Hello, and welcome to a new feature I’m making up right now, called Games I’m Going To Stab. I doubt this will be a regular thing, but rather articles that I’ll write any time I play a godawful game. Because if you can’t use the internet to post your impotent nerd rage over a silly geek hobby, then what can you use it for? Research? Psh, come on now. And today, let us partake of that aforementioned impotent nerd rage against Silent Hill: Homecoming. Or as I like to call it, Alex Shepherd’s Adventures In A Poorly-Written Fanfiction: The Parody That Isn’t.
Before we begin, let me point out that this is by no means an official TSG review. My opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of TSG (THOUGH REALLY THEY SHOULD) and there’s no proper scoring system here. This is seriously just me whining about a bad game. So… enjoy?
You know what I love? Characters. I love looking into their brains, figuring out what they’re all about, seeing them interact with other characters, all that good stuff. It’s like a drug for me, like Mountain Dew undoubtedly is for you. I can’t get enough of it. You know what else I love? Scary stories that pull off being scary without resorting to standard “scary” tropes. You know, mountains of blood, overt violence, hearing the faint echo of children singing nursery rhymes in a deserted area, etc. If you’re trying to be scary and you use these clichés, I’m either going to roll my eyes or burst out laughing. So naturally, I love Silent Hill.
Oh I’m glad THIS is happening!
“But Jaz!” you say, “Silent Hill has violence!” That’s true, there is some violence in the games, but the scariest stuff in there isn’t over-the-top gory. The monsters are weird, abstract figures, not blood covered cartoony devils. Silent Hill 4 featured a giant googly-eyed head just to mess with you. Silent Hill 2 had tons of creepy things that you couldn’t even properly access or see. And of course, the fact that the nightmares of Silent Hill all come from a different character’s mind is the most unnerving thing of all. You see all these messed-up sights and think “man, what’s wrong with the person who created these things?”, only to discover they’re the manifestations of a character’s insecurities and guilt. That’s pretty danged awesome.
… and the folks who made Homecoming don’t even understand that.
This game doesn’t act like Silent Hill at all. Silent Hill 4: The Room feels more like a Silent Hill game, and it wasn’t even originally supposed to be part of the series. Hell, the movie “The Room” feels more like Silent Hill than Homecoming. It’s ridiculous. I haven’t beaten this thing yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t complain about it. So, what did they screw up?
1. The Story: Mind you, I don’t know how this stupid story stupidly ends, but I’m going to assume it’s stupid. As best I can tell, the plot revolves around Alex Shepherd’s return to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen. Alex was discharged from the army after about a year, but upon his return home he sees that the town has become foggy, deserted, and full of holes and monsters. He does see a few of his old friends and neighbors, and all of them basically tell him “man, everyone’s disappeared! What’s wrong with this town??” It seems the creators wanted to propose the idea of “what if your town was slowly turning into Silent Hill?” and the resulting atmosphere is more in line with a cheesy zombie action movie than the old SH games. Entering a town and finding that it’s already deserted gives you a fear of the unknown. You’re out of the loop, and you wonder just what happened. Furthermore, the WAY the old SH games are destroyed tend to bend reality in a manner you haven’t seen before. Yes, you can look it up after the fact, but during your first run of SH2, you wonder “What are these writhing fleshbeasts and why are they attacking you in a skin room full of pumping tubes? ” The structure was already there and you hadn’t seen anything like that in a game before. So it was weird and alien to you, and thus creepy. Seeing a bunch of characters holding out in various buildings and essentially saying “MAN THIS TOWN’S TURNING INTO A SILENT HILL OR SOMETHIN’ HUH THAT’S WEIRD D:” isn’t scary at all, especially since “oh no! Monster invasion!” is the premise of roughly 18 billion video games anyway. I don’t know, boring stock characters! People are just disappearing and also there are monsters! Maybe you should ask the Black Mesa scientists for help because lord knows they, like the rest of us, have seen this quite a few times.
Alex is looking for his little brother Joshua, and for the most part nobody in the town is of much help, including Josh himself. You tend to see Josh in rooms you can’t yet access or down the ends of hallways, and every time he just kind of runs away. Oh no, character I know nothing about! Come back! You were the glue that held this story together!!! The rest of Alex’s family appears to love his brother more than they liked him, and I’m sure there’s going to be some big, dumb reveal about that.
Oh, and by the way, Alex’s constant talk of “family heritage in this old town must be a big deal and blee blaa blaa blooooo” is making it brutally obvious that his family (after which the town was named) has some connection to the cult from Silent Hill. Because the inner workings of silly demon cult politics are super scary, you guys.
