On the surface, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a dark and twisted homage to the series' classic roots. However, beneath the thick layer of fog are a number of troubling issues that will only serve to push away the devoted faithful that call Silent Hill their home. Developer Double Helix Games has gone to great lengths to bring its vision of the haunted town to life, and while it is to be commended for creating what is perhaps the most atmospheric entry in the enduring series, Homecoming is merely a carefully constructed simulacrum of what has already been done.
Alex Shepard hasn't had a very good year. After being wounded in combat as an army soldier and sent back to the US for a lengthy hospital stay, he begins to have nightmares in which his younger brother Joshua is in danger. Released with a clean bill of health, Alex is determined to rescue his sibling from the unknown threats that stalk him, even if it means returning to the town of Shepard's Glen that he turned his back on so long ago. Once there, Alex is surprised to find that his home has somehow been consumed by evil and its streets filled with dark, twisted things in his absence. His nearly catatonic mother watches helplessly from her rocking chair as the world falls apart. It seems as though the entire town has gone missing, which includes Alex's father and brother. As Alex, you must unearth the shadowy secrets of your hometown's past to find your brother and save him.
Unfortunately, Alex's journey takes him through an odd mixture of old and new that will have newcomers wondering what all the fuss over Silent Hill is about while longtime fans will be left scratching their heads. Homecoming's cliched story--while easier to follow than its precursors--is poorly paced and develops far too slowly, but if you can make it until the halfway point, it begins to make remarkable changes for the better. Its unsatisfying gameplay also resembles a paint-by-numbers game that has been painstakingly crafted from the "defining" elements from its predecessors, such as creepy zombie nurses, pointlessly long hallways full of locked doors, and a fan-favorite special guest. Worse yet, Homecoming relies on a number of cheap tricks, including a completely useless flashlight, enemies that respawn endlessly until specific cutscenes are triggered, and easily predictable shock moments that fail to generate tension or frights. Despite how disturbing the enemies and environments are, Homecoming is anything but a terrifying experience.
As a soldier, Alex is gifted with a martial prowess and combat training that the other Silent Hill protagonists lacked. In keeping with these skills, he is a powerhouse in battle who can chain together attacks of several varieties with his melee weapons, finish off stunned monsters with a violent coup de grace, and even dodge out of the way of incoming assaults. You're not limited to simply using melee weapons either because Alex comes across several firearms to help him keep things that go bump in night at a distance. It generally takes experimentation and patience to master a monster's attack patterns and attune them to Alex's sometimes slow, jerky movements. However, once you do, it essentially trivializes them for the rest of the game because they are so easy to kill. In this way, Alex's skills dampen the psychological blow of being a stranger in a strange land and make the monsters seem like little more than thorns in your side that you must wearily wade through to get from point A to point B, which is something you literally do thanks to the incredibly linear nature of exploration. Finally, as if things weren't easy enough, Homecoming introduces an entirely new class of healing item on top of the usual health drinks and medical kits that not only completely refills your life meter, but also expands it for the rest of the game.
When he's not putting a steel pipe through the heads of feral dogs or battling the huge and climactic bosses in their resting places, Alex is searching the streets and buildings of Shepard's Glen trying to piece together what happened. Your melee weapons pull a double duty here by allowing you to chop through boarded-up doorways, cut through tapestries, and pry open stuck doors--something that only makes the "It looks like the lock is broken. I can't open it." message you will repeatedly see all the more infuriating. You will also encounter a number of puzzles that vary from rewiring fuse boxes to deciphering complex spinning locks and beyond. Though most of these are solved through simple trial and error or by hunting down specific items, some of the end-game puzzles require far more thought and are highly engaging. These puzzles do not reset if you make a mistake and exit out of them, so be warned that you may need to restart from your last save file if you mess up too badly.
Homecoming manages to capture the essence of the Silent Hill experience and raise it to entirely new levels of realism with amazing environmental lighting, as well as shadow effects. Even old-but-faithful staples, such as the gratuitous fog or the grainy camera filters, are upgraded and have never looked better. Both Alex and the monsters he faces will show off slashes or cuts from weapons. The transformation to the Otherworld is also done in real time, mirroring the style used in the 2006 Silent Hill film from which some of the monster designs and locations in the game were borrowed. Occasionally, the frame rate will drop--particularly when turning--and though it is by no means game-breaking, it is annoying. Akira Yamaoka's music and sound effects are as always brilliant, adding much to the atmosphere of the haunted towns--especially during the big boss encounters. But because Homecoming is disconnected from the series' psychological roots, it seems almost out of place.
Silent Hill: Homecoming, while quite a departure from the psychological horror that fans are used to, is still a decent, occult-themed action game that you can squeeze 10 hours of tepid enjoyment from. If, however, you're looking for a classic Silent Hill-style frightfest, you will likely be disappointed.