Wednesday, July 13, 2011

REVIEW: Silent Hill: Homecoming

"Welcome Home Silent Hill"

Homecoming is definitely a fitting name for the latest installment of Silent Hill series. Not only its story is about the homecoming of Alex Shepherd, it's a homecoming in which he faces he returns to his true self, therefore it's also a homecoming to one's true self. In addition to these, it's also a homecoming of the whole series. After five years passing from 2003, the year Silent Hill 3 was published, veterans of the game can be glad to play another true Silent Hill.

Silent Hill 4: The Room was a great game and there's no doubt in that. But it lacked one feature; nostalgia that a Silent Hill players would feel. The gameplay was drastically changed while not to the better. But in the aspect of story it truly belonged to the series with a great and deep psychological story. Silent Hill: Origins was a good game for a console with the size of PSP, but not for a series as great as Silent Hill. So I'd like to ignore Origins and put Homecoming right after The Room.

Gameplay-wise Homecoming is the best game of the series. Silent Hill was really as good as it gets concerning gameplay, opening a new chapter in the history of gaming. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 didn't touch gameplay, and no one minded, since you don't fix something that's not broken. But these two games were completely superior to the first game in their story. Silent Hill had a great story comparing with other games of the genre, but it was the two upcoming games that brought stories with them deep stories with philosophical, psychological, surrealistic, and social aspects. The Room had the same greatness in the story but failed in changing the gameplay. Homecoming has returned to the exact gameplay of first Silent Hill but it has also improved it. You would hardly notice the improvements, since they're really minor and are almost invisible in the body of game, but they're certainly there and leave a great effect.

Most apparent improvement is in the controls. Controls were already changed in The Room and in Homecoming the changes of Resident Evil 4 are adopted (as the original controls were adopted from Resident Evil series). But I promise you that you won't find yourself in an experience similar to Resident Evil 4. While the main stress in Resident Evil 4 is on firearms it's on melee weapons in Silent Hill: Homecoming and the game has adopted the system only in firearms, making the whole experience a new one.

Other change in the gameplay evolves around its scariness. The first three Silent Hills focused on a doctrine of fear which seemed to have come from Hitchcock. A gradual, mind-numbing, consistent fear. It contrasted with Resident Evil fear which was momentary and shocking, and far less effective. Silent Hill was one of the few, if not the only, Survival Horror games which was scary in the true sense of the word. You really feel scared as you walk the game. The game is calm instead of fast. The horror of the Homecoming is also the same. Along the game you won't feel much differently from playing the first game. Yet I said many times during playing the game: “Either Silent Hill is scarier or I'm less brave”. The truth is Homecoming is definitely one of the scariest of the series because not only it uses Silent Hill fear very greatly but it also uses Resident Evil fears greatly. The series has driven a lot from Alone in the Dark series but has proven it knows how to use their material better than them. Now that it has directly driven from Resident Evil it shows that it also knows how to use their material better.

In addition to its scariness and being shocking, the game has, again for the first time, some semi-action levels, and it certainly has exciting scenes. It shows although they've returned to the style before The Room they've kept what was good about it. It's also very violent. None of the series, with the exception of The Room (which I don't think was scary at all but had a real suspenseful story) have had this amount of disturbing scenes. All parts of the series were full of bloody walls and deformed corpses and had some violence from time to time but in Homecoming violent scenes come after one another; to the point it can resemble a slasher movie. Of course the violence is never the violence of Manhunt or The Suffering, a pointless exaggerated one. It's completely fitting to the need of the game and like anything else in the gameplay it's exactly where it should be.

Another great point of the game is its nostalgia for its veterans. Points to previous games are made (Cybil is mentioned without being named and Douglas's name is mentioned). Your flashlight and radio are back. Nurses are once again in the list of your enemies. You can once again explore the Otherworld. Even Pyramidheads of the second game are back. You continue to explore the whole areas patiently and mark your findings in your map. In short, everything you loved when you played previous Silent Hills are here, and only this is enough for you, if you're new to the series, to play previous games before coming to Silent Hill.