2. Action! Combat! Finishing Moves!: I can guarantee you someone on the Homecoming staff uttered the phrase “let’s make this game the Resident Evil 4 of Silent Hill!!!” at some point in the design process. And it’s by far the most obvious sign that nobody on the team understood why the old games were so disconcerting. The old Silent Hill games had horrible combat, and whether or not that was intentional, it still added to the games in a weird way. Harry, James, Heather, and Henry didn’t really know how to fight, just like you probably wouldn’t know how to fight in a meat-covered psychological crazypants hell world either. Awkwardly smacking nightmare beasts with a pipe was rarely worth it, so it was generally a good idea to run. That’s part of what made them so scary. They could easily overtake you, so you were worried about them popping up to kill you. That also meant that the games didn’t need to introduce hordes of monsters. The simple fear of running into one was enough to keep you just tense enough to worry about the weird writing on the walls and the creepy monster stuck in a locker. Homecoming decided “nah man, if I was in Silent Hill, I’d like, karate kick a monster in the face and then stab the other with my knife and then SHOOT LASER BEAMS OUT MY EYES!!!” In other words, they figured the games needed more action-packed combat.
Alex uses quick-time events, dodge rolls, combos, and other assorted buffoonery against the creatures. Or rather, he would if he could. See, that’s what makes it even crazier; the developers wanted to make the game combat heavy, and the combat is still terrible. Alex’s attacks frequently nudge enemies outside of his range for his next attack. The dodge rarely works. If an enemy pins you and prompts the quick-time event necessary to escape, you’ll only survive it maybe 2% of the time even if you mash the buttons faster than Takahashi Meijin after downing 10 Red Bulls. They also give you a variety of weapons, but the knife you start with is pretty much all you want to use, since it’s quick and gives the enemies a short “hurt” animation that you can then exploit by continuously hacking away at it, resulting in some pretty lame little poking matches. They try to justify the heavy combat by saying Alex was in the army, but where in your army training do you just make a lot of light stabs at an enemy with a dinky knife while it kills you? “Hey, you said this was Silent Hill, right? Why not just run?” That’s the other thing: they force you to fight. You’re often stuck in a small space with no way out, and the game will throw several enemies at you and essentially say “you can’t leave until you kill them all! ^_^” Because heavy fight sequences are what Silent Hill’s about, right?
Oh, and what’s more, you can perform finishing moves on monsters, and the camera will focus on you bloodily decapitating your foe. Because showcasing silly Mortal Kombat-esque Fatalities is a thing that happens in Silent Hill too, right?
There are also action scenes, again like a cheesy zombie movie. Seriously, at one point Alex is in a police station and his cop friend yells out “I’ll hold ‘em off! You get out of here!” while blasting monsters with a shotgun. Because crazy action scenes where you run out of an otherwise normal building that just happens to suffer from a creature infestation is another common occurrence in Silent Hill… RIGHT? Just replace the monsters with the undead or dinosaurs or talking pineapples or SOMETHING and just change the title of your game already.
So, what does Alex fight, anyway?
3. Stupid Monsters!: It’s been said time and again, but apparently nobody in charge is listening: BUBBLEHEAD NURSES AND PYRAMID HEAD WERE THE RESULT OF JAMES SUNDERLAND’S PROBLEMS IN SH2. THEY ARE NOT JUST “THE WACKY GANG FROM SILENT HILL.” Seriously, stop making us deal with them. Bubblehead Nurses were the result of James’ issues with his wife, and their design reflects that. Silent Hill 1 also had nurses, but their design was based on Alessa’s hatred of the nurses charged with caring for her. See, they look different because they came from different characters. You know, because of the whole “psychological problems” theme in the games. Likewise, Pyramid Head’s constant stalking, as well as its multiple murders of Maria, was James’ attempt to punish himself. The monster even impales itself once James loses the desire for punishment. That is why they were so creepy. These two monsters fit into the context of Silent Hill 2 and you realized that your character’s guilt and issues were creating these things. What, is James just hiding behind every corner in Homecoming? What could a well-endowed freakface nurse possibly symbolize in Alex’s story? I mean other than “a lack of creativity from the developers,” of course.
So what new things does Alex fight? Well, there are the stupid skinless dogs that look like an early 90′s FMV cutscene, no doubt representing Alex’s love of bad rendering in old video games. And the floppy-headed axe-face monsters, which clearly symbolize the trauma Alex experienced the first time he visited the Combination Banana Peel N’ Weapon Storestravaganza. And an 8-foot-tall doll that has some teeth and muscles inside it and also it walks like an insect because why not, because DUDE DOLLS ARE SO CREEPY ALSO BUGS TOO WHAT IF LIKE A DOLL WALKED LIKE A BUG I MEAN DOLLS ARE TOYS SO IT’D BE REALLY OFF-PUTTING RIGHT? What, is that not scary? What if I told you it rises out of a pool of BLOOOOOD?? Eh? Pretty terrifying, right? Seriously, the screen should have just flashed the words “THIS’LL FREAK OUT MY ENGLISH TEACHER!!” when that boss showed up.
