Whatever negatives you can come up with, they befit Silent Hill: Homecoming.
Even before I witnessed the shoddy state of this port first-hand, it didn't take me long to lower my expectations. When the first lengthy loading screen roulettes the same three tips and shows a different lead character model than the one you control, you know you're in for one of 'those' games. Once that loading screen passed, I had to hammer the mouse button to get out of hospital bed restrainers. Quick time events, now that is some true horror.
The rest of its opening half hour is none the better as it checks a laundry list of rolleye-inducing horror clichés one by one. Desolate hospital location? Check. Fast cuts and shaky cam focussing on diabolical surgery? Check. Disturbing children's drawings? Check. The sound of a baby crying? Check. Fan fears were well-placed: moving development to American developer Double Helix equates to giving a Japanese horror movie the Hollywood treatment. When even those curvaceous nurses and series' staple Pyramid Head manage to make a cameo appearance in those same thirty minutes, it's clear that the new developers just didn't get it.
Silent Hill: Homecoming, the fifth game in the long-running, once-revered-but-now-not-so-much-anymore horror thriller series, stars homecoming soldier Alex Shepherd in a quest to find his missing brother Joshua, who got lost somewhere in this muckle of unlikable characters and questionable events. Even though you visit the Silent Hill at some point, the lion's share of the game is set in Alex' hometown of Shepherd's Glenn that has undergone the same metamorphosis as the titular town: fog blankets the creature-filled streets and the few people that are still alive are in a pretty bad shape. And, just like Silent Hill, Shepherd's Glenn has a tendency to turn itself inside out, revealing a boiler room-version of itself that's ruptured by hellish machinery and sweltering magma.
The search for Joshua is the only story thread there is, but even that proves to be nothing more than a carrot on a stick. Since Alex is too stupid to realise what you as the player see instantly, namely that he's pursuing an apparition instead of his real brother, you spend eight hours running in the same circle of watching Alex try and wring answers from people that are insane, mum or just plain clueless, to figure out something you as the player already know. It's a story that takes its sweet time going nowhere, up until the final half hour when, by lack of creative storytelling and/or faith in your ability to connect dots, two characters just dump all the exposition on you in a villain-esque manner.
That good lil' "Ok, here's how it went down..."-stint didn't answer all of my lingering questions, but I guess we're supposed to patch up whatever blanks are left with a trowel full of B-movie idiocy. At a certain point you wake up in a holding cell and a police officer comes around to interrogate you. After another branching dialogue tree that forces you to exhaust every option anyway, you talk about the monsters, to which the policeman replies something like "You've seen them too? Let's get out of here!" Hold on officer, I have a few questions for you too: why are you still in this decrepit, corpse-filled and monster-infested police station by yourself? And why are you still locking people up in this dangerous place when the world around you has gone to hell? Who are you even serving when the streets are all but abandoned? Are you more committed to your duty than to your personal safety? If so, why aren't you out there rounding up the survivors for protection or an evacuation convoy? And why aren't you in full riot gear?
He certainly wouldn't be the only person in Shepherd's Glenn without a sense of rationality and self-preservation but this guy, Wheeler as he's called, is supposed to be one of the few sane characters you meet. Later on he baffled me again by figuring out the keypad code of an enemy penitentiary from inside his own cell somehow.
While the pace is intolerably slow and not all of the game's solutions make sense, it ends on a higher note than I thought it was capable of. The revelations are pretty gnarly and your ending is determined by a few choices you make along the way. Mine randomly involved a flying saucer which is a-okay in my book.
Of course, a "good" ending is still relative to the rest of the game. The only genuinely smart puzzle is right in front of the final boss and there's so much tensionless running around that you'll get bored worse than a certain character who gets bored literally (m for mature, people!) The linearity makes it impossible to get lost even in the thick of the fog - the only time my map came up was when the game wanted to mark Alex's house and doctor Fitch's practice on it - and in the off-chance that you do get turned around, there's usually a trail of bugs to guide you to your next location.
The linearity is odd since there's a hint of a Metroidvania-type structure: you find tools that are necessary to open new paths in areas you've already visited. The fire axe, for example, is needed to clear boarded-up doorways, while the crowbar can be used to pry open gates. Finding one of these tools usually lands you in front of the first obstacle you need to use it on and the few rooms off the beaten path that require blunt force or leverage barely have worthwhile rewards.
Naturally, these tools also serve as weapons, which brings us to another flaw of the game. Granted, clunky combat has always been part of Silent Hill: it's designed to reinforce the idea of struggle and while it wasn't particularly fun, it worked within its context. You'll struggle with Homecoming's combat too, but not in the way you'd expect. Enemy attack patterns are designed around a new dodge-and-riposte-feature, but its half-assed implementation means that you often dodge in the opposite direction you're pressing, and that you still get wounded or knocked down. You'll stop relying on it altogether, devolving each brawl into one of three variants: you stunlock the enemy and whack him until he dies, you get stunlocked by the enemy that keeps knocking you to the ground until you die, or the enemy defends non-stop and you whack him until he drops his guard.
This tiresome fight system is worsened by the painstakingly slow response times. You have to be in combat stance before being able to attack via a light or a heavy attack (mouse buttons one and two respectively) but movement in combat stance is so slow that you wonder if Alex perhaps has a death wish. Firearms spruce things up because your input is instantaneous but another brush with logic means that one, headshots don't count on human enemies and two, you can't pick up the weapons they drop, not even after you've been robbed of all your guns at one point.
