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01 Jun 2009

THE ORIGINAL SILENT HILL was released in 1999, marking the true beginnings of mainstream horror video   games and the start of an extremely successful multimedia franchise. It was originally the brainchild of   Konami’s Team Silent, which has since disbanded. Homecoming, the latest iteration in the Silent Hill universe,  has been developed by California-based Double Helix games, the first external developer to work    on the Silent Hill franchise for home consoles. This has left both long-time fans and curious observers alike  wondering, “How will a Western developer get on with this inherently Japanese series?”

Our protagonist this time around is Alex Shepard, who really hasn’t had a good run of things lately. He returns  from a tour of duty overseas as a Special Forces soldier only to fi nd his brother Joshua missing and his mother  in a disturbed, catatonic state. His search for his brother (not to mention answers to his internal  struggles) leads him to Silent Hill, but we’re not spoiling any more of the plot from here. The story is typical of  Silent Hill games. While entertaining, the plot can be rather confusing, and many may struggle to make sense  of what’s going on when playing through for the first time. Typical of previous entries in the Silent Hill  series, there are multiple endings available depending on the player’s decisions at key moments in the game. There are five in all, which adds significantly to the replay value.

Double Helix has also done a fantastic job of sticking to the survival-horror genre. The game is never easy, and  players are often left wondering whether they will live to experience the next encounter. The game’s  combat system has also improved in leaps and bounds. As a soldier, Alex is a competent fi ghter and can string  together impressive attack combos with a variety of mêlée weapons. But these aren’t the only things in Alex’s arsenal either, as he has several firearms at his disposal. The downside of this, however, is that all enemies in  the game can be killed, unlike in previous Silent Hill games where some enemies needed to be avoided through  stealth tactics. 

The game’s presentation is immaculate, with Homecoming raising the bar for Silent Hill games for years to  come. Graphically the title is stunning, with incredible lighting and shadows that induce terror like never  before. Alex and his enemies look brilliant, especially when sporting deep cuts and slash marks from combat.  Homecoming’s sound is equally superb. Akira Yamaoka, the game’s producer, has long been at the helm of the  sound for the Silent Hill series, and his efforts are no less effective this time around. The sound does an  excellent job of generating fear and stirring emotion, and it will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up in no time.

However, while Homecoming is a solid entry into the Silent Hill series, something just doesn’t quite feel right.  The story is interesting, albeit confusing, and the gameplay doesn’t really do anything wrong. The presentation  is stunning with superb graphics and great sound, but Silent Hill: Homecoming as  a package is not as good as  the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the new developer, but Homecoming doesn’t feel like the Silent Hill many have  come to love. And even though there’s a good 12 hours or so of enjoyment on offer here, fans of the series will likely be disappointed while those new to the series may be underwhelmed.

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