Halloween COUNT-down 2009: Silent Hill: Homecoming first impressions

The first time I played the original Silent Hill, I was in the Air Force, in the middle of a 4-month tour in Saudi Arabia. After a 12-hour day of escorting smelly, local construction workers to the portable toilet on the 125 degree fahrenheit tarmac, I would come back to my four-person, bathroom size dorm room and try to entertain myself with something other than a pack of cigarettes and a camel spider.

If there is a perfect Silent Hill game, it’s probably Silent Hill 2. While I certainly remember being blown away and frightened by the original game, most of my ideas, imagery and memories of the series come from part 2. Two years ago, I attempted to play through every Silent Hill game, one after the other. Inevitably, halfway through part 3, the game began to invade my sleep and the nightmares that arose were clearly influenced by part 2. As I make my way through the first hour or two of Homecoming, I can’t help but compare the two.

My first issue with Homecoming is purely technical in nature, which, as a retro game fan whom has no trouble playing older, worse looking games, is somewhat confusing to me. The textures just suck. Perhaps I’m letting my memory of 2 & 3 be my barometer of quality rather than the reality, or the game’s other problems are somehow causing my brain to amplify any other flaws. Just take a look at this screen shot of a car stereo from one of the cut-scenes (here is the original video from GameVideos.com):

silenthillradio

Were the cut-scenes in 2 & 3, pre-rendered videos?  This looks like it was done in-engine, which might explain things.  I’m too lazy to check.  Internet kids, do your stuff.

It seems that the majority of texture time was spent on the huge-breasted nurses that inhabit the world of Homecoming.

With all the subtlety of Hooters advertisment, Homecoming has turned a formerly terrifying enemy into a caricature.  All I can think of when I see these two monstrosities coming at me is the recockulous scene of the Silent Hill film, where the main character must navigate a strange line-up of busty nurses standing in rows like a military candy-striper brigade.

The pacing of Homecoming really bugs me, as well.  Right from the beginning, when you awaken strapped to a hospital gurney and are shuffled quickly through a “haunted house” style menagerie, things just move to fast.  After I escape the gurney’s straps and begin investigating the hospital, it’s no more than five minutes before the world “turns” to the rusted out dark version of itself and I have to fight off multiple giant bug and nurse enemies.  In Silent Hill 2, I spent 5 straight minutes just walking down a fog-shrouded path, with nothing but the chilling sound of a pair of footsteps seemingly following me.  Instead of attempting to slowly build tension, or focusing on what remains UN-seen, Homecoming relies on the tired “shock” scares of most poorly made horror films.

One thing that successfully adds to the fright factor of the game is, strangely, the physics system.  Previously, Silent Hill games have used only sound effects of bumps, knocks, or unknown sounds to place the player on edge.  Maybe it’s my fault for constantly bumping into objects, but I swear that never touched that bottle that just tumbled off the shelf on its own and freaked me out.

Overall, it’s feeling like Homecoming is going to contain all of the correct sights,  sounds, and characters of Silent Hill, without handling them with enough care and attention to create the type of atmosphere that makes me unable to sleep with the light off.  Perhaps I’m just too familiar with those trappings to still be affected by them.  We shall see.

BONUS:


Recently, the celebrated Japanese video game show, Gamecenter CX, completed a live 24-hour special, in which the host Arino-san attempted to complete all 30 stages of the Super Nintendo version of Lemmings on the “Taxing” difficulty level.  Ray Barnholt has a nice little summary of the event on his site Crunk Games (which also hosts an episode guide and summary of the show if you are unfamiliar).  However, if you are not afraid of a little Bittorent, or embarassing Japanese girl graphics, you can check it out here.  Even if  you don’t know any Japanese, or just love Lemmings, the drama contained therein is more engaging than twelve episodes of Gene Simmon’s Family Jewels.

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