the live action movie adaptation, mostly regarding the transitions from the Fog world into the Otherworld using the same paint-ripping effect, similar insects crawling all over the Otherworld as well as the recycling of Pyramid Head as the "Bogeyman" in the game (which works for the lore, but wasn't really necessary...). They even redid the classic Silent Hill joke of forcing the character to put his hand in a toilet bowl.

The game feels like "Silent Hill" through and through, but it does change a few things. Combat is much better handled, but put way too much emphasis on. It's kind of a shame since it sort of detracts from the general horror, previous character were never that great in combat for a reason unlike in the Resident Evil series. It sort of takes away from the scary aspect since you just don't fear monsters as much after that. Before you had to run away from everything, now you can always take out monsters. 

Also, the game is a bit too much on the easy.

This change to the game mechanics makes for an extreme change of pace, which was to be expected with the change of developers, the first Western-developed Silent Hill games in the series. They did a great job capturing the visuals but it sort of loses on the atmosphere. Some of those great sceneries feel wasted in this more action-oriented game.

There's also some seriously unpolished aspects, even though the game shows a lot of creativity. They carefully crafted a lot of these monsters and bosses. There's various interpretations to these boss fights, linked to the death of the children in the town, each representing the guilt of their parents (even the "Bogeyman" Pyramid Head appears linked to Alex's father).

The entire story and bosses are actually foreshadowed right in the first cutscene of the game! There's a lot of significations and allusions to the number 206 as well.

They even gave every monster his own little introduction (kind of like Doom 3 did). 

For some strange reasons the bubblehead nurses are very sexualized here, and it did simply not work as well as it did in SH2. But otherwise there are some interesting creepy designs like that siam-creature representing the relationship between Alex's parents into this huge ugly disfigured monster.

Pyramid Head is here simply for a cameo, because how popular and synonymous with the franchise he has become. But he did only really twice in the game.

Designs of the monsters took some cues from the movie. Sadly that also inspired one of the worse enemies that appear late in the game, for some reason you end up fighting a lot of normal people here.

And let's not forget one of the better visuals in the film influencing the transition between the Fog world and Otherworld used in the game.

Visually, the game is sort of a mixed bag. It all looks actually fairly nice and well detailed. But while monsters have fantastic terrific designs, the human protagonists kind of look dull and boring. I liked the characters but their models could have been done a lot better.

There are some nice details like the way attacks left wounds directly on the monsters.

There's some fantastic and even memorable sequences in the game, I particularly loved "Hell's Descent", the darkness once you shut down the electricity to the penitentiary as well as every single boss fight.

But the series is finally starting to feel a bit repetitive after all this time, how many hospitals and spooky house can you visit in Silent Hill? There were some references to the larger series here and there.

People were pretty harsh on the game, in my eyes. It was not only the first externally-developed Silent Hill game but also the first major entry in the series from a Western developer. They tried a different approach to what feels an exercise in traditional Silent Hill experience, as well as updating a few ideas. 

There were some legitimate complains like how dark the game was, with the flashlight having very little effect here. But the game is pretty decent, really. It's not particularly fantastic, but it works. The plot tries to have some ties to the previous games what with the whole cult aspect, but I think it would have beeter a lot better with less ties to allow the game to better stand on its own. Also everybody can see the final twist coming from miles ahead.

All in all, it's a decent new game, but certainly far from the better entries in the SH series.

As always, you can get various endings in the game. The game contains 5 different endings depending on the few key choices you decide through the game. Like killing Alex's mom, forgiving his fat and saving Wheeler at one point. These main actions will decide wether Alex will reunite with Elle or be killed for the Cult for example! There's one pretty strange ending where he's turned into a Pyramid Head thing/Bogeyman, and another one which is a direct throwback to Jacob's Ladder. Strangely enough, much to the annoyance of a lot of Silent Hill fans you can even attain the traditional UFO ending on a first playthrough for the first time in a SH game!! Finally there's also a super secret finale ending which will get Josh back if you find all of his drawings through the playthrough in a post-credit scene.

As often with the series, the game had a few issues with the censors in a few countries due to its pretty bloody and violent nature. It's a dark game with mature themes. There's a pretty intense scene where Alex is tortured with a drill into his leg. The game ended up banned because of that scene. They just made a few cuts fora  couple countries like Germany.

If this game's synonymous with changes for the series, at least per tradition we had Akira Yamaoka back as music composer, not only executive producer. As always his work his fantastic and consisten through the series. He made a really great score for Homecoming, as well as the sound effects for the game, with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn also returning to provide vocals. Easily my favorite aspect of the entire game in my eyes. The music is intense, creepy and really brutal.

At end of the day it's a fairly competent if forgettable new entry in the cult classic survival horror series.

Overall, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a decent game, I really suggest Giving this one a Try.

While I honestly like the game, I admit it's far from perfect.

Speaking of, on PC it's a really bad port since it can easily freeze and suffers from a ton of glitches, it's just not as polished as console releases with longer loading times. But the actual game also has a lot of similar issues, the framerate drops a few times and a few areas suffer some really bad game-breaking bugs (be sure to keep several separate saves for the Otherworld Shepherd's home as well as the Church near the end of the game!!!!).

But it's a decent horror title, with some redeeming qualities. It's actually a solid experience. It's always fun running around the foggy town, specially that segment where you shut down the electricity to open the prison near the end of the game which got really tense. It's familiar enough once you start listening to the static radio noise, flashlight on the jacket and pipe in hand. And I really loved the transitions to the Otherworld, which were entirely borrowed from the films. It's maybe a bit too easy.

Before the announcement of the sequel we actually got there were some talks about a trilogy revolving around the events of this as it was imagined to be, meaning Alex probably survives the actual canon ending. But sadly this proposed "Homecoming trilogy" never went past this game.

I give it:
2 / 3 Necronomicons!

No comments:

Post a Comment