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The old haunt

Silent Hill can go home again
By MITCH KRPATA  |  October 29, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Silent Hill: Homecoming

Silent Hill: Homecoming | For Xbox 360 And PlayStation 3 | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Double Helix Games | Published by Konami
As a game reviewer, I have an obligation to inform you of the myriad problems with Silent Hill: Homecoming. You need to know that save points are frustratingly far apart, and that the controls in close combat situations could charitably be described as “unpredictable.” It’s full of head-scratching puzzles that don’t mesh with the gameplay at all. And I certainly wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you about the time I lost 20 minutes of progress after my character got stuck in a corner, between a filing cabinet and a bookshelf, and I had to reset.

But I also have the duty to tell you that this game scared the living crap out of me.

Although the Silent Hill series is revered as one of the great survival horror franchises, few would argue that it hasn’t lost something off its fastball in recent years. The last proper sequel, Silent Hill 4: The Room, was a strange entry that, despite some high points, felt like a dead end. Then there was Silent Hill Origins for the PSP, which was good for what it was but brought nothing new to the table. Homecoming likewise relies on popular moments from past games. But it also taps into the vein of psychological terror that has pulsed beneath the surface of the best Silent Hills.

Players take the reins of Alex Shepherd, an injured war veteran who returns to his home town of Shepherd’s Cove to search for his missing brother, Joshua. Like the town of Silent Hill in previous games, Shepherd’s Cove seems more nightmare than physical location. It’s socked in by dense fog, roads end abruptly at deep chasms, and hardly anyone seems to live there. Oh and then there are the hideous monsters with a habit of lurching at you out of the mist.

As opposed to the recent Dead Space, here it’s not clear whether you’re supposed to take the setting and the events as real. There’s the suggestion that everything is happening in Alex’s mind, particularly when the world around him peels away to reveal an infernal alternate dimension. He sees his brother everywhere he goes, but Joshua never seems to notice him. In the margins of the story line, we get a glimpse of Alex’s unhappy home life as a child.

Whatever plane of reality the game is operating on, the danger to Alex is genuine. In the classic survival horror tradition, he has limited resources, health and ammo are tough to find, and save points are few and far between. This can result in periods of frustration, when progress is lost because of an unexpected death. But that’s also what keeps the tension up. Even the sloppy combat controls, which I never did get the hang of, add to the fear.

Silent Hill: Homecoming isn’t an action game, and you have to accept that. It’s a game about the horrors that lurk just out of view. You explore dilapidated hospitals, prisons, and homes — places that seem to have absorbed years of human tragedy into their walls. These disquieting environments are punctuated by moments of pure terror: Alex carries a radio with him at all times, and it emanates static as monsters approach. Given that you can rarely see 10 feet beyond him, the growing hiss as you spin the camera around trying to locate the threat induces something like panic.

Let me stress that if you’re looking for a pure gaming experience, Silent Hill: Homecoming isn’t it. But if you want a horror game that will have you sleeping with the lights on, here you go.

Related: Dismembers only, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, Review: Madea Goes to Jail, More more >
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