Let's make one thing clear: this is a console port as cheap and lazy as they come, with nil optimisation. That Double Helix developed the PC-port in-house isn't a badge of honour, on the contrary. Controller support means that you have to manually assign buttons to the actions, so instead of seeing "B" pop up, for example, you see "2" pop up, and the game's assignations have their own colour coding which makes playing with an Xbox360-controller very confusing. Even without a controller, the game doesn't bother prompting the right keys for the corresponding actions. Instead, every action you can perform on an item has the game's icon next to it. If they can't prompt the right key, why even prompt anything at all? Adjusting the key bindings to an Azerty-keyboard can be hit or miss, as some keys will be read correctly while others won't, and you can't use your mousescroller at all.
You have a few graphical options; brightness, resolution, refresh rate and graphical quality but applying any changes reboots the entire game, forcing you to wait out the unskippable opening logos a second time. Besides, even with the quality setting maxed out, Silent Hill: Homecoming still looks like a colossal piece of crap that suffers under a bad frame rate. Great lighting is ruined by an obnoxious grain filter, muddy textures and severe desaturation, and the bone-chilling creature design loses its appeal the moment you realise that there are only twelve different monster-models to fight. Including four bosses. And a regular human in a hazmat suit. And a beetle.
Being able to see damage on the enemies is a good idea, but without any blood trails oozing out of them they just look like lines drawn with a deep-red marker, and though Double Helix has done an admirable job lifting the peel-effect that transitions both worlds from the movie, it's an effect you don't get to see often.
Sloppy lip-synching undermines the generally good voice acting (one character has a tonal shift in the middle of a chat, as if the actor was replaced mid-scene) and the sound mixing isn't always up to snuff. There are some good tunes though, going from piano-led melancholy to an unnerving symphony of kettle-percussion and machine-like howls.
But now we're getting to the heart of the matter. The following few paragraphs are essentially a page-long bug report, and there should be a fine for releasing such a hunk-a-junk as a finished, full-priced product. I'm not talking about the area-transition loads that lock up the game for a beat, or the fact that simply saving your game can take up to thirty (!) seconds. I'm not even talking about the random crashes to desktop when crossing certain grounds, loading a save file or Alt+Tabbing out of the game. I'm talking about the bugs in the game's code, impeding or even preventing progress.
At a certain point you pick up the Ceremonial Dagger, a unique story item, and you're supposed to open a door in the same room with it. I thought there was a wall that looked like a door but since I didn't get any prompt when going near it, I figured that either I didn't need it there or perhaps I'd return to it later. It was neither, I was supposed to be there, the game just bugged out on me.
No less than half an hour later, back in Shepherd's house there is a puzzle involving a clock that you need to wind to a certain hour, as indicated by a note nearby. The note mentions a "room 206" which makes it obvious that the hour is 2:06. Before even trying to wind the clock I knew something was off with the controls, as if my mouse symbol was somewhere other than my actual cursor: I had to press Use on a quarter to, to set the selected hand to six minutes past. Anyway, I managed to set the clock to 2:06 but that didn't work. None of my other ideas worked either but eventually, by dumb luck, I got the hands to 10:30, solving the puzzle for me. Thinking that the clock needed to be at 10:30, I wrote that down in case I'd need it again, and continued to the next puzzle.
For me, the next puzzle was the final of four puzzles in the house. The goal was to place knives in a specific order but after placing the final knife I was sent to the screen you get when you pick up an inventory item. Without actually having picked anything up, the screen was empty, and I couldn't leave. I quit out yet again with a deep sigh and reloaded my save point. Since I didn't save my game after the clock puzzle, I could look forward to winding it with busted mouse controls a second time. Eventually I got it back to 10:30. Didn't work. Tried 2:06. Didn't work. I got anxious, went back online to see what I missed but, big surprise, I didn't miss anything. This is apparently a glitch that if you solve any of the four puzzles before the clock-puzzle in the house, the clock spazzes out and requires a random hour notation to complete, a notation you can only solve by manually trying every hour and minute combination. In a desperate this-better-work-or-I'm-done attempt, I reloaded a prior save point in the house. The 10:30 worked again and I could continue.
We're not done yet though. After some progress you end up in a church and you're supposed to place five plates in an organ. I placed them as I thought they needed to fit but nothing happened. I tried to take all of them out again to check if perhaps I misplaced them but one of them was stuck. At first I thought that perhaps that was the only one I placed correctly but after having tried the remaining four plates on another slot and being able to remove them, I realised that, yes, the game did its thing again. Since I would need to replay a portion of the game anyway, and now knowing that Double Helix couldn't assure quality if their lives depended on it, I decided to Alt+Tab out of the game and search for the answer online to prevent the same problem from happening a second time. As you can guess by now, my solution was correct, the game just didn't accept it. So, not only did it refuse my correct solution, it prevented me from trying again with a follow-up bug. A glitch within a glitch? Good Lord.
The truly weird thing is that none of these bugs happen in the first half of the game. There's a chapter in the middle somewhere named Hell's Descent (contrary to what the name might suggest, it's just running and jumping for twenty minutes) that appears to be the tipping point. Since Silent Hill doesn't use a checkpoint or autosave-system, a forced restart sends you back to the last save station and it happened multiple times that good progress was for naught due to their unreliable placement. There are times where you go full steam ahead for twenty minutes without finding one and there are times when you bump into two within the same seven minutes.
By design, Silent Hill: Homecoming stuck too close to its predecessors in pretty much every way. A new over-the-shoulder view and a physics engine are not enough to bring a classic game into the modern era, and it ends up looking and controlling largely like it did ten years ago, minus the high creep-factor and dread. The added fallacy of this miserable, bug-ridden PC-port is just insult to injury, and it takes more than a few references to horror culture heavyweights to patch things up. I'll presume that a tight deadline choked Double Helix, but that doesn't excuse this game. No, you're better off giving Silent Hill: Homecoming the same attention as the developers gave this port: none.