Silent Hill Homecoming
Our verdict on Silent Hill's current generation debut.
360 (PS3, PC)
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Much like the town which bears its name, the Silent Hill franchise squats in its own personal micro-climate of mournful deterioration, turning its nose up at efforts to overhaul fundamental mechanics, arranging and rearranging a cast of repressed neurotics, lost children and hideous human/demon crossbreeds like a sulky schoolboy pushing rotting vegetables around on his plate. The fifth home format game (there's also a handheld prequel, Origins) is the first to leave the press devoid of Team Silent's logo, but Foundation 9 studio Double Helix has preserved those trademark level designs, find-the-key-or-pull-the-lever puzzles and ponderous monster battles with only superficial alterations - a button-prompt sequence here, a chargeable heavy attack there. Calling it a "homecoming"seems a bit silly - the series never really left.
Though worn thin with use, the premise - protagonist goes in search of mysteriously disappeared loved one, only to tread in some big old psychological cow-pat - is still gripping. New boy Alex Shepherd, lately returned from war and now searching for younger brother Josh, is one of the more likeable dupes to hit Silent Hill's chopping block, thanks mainly to good voice-acting and more rounded cut scene direction.
The town itself, a deserted, festering lakeside resort which periodically peels back its lips to reveal corrugated iron gangways and walls of steaming flesh, is as stomach-curdling a backdrop as ever, and whenever Double Helix bothers to venture (a little) off the beaten path the results are worthwhile. Stand-outs include a doctor's surgery which plummets into a scalding, mechanised underworld, dotted with hospital exit signs pointing mockingly to pitfalls and dead-ends. Some of the better elements from the Silent Hill movie make the cut, like the back-lit spinning fans which show off Homecoming's quality lighting and shadow effects, and the developer contributes a few of its own, like the masses of repulsive but easily ripped skin which plug certain passageways.
But these dibs and dabs of originality only do so much to freshen up the graveyards, mansions, prisons, hotels and churches the game prises from the dessicated fingers of its predecessors. Everything looks polished enough in its current generation garb, and the newly real-time nature of the transitions from normal to demonic realms rekindles a bit of their novelty value, but the sense that Double Helix is paying tribute to the setting rather than being creative with it stays in the forefront of your mind.
Much the same applies to the enemies. Once or twice you'll come across a beast which slots organically into the storyline, the manifestation of a character's crimes or fears - a young girl's doll, for instance, brought horribly to life by her father's sins. But most of the monster designs - the faceless, bosomy nurses, the crawling things with the hooks, the big lumbering bastards with shapely female legs sticking out of their shoulder blades - simply revisit and (quite literally) reassemble the themes of perversion, hypocrisy and sadism explored in Silent Hill 2, only without that game's all-important narrative context.