Silent Hill is an enigma, and so is the development of its latest installment, Silent Hill: Homecoming. Where the other entries were spawned by KCET (Konami's Tokyo studio), this one will be nailed together by an American group known as The Collective. This secretive team of dark nerds has stuck mainly to the foggy fringes of the industry, but at the recent Konami Gamer's Day event they were thrust into the spotlight to discuss their latest project, and this is what they had to say.
Their first priority is to "get it right." While it's impossible to tell from our brief hands-on time with the game whether they achieved this first goal, we were appeased by their claim that this game will represent an evolution of the series and not a revolution. And it was quickly easy to see what they meant, as the game looked and felt just like Silent Hill. If someone just plopped you down in front of it, you would immediately know what series Homecoming belonged in. Thick fog? Check. Dread-inducing atmospheric music? Check. Terrifying shadows lurking at the borders of your vision? Check? And finally, naked white beasts with twin axe blades for heads, and the pervasive theme of a hospital gone wrong, wrong, wrong? Oh yes, this is Silent Hill.
One thing we didn't really get a feel for in our playtime was the narrative. Fortunately, this was the second point addressed in The Collective's presentation: They realize that everything is scarier in the dark, and that includes the plot. Therefore, they promise not to shed light on the spooky town's malicious mysteries, but rather to spread more confounding narrative shadow for players to creep through, eyes wide open, comprehending only grim shapes in the shadows.
You play a man named Shepherd, who has just returned to his sleepy little town from war to discover that everything is covered in fog. His brothers are missing, and his haunted mother seems to be speaking from someplace far, far away, even though she sits right next to him, rocking in her chair, loaded revolver resting in her lap. "You've been gone so long," she says. You promise to find your brothers, but she doesn't seem to hear you. She is lost in the fog, and she's right in front of you. Does that make you lost, too?
As you find your way outside, your quiet little town is covered in the all too familiar fog. Behind a truck, you hear a rustling and investigate. A small child, who was eating something back there, darts away, lost in the mist. You immediately identify him as your missing brother. Funny, though--he used to eat things in the kitchen.
Even though your own family members are now strangers, the controls and combat should be very familiar. The big addition is the ability to block and counterattack. When evil strikes, you can hit a button to block most of the damage. However, if you hit it at just the perfect moment, you'll dodge completely out of the way, leaving your enemies open for a stunning counterattack. Once they're stunned, you can move in and finish them off with a cinematic, lethal blow. While this mechanic wasn't completely smooth at the event yesterday, it's good to know that your character will be better able to handle himself in a fight against the forces of madness. We also heard there will be one finishing move per weapon, per character, though who those characters will be is still shrouded in fog.
Finally, the collective wanted to ensure that Silent Hill's Homecoming was scary, and at least in the cases we saw, they succeeded. There was a startling scene on display where Shepherd entered a flooded basement knee-deep with bubbling water. As he peered into its depths, a gash-faced monster peered back, and then attacked. In another scene, Shepherd was helplessly strapped to a hospital gurney propelled by a grim surgeon past operating rooms full of horrific silhouettes emanating terrifying sounds. Though we're loathe to find out what was going on in those rooms, we can't wait for this September, when we finally get to return to Silent Hill.