But it's not only the gameplay and nostalgia which make Homecoming a masterpiece. There's a thing much greater, a masterful, artistic, storyline. I once mentioned that second and third games had stories as great as a work of art.

First matter is the question of how much things are psychological and how much they're real. In the first game the question appears to be not arisen at all, although each gamer can feel that the whole problem of this question and the gamer certainly suspects things.. In the second and fourth games the question is clearly answered: Are all the monsters are the physical shape of hero's (or villain's) fears and obsessions, and different layers of the city of Silent Hill are the different layers of personality, or are they real freaks attacking you? You should play the games to find the answer. In Homecoming the question is clearly, even more clearly, is answered with the same answer. (Finish the game to find out). I think in this aspect Silent Hill 3 was superior because it left us with the clues to this answer rather than clearly answering it.

In the story too the whole series are present. What happens to Alex himself is similar to the second game. The game tells his story who travels a long and disturbing odyssey within the scariest things of all, searching for his brother Joshua in the exact way James searched for his wife. Just like James, he finally has to face his past, his unpleasant self, and finds the chance to salvation, or maybe he will be destroyed in the void of his personality. The endings may differ from gamer to gamer and none of the games clearly state which one is the "true" ending. Silent Hill 2 was surrealistic in the true sense of the word, and Homecoming is also. The greatest game of all times in psychological aspects remains Silent Hill 2, but now Homecoming is a parallel. But of course search for Joshua is very similar to search for Cheryl and unleashing dark past of Shepherds family and exploring Silent Hill is closely derived from the first game. The cruel and aggressive “The Order”, religious and social aspects, come close to the greatness of Silent Hill 3 but does not reach it. The suspense and excitement of lost children that are found dead one after another reminds you of the suspense of The Room. In Persian we have a proverb: “What all the beautiful have, she has herself in the same place”! The same can be said about Homecoming, because it has all the strong points of stories and even plots of the previous games gathered. The game fully deserves a great plot analysis but I'm not going to spoil the story for you.

James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 and Heather of Silent Hill 3 were, among Max Payne and Solid Snake and Cloud and some others, are among the game characters so greatly done that can put any novelist into shame. Alex Shepherd can confidently join their club now.

Similar to all aspects minor characters are all resembling characters from previous games. Deputy Wheeler is a successful Douglas Cartland and Joshua is a great Cheryl/Mary but that's where it all ends. Elle Halloway is fine but you'll never like her and care for her as much as you did for her alter ego, Eileen Galvin in the fourth game. Maybe the reason is she's not present in the game as much Eileen was present in the fourth installment. But the ultimate failure is in the villains. They're too many and they're too briefly encountered that they're just shallow bad guys. It's not a grave thing but I really miss Claudia of the third game and Walter Sullivan of the fourth. They even fail to have the charisma of Dahlia Gillepsi.

With this said, still the main protagonist is a very interesting character, play to find out who, and why.

Some people have said that the graphics of Homecoming doesn't meet the standards of PS3 and other consoles of this generation, and I thought the same in the first playthrough, but now after replaying it for many times I disagree: the game looks awesome. It may not be the best "technical" graphics but you can't say that about the :artistic" graphic. Monsters look scary and disturbing and characters are done perfectly, animations look nice and the atmosphere completely overcomes you.

The legendary Akira Yamaoka has done a perfect job again with the music. Voice actings are perfect, and the sound effects are great too. As you know, an important part of every scary game is how it sounds, therefore the gameplay itself would never be scary if not accompanied with great sound effects. The game nails it, like all Silent Hills.

A sidenote:
If you already haven't watched the trailer of the game, wait a bit in the start menu and watch it. It's awesome, one of the best trailers ever produced.

Finally I still think Silent Hill 3 is the best installment of the series for a lot of reasons which don't belong to this review. But Homecoming definitely comes in the second place with other glorious installments. It's one of the greatest parts of one of the greatest series of all times, showing the masterpieces of Silent Hill can still continue.

What would be the next masterpiece? Who knows, probably reading the old newspapers shattered around the game would help… probably not…

But one thing is sure, now that Silent Hill has returned home so gloriously, we can wait for more.

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