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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Silent Hill: Homecoming, a survival horror sequel that "has stayed true to the series' foundation while also taking steps in a brave new direction," according to reviews.

Danny Cowan

October 8, 2008

6 Min Read

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Konami's Silent Hill: Homecoming, a survival horror sequel that "has stayed true to the series' foundation while also taking steps in a brave new direction," according to reviews. Konami's Silent Hill left a lasting impression on the survival horror genre upon its release in 1999, with critics praising its multi-layered storyline and effective implementation of psychological horror. Many survival horror enthusiasts regard 2001's Silent Hill 2 as one of the genre's best games, and while its sequels failed to capture the same level of critical acclaim, most entries in the franchise remain well-regarded among series fans. Following the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room, however, the series has no longer been in the hands of Konami's internal development team. The last game in the main series -- the Climax UK-developed Silent Hill: Origins -- met with a mixed reaction from critics and series fans. Double Helix Games' recently released Silent Hill: Homecoming has thus far met with a similar reception, earning a Metacritic-averaged score of 72 out of 100. Brent Soboleski at Team Xbox rates Silent Hill: Homecoming at 8.4 out of 10, explaining that the title remains true to its roots while still offering up its own set of surprises. "What Double Helix did instead was fine tune the aspects of Konami's thriller to provide us with a familiar, yet still unpredictable, experience that is unquestionably unique to the bizarre and unsettling world that only Silent Hill can offer," he says. "In keeping with the game’s roots, Silent Hill: Homecoming opens without any explanation as to the surroundings or events leading up to the beginning cinematic," Soboleski continues. "This style of presentation raises the players' level of tension, and the events that follow are designed to not only sustain this, but to increase the players' anxiety throughout the course of the game." Gameplay-wise, Soboleski finds that Homecoming is a leap forward from previous entries in the series. "The camera use has been greatly improved by Double Helix, which has done away with the fixed-position, locked cameras we've found ourselves frustrated with in the past," he writes. "Alex is now a part of a more accessible environment, thanks to the use of a 3D camera. This enables us to get a good bit more control over Alex's vantage point, despite the fact that much of the surroundings are still intentionally claustrophobic and limited in view." "Silent Hill: Homecoming proves to be a welcome step forward in the series without breaking the foundation that has made it a success," Soboleski notes in conclusion. "By staying true to the series' roots and not trying to rely on unnecessary mechanics or gimmicks, Double Helix has created yet another unsettling gaming experience that is sure to stick in the minds of players long after the end credits roll." 1UP.com's Anthony Gallegos gives Homecoming a rating of B, noting that its differences from previous Silent Hill titles may come as a shock to followers of the series. "While I'll always associate earlier series games with clunky combat, hard-to-follow stories, crappy camera positions, and load times between every room, those imperfections became synonymous with the franchise for me -- even endearing," he says. "With Silent Hill: Homecoming, everything's changed," Gallegos continues. "So many of my associations with the franchise simply aren't applicable anymore: The clunky controls are now streamlined, combat's much more intense (at times, a little too intense), and the storyline -- for once -- makes clear-cut sense. None of this is bad, just...different. Very different." Homecoming's gameplay changes are a mixed blessing, according to Gallegos. "Combat's now a dance of sorts, with a dodge (yes, a dodge!) mechanic available to narrowly avoid enemy attacks," he says. "And while you might feel empowered by the new battle system at first, it's also incredibly frustrating when fighting more than one monster at once. I simply could not effectively dodge multiple enemy attacks, and even when running, I had to chug an unacceptable amount of health drinks." Other features come as welcome improvements, however. "I wholeheartedly endorse the new camera and movement controls," Gallegos praises. "I'm sure some Silent Hill fans will miss the cinematic angles when entering an unknown area, but this should pass -- the new camera and controls do little to detract from the atmosphere in the long run." While Gallegos finds that Homecoming's narrative lacks the nuance of its predecessors, he explains that the game's mechanics are a step in the right directon. "Homecoming developer Double Helix has stayed true to the series' foundation while also taking steps in a brave new direction," he notes. "If Double Helix learns from their mistakes here -- combat balance being the most glaring issue -- their future work could rival the series' best." At GamePro, Cameron Lewis awards Homecoming 3 out of 5 stars, warning that series followers may find disappointment in its cliched narrative. "I'm lying on a stretcher, and someone's wheeling me down a hallway in a disused hospital," he begins. "I can't help but think how I saw a more horrifying version of the same scene in Jacob's Ladder almost twenty years ago." "The line between homage and plagiarism might seem thin, but Homecoming makes no apparent effort to put a new spin on things," Lewis says. "Horror aficionados will see every plot development coming from a mile away and it's hard to get excited about a story that's content to lurch from one cliched plot twist to another." "But while Silent Hill: Homecoming may lack in the story department," Lewis continues, "it makes up for it by creating an incredibly unsettling sense of mood and atmosphere." Homecoming's presentation benefits from an upgrade to current-gen hardware, according to Lewis. "The upgraded visuals bestow a filmic quality to everything and the world's eerie transformations look better than ever," he praises. "The audio, a series hallmark, is also amazing, setting the whole world alive with the slavering of monsters, the clattering of bumped obstacles, and unsettling ambient drones that seem to come from inside your own head." While Lewis is impressed with Homecoming's ambience, he finds the title difficult to recommend due to its problems elsewhere. "The tangible sense of dread and ominous ambience that hangs over Homecoming might be enough to salvage Homecoming for devoted scare-seekers," he concludes, "but everybody else will be more horrified by the aggravating combat and decayed puzzle conventions than the twists and turns of Alex's unfortunate past. If survival horror is your bread and butter, then Homecoming is right up your alley; otherwise, you might be better served waiting for Resident Evil 5."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

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Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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