Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Silent Hill Series, pt. 6

Silent Hill: Homecoming -- America, Fuck Yeah!

Riddle me this: How can you tell when a Silent Hill game was made by American developers? Give up? Solution: The nurse monsters have the biggest tits, the combat produces the most blood, and the hero says “fuck” a lot! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I wish that were funny.

So, yeah, here we have Double Helix’s Silent Hill: Homecoming, a game that grudgingly agrees to be a Silent Hill game when it would much rather be Resident Evil 4. I know there’s worse games to rip off, but the thing is, the Resident Evil series has always walked a different path than Silent Hill. It’s scary, yes, but in a more hectic and survivalist way. It drags you violently through a lathe, whereas Silent Hill convinces you to put your hand in the lathe willingly, on the offchance that maybe nothing will happen. Both are good in their own way, and Homecoming is not that bad a game on its own merits. But it faceplants, cheeks aglow with shame, when it tries to work as an entry in the subtle, understated Silent Hill franchise. I really, really, really hate blaming this on Americans, because I am an American myself and this country has many things I feel proud of. Adapting stuff from Japan is not one of them.

Okay, diving in. In Homecoming, you are Alex Shepherd, a young soldier who....wait, hold up, there’s your problem right there. The earlier Silent Hills featured ordinary folks caught up in a nightmare. Making the hero skilled in combat and dodge rolling removes a lot of the dread of monster encounters, and it doesn’t even make sense in the context of the story because [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] it’s heavily implied that Alex is just batshit crazy. What, did he learn fighting skills from Randle McMurphy or something? Anywho, Alex returns home to Shepherd’s Glen, a tiny town near Silent Hill that really wants to be like Silent Hill but isn’t cool enough. Needless to say, everything is fucked up in the usual foggy, monster-y way, and Alex sets out to get to the bottom of things and hunt for his baby brother, Josh. Which leads to another problem: the character models. Alex is supposed to be in his early twenties, but he looks about ten years older. Josh is nine, but looks fifteen. This makes every scene between the brothers extremely creepy in all the wrong ways, especially when they’re sharing a bunk bed. But I digress. The mystery of what’s going on is fairly well-handled but steals too much from Silent Hill 2, including the string of screwed-up supporting characters who all die horribly, and the incredibly non-shocking final twist. Also, Homecoming drags the stupid Silent Hill Order into the mix because we’re kind of hung up on them, aren’t we?

The other big thing Homecoming took inspiration from was the Silent Hill movie, which I’ll be reviewing in due time. Now, I thought the movie was alright, but it was louder and gorier and less cerebral than the games. That’s allowed, because it’s a movie. But I’m saddened that this game felt it had to continue the trend. The references to the film are utterly blatant, especially when Pyramid Head shows up. It’s not the creepy, pitiful, shambling Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2; it’s the sexy, pumped-up, overblown Pyramid Head who tried to shish-kebab Radha Mitchell and Laurie Holden on the big screen. And ol’ Pointy-Face’s presence in Homecoming is without rhyme or reason; he just cameos because the developers think people expect him to. If there were a Silent Hill Ten Commandments, one of them would be: THOU SHALT NOT INSERT SHIT INTO A SILENT HILL GAME SIMPLY TO PAY LIP SERVICE TO THY SUPERIOR PREDECESSORS. Another big one is, THOU SHALT NOT HAVE TO FIGHT ORDINARY DUDES. But you do. The anticlimactic last section of Homecoming trades monsters for cheesebrained cultists in gas masks who yell things like, “It’s Shepherd! Get him!” Who cares if this is the exact opposite of scary? They were in the movie.

The game isn’t without its merits. Being the first 7th-gen Silent Hill, it looks fantastic, although the addition of camera controls make it impossible to capture the same sense of vertigo and claustrophobia that the first couple games used so effectively. I like the monsters; they’re weird and frightening and utterly inhuman, and I dreaded meeting them, as I should. I bitched about the combat earlier, but let me qualify that by saying that advanced combat does not make this game easier. In fact, it’s quite challenging; Alex may be a good fighter, but the monsters can dodge and parry and block right back, so just whaling on them with a lead pipe doesn’t always work. Bullets are scarce and you can only carry so many, so there’s no hoarding. You have to know how to fight, and you’re always wondering if you should save your shotgun or rifle for something worse that might be coming up. This is good! A Silent Hill game should be no walk in the park! Yeah, I have no quibble with the mechanics of this game. That’s why I find it a tiny bit superior to Silent Hill 1: because Silent Hill 1 looked and played like absolute ass. Sorry, but it did.

It’s just...ugh, Homecoming constantly alternates between Trying Too Hard and Missing the Point. Is the violence suggested rather than shown? Nope; the blood flows like water and real-time wounds appear on the monsters as you turn them into sushi. Are you alone and alienated? Not at all; you have a female love interest and a black sidekick who looks like Forest Whitaker and sounds like a Wayans. Will you be exploring vast, labyrinthine environments? Nada; all the areas are as linear as can be, even when they don’t look like it. Is this game scary? Well, here and there. The boss fight with the giant porcelain doll creeped me out, and the police station sequence had the appropriate tone of  “oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit OH SHIT OH SHIT.” But like I said before, the endgame is just stupid and boring. Speaking of which, Homecoming has several endings, like the other Silent Hill games, but while the other Silent Hill games shift endings depending on complicated factors, this one doles out a resolution based solely on moral choices you make at three specific points. And that’s dumb. I did appreciate the implication (by one ending in particular) that everything we see is entirely in Alex’s head; that’s a concept the series has constantly teased and it was good to see it acknowledged. But a couple of the other endings make no fucking sense and leave a bad taste in your mouth.

I don’t hate this game. I just feel sorry for it. It has no idea what it’s doing, what made the series work so well before. It took its cues from all the wrong places, and it’s depressing to think that there are people out there for whom this was the intro to the franchise. They don’t know what they’re missing. Since Homecoming, the Silent Hill games have gotten back in track somewhat. Double Helix has gone on to make absolutely fucking nothing, unless you count tie-in games for such masterful films as Green Lantern and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. So I guess karma had the last laugh. After all, THOU SHALT NOT MAKE A SILENT HILL GAME THAT SEEMS TO PUNISH PEOPLE FOR LIKING THE FRANCHISE. Homecoming’s existence is unfortunate and we should leave it to quietly fade away.


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