Fans of the horror video game genre are very, very protective of their Silent Hill franchise, paying deadly close attention that each successive game is not only a high quality affair, but also stays true to the established canon of the series. It's no wonder, then that fans were taken aback when it was revealed here at Kotaku that the fifth game in the series would be developed here in the states by developer Double Helix, rather than traditional developer Team Silent. Did handing off the beloved franchise to an all-new, Western team create a darker, nastier Silent Hill, or did it simply result in darker, nastier game critics?
Homecoming doesn't radically attempt to revamp the established universe that's existed for almost a decade, but tries to tie the plot of Alex's adventure to pre-established canon. There are a number of nods to both the Silent Hill film from a few years ago as well as the movie Jacob's Ladder, which adds a couple of layers to the development of the characters as well as the situations they find themselves in. However, even with all of that going on, the main twist related to the game can easily be figured out before it happens, leaving a rather bland taste when it's finally revealed. Homecoming eventually feels more like a subplot to a larger, unfinished tale with tenuous connections to the rest of the series.
While Homecoming's combat system has its growing pains, I wholeheartedly endorse the new camera and movement controls. You move with one analogue stick and control the camera with the other, which enables you to manipulate the view with far more precision than ever before. Moreover, your character can now strafe, which really helps cement the more action-centric focus. I'm sure some Silent Hill fans will miss the cinematic angles when entering an unknown area, but this should pass — the new camera and controls do little to detract from the atmosphere in the long run.
Silent Hill: Homecoming proves to be a welcome step forward in the series without breaking the foundation that has made it a success. By staying true to the series' roots and not trying to rely on unnecessary mechanics or gimmicks, Double Helix has created yet another unsettling gaming experience that is sure to stick in the minds of players long after the end credits roll. Fans of the series are sure to be pleased, as well as spooked, by the expected, yet unexpected twists the plot takes as Alex searches for his missing brother and father.
All of this praise doesn't mean that Homecoming is without its flaws. The combat system, built upon a series of basic light-heavy-dodge combos, works reasonably well but some of the monsters feel a bit too cheap. Siam's attacks in particular are nearly impossible to dodge while no such complications interfere with the game's four bosses, all of them larger than Siam and some of them more agile. In many ways, it's best to save firearm ammo for encounters with Siam or Smog, the game's only true ranged attacker until the very late stages, rather than holding out for the boss fights.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is a very capable entry, maybe better than cynics were expecting, one that should please most fans of the series and anyone looking for a good scare layered with respectable storytelling. Homecoming fluctuates from moments of brilliance to shades of mediocrity, a bit of a junk food entry that may leave you hungering for something meatier. But less picky players, ones who don't mind the graphical quirks and sameness, will likely not take issue with the final product. There's plenty of frustration to be had and little in the way of traditional "fun," as the game's mechanics are starting to feel in need of a revamp, but Homecoming gets the job done.Some nice scores, but still not convinced I want to cross over into Silent Hill one more time.