The Bum Rap - "Silent Hill: Homecoming"
(The Bum Rap is a column specializing in video games, movies and anime that are frequently bashed, but looked at it in a more sympathetic light.)
When you say "Silent Hill" these days, odds are that people will know what you're talking about. That's partially due to the success of the initial video game franchise, and partially thanks to the mediocre-but-enjoyable duo of films based upon them. The name alone stirs up images of creepy children, sirens, ashy rain, and a buff dude with a bloody pyramid for a noggin. But ever since the initial developer, Team Silent, left the franchise, fans have pretty much ripped apart anything with the license to come along for, oh, the last decade or so, with the possible exception of the excellent Downpour. No other entry, though, has gotten as much pure, unbridled hatred as Homecoming, a frankly unsettling story of two brothers and a cult hellbent on summoning demonic forces.
I've never really understood this hatred, because as you'll see, Homecoming is not only a surprisingly decent entry in the venerable survival horror franchise, but a pretty great survival horror game in its own right.
The Story Is Actually Pretty Great
Look, let's face it, folks. There's barely any hope that any Silent Hill game will ever capture the emotional heights, the raw thrills, and the bone-chilling moral ambiguity of the earlier entries. It took years for one to even come close with Downpour, which dealt with topics commonly taboo in video games, such as child sex abuse. Still, it didn't quite capture the shock of James Sunderland's dark secret in 2, or Heather's family heritage in 3. As such, it's a bit unfair to judge a rookie developer so harshly when they're tasked with handling essentially changing the entire narrative structure of a franchise (not to mention the gameplay, but more on that later.) And honestly? Double Helix delivered in spades, in my opinion. Alex Shepard is easily one of the most compelling protagonists in the series, and his tale of redemption as he attempts to find his missing brother was all at once heartbreaking and horrifying. Not only that, but it managed to come up with a cast of interesting characters to push this plot forward, characters that were incredibly convincing and multifaceted. When you started uncovering the inner workings of Alex's hometown, and the dark secrets hidden from him since he was a boy, the game whipped by at such an unrelenting pace that it almost left you breathless. Now, sure, the dialogue wasn't quite up to snuff for the franchise, and yes, certain elements of older games were shoehorned in for the sake of fan service, but the core narrative was strong, which is more than could be said for many other entries made after Team Silent's departure.
It Was Still Creepier Than Most Seventh-Gen Games
See that picture? That charming creature is Asyphixia, an amalgamation of arms, legs, and breasts that towers over Alex, attempting to choke the fucking life out of him. It has a tail comprised of twitching, writhing limbs to help it balanced as it hobbles forwards on its rotting, meaty legs. That, and many more unpleasant sights, can be found in Homecoming, which features some of the most inventive and disgusting creature design in the whole franchise. Even the common enemies, which will regularly pop out of places like storm drains, are horrifying, and can be dispatched in some incredibly grotesque ways. Sure, the game threw out the old-school controls in favor of more action-driven gameplay, but that didn't make it any less unsettling. I mean, look at Dead Space 1&2, two third-person shooters that are still pants-shittingly terrifying despite the fact that players have access to fucking laser weapons. Speaking of which, let's sit back and really think about the console generation Homecoming was released during. The PS3/360/Wii era had a distinct lack of good horror games released for them, let alone horror games with a third-person perspective. Mostly, we got crap like Amy and that broken-ass initial release of Alone in the Dark. Despite the accommodations to the action crowd, Homecoming managed to nail atmosphere, horrific enemies and a chilling plot, and did it far better than most contemporaries.
More Risks Are Taken Than In Any Other Entry
Yeah, Downpour had Murphy Pendleton seeking revenge for the rape and murder of his son, and 2 had James Sunderland murdering his wife because of her terminal illness. That's some pretty bold stuff to put in a video game, for sure. But how about having children graphically murdered on screen during the opening cutscene... by their parents? Or dealing with the severe mental repercussions of survivor's guilt, embodied as living a lie for most of your life? How about being forced to choose whether or not to kill your own mother in order to progress the plot, or watching your dad get cut in half after you confront him about the years of abuse? There was a lot of messed-up shit going on in Homecoming, and it honestly made the game more interesting than a lot of its contemporaries. The chilling narrative elements and grotesque visuals were legitimately thought-provoking and disturbing, and didn't go for any cheap scares. Really, there were things done here that had never been touched in a game, and haven't been since; the writers had serious guts to tackle what they did here. Oh, yeah, and did I mention all the nurses in the game have fetuses in their tummies?
|Because they totally fucking do.|
It Isn't The Worst "Silent Hill"... By Far
Here's a little bit of a test for you. Go to any gaming site, mention you like this game, and let the butthurt flow in. Allow people to regale you with tales of how "Americanized" it is, and other inane things like that. For some reason, there's an angry, sad group of people who regard Homecoming as the absolute worst Silent Hill game out there, and while everybody is entitled to their own opinion... I seriously doubt they've seen the worst ways Konami has ritually sodomized this beloved franchise. For starters, what about Silent Hill 4: The Room? Oh, you know, the one that wasn't even initially a game meant for the franchise? That took every hallmark of the series and threw it out the window in favor of clumsy first-person navigation and exploring places that aren't even the titular town? Sure, it wasn't a bad game, but it felt only tangentially related to the franchise. Let's not forget Origins, which is one of the most downright awful survival horror games I've ever played, with minimal scares, a shitty explanation for Silent Hill's origins, and about... oh, I don't know, a 2-4 hour play time? But nothing could be as bad as Book of Memories, which is a fucking terrible game by all accounts, with forced perspective dungeon-crawling and level-grinding. Yes. Level-grinding and dungeon-crawling in a Silent Hill game.
|Look at it. Just... just look at it.|
The Last Word
I'll be the first to admit that Silent Hill: Homecoming is not a perfect game, and it's definitely not the best the franchise has to offer. But still, it's a very good one, and it attempts to break a lot of new ground, which is something I feel the franchise has always been about. Not to mention the fact that it succeeds in being creepy, and sometimes outright disturbing, quite frequently, and manages to keep the atmosphere very much in line with other games (which is only helped by an absolutely fantastic soundtrack.) So, to me, you shouldn't buy into the blind hatred this game gets, and I'd definitely recommend giving it a shot if you're a franchise fan, or if you're just looking for a satisfyingly creepy time.
Got any unsung favorites? Underrated gems? If so, sound off in the comments or my Facebook page and I'll give what you're recommending a shot! If I like it, I'll do a write-up!