Pictured above: Alex Shepherd, our hero
Also pictured: The knife, your first weapon and the best item in the game
Also pictured: The Bubblehead Nurse WHICH MAKES NO SENSE BECAUSE THOSE ARE FROM JAMES’ BRAIN AAAAGGGHHH
Not pictured: Any sense of tension or atmosphere because this is the very first area in the game.
4. Horrible Attempts At Making The Game Into Silent Hill!: Now, I’m certain some people on the development team have played Silent Hill, but you really can’t tell from the designs here. Instead, Homecoming feels like it was made by someone who had a friend describe Silent Hill to him, only to say “yeah yeah okay, I got the gist of it” after about 3 minutes. See, one of the elements of Silent Hill that’s hard to properly describe is the inexplicable, yet harmless mindscrews. They’re so upsetting because by that time, you’ve already been driven up a wall by the constant tension and fear. So when you see something that just makes no sense, it really messes with you, even if it can’t hurt you. These things aren’t really essential. You could have taken them out and the game would have still functioned. But you’d be surprised how much they add to the overall experience. Silent Hill 2 was particularly full of them. At one point your radio blasts a wacky “game show” broadcast centered around a certain serial killer named Walter Sullivan. One of the prison cells has some odd-looking art in it, while another has a rather noisy, yet invisible monster trapped inside. You find notes from an insane stalker written to one of the nurses. And of course this incomprehensible message. My point is, these little touches mess with your head, and the people working on Homecoming clearly thought “ok, Silent Hill has weird inexplicable things, right? We need some of those!”
So what does Homecoming have? Well uhh… in one building there’s a bath tub with “You can’t wash it off” written above it. And um… well there’s a lady in a room who you never see, who sends you on a fetch quest for three Silent Hill post cards so she can have her “memories” back…?? And uh… yeah? Again, this gripe is hard to really describe unless you’ve played the old games, specifically because the tension and pacing leading up to the mindscrews is what made them so effective. But in Homecoming there’s no real tension built up. Oh hi bathtub! It doesn’t wash off, you say? That’s cool. I have no idea what that means but I’ll take your word for it. Oh, can you hold on for a second? I need to awkwardly plink away at a stupid-looking monster with my tiny knife for the hundredth time! BECAUSE THAT’S A THING IN SILENT HILL RIGHT???
5. Other Whines!: So what else can I say? Well the areas are boring, the puzzles are stupid, the game chugs even when just one monster is on the screen, the load screens take forever and the game reloads even when you’re still on the same map, the load screens show you “helpful” tips on how to kill the monsters as if this were an action game (which it’s trying to be and SHOULDN’T be), the tips don’t even work anyway, Alex isn’t quite sure how to go through doors, the game acts like it’s freezing every few minutes, the game CRASHES every so often… what else… Oh yeah, the inventory screen can either be pulled up by tapping a button OR holding it down, but the game has trouble telling the difference between “you’re tapping the button” and “you held it down, but just for a moment” and this causes the game to misinterpret you as wanting to use consumable items you didn’t want to use yet.
In Short: Everything wrong with Homecoming sounds like it’s taken out of a joke. If I was kidding around with someone about “how an American company would handle Silent Hill,” it’d sound like Homecoming. The generic action hero from the army! The cast of support characters yelling out objectives over a walkie-talkie! A ridiculous love story shoehorned into the main plot! Shooting human soldiers in a big, industrial setting! Crayon drawings of death! Combat, combat, combat! Libido-based monsters as if that in and of itself is horrifying! Close-up shots of gory finishing moves! An opening theme that you can’t even hear because TALKING TALKING TALKING! Yes, some of these things have their place, but none of them belong in this series. Sorry, kids.
How It Could Have Avoided A Stabbing: Normally when I play a game that aggravates me, I try to come up with a way to fix it. I can’t really do that here, since so many things were handled so poorly. What can I say, really? Take out all the stupid zombie movie stuff, give us a main character with an actual personality and actual problems, and leave out all the Silent Hill 2 monsters. Many times a bad game is the result of wasted potential, but there’s hardly any potential here to properly use. Alex being in the army was purely an excuse for the bad combat, but I suppose something could have been done there. After all, post traumatic stress disorder is scary enough even without a nightmarish hell world, so a soldier could see some horrific stuff in Silent Hill. Really any wasted potential here is from Silent Hill as a series. You could send dozens of characters with different issues to Silent Hill, and every time the town would turn out differently enough that it’d be a whole new game. But no, it’s some movie hero guy in someone’s terrible fanfiction.
Oh well! I hear there’s a new Silent Hill coming out for the Vita! Maybe that’ll be a real SH g–
AAAAGGGHHHHH!!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE WHY IS THAT HAPPENING STOP THAT WHERE DID THE GOOD SILENT HILL GO