click toWhat's scarier: Silent Hill, or finding out that the latest game in the series isn't being developed by the folks who made the last five games? For many fans, it was the latter when, at E3 2007, Konami revealed that Western outfit The Collective (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marc Ecko's Getting Up) – now Double Helix – would be crafting the creeps this time 'round.
Things, as they are wont to do, change ... but from our time with the latest playable version of Silent Hill: Homecoming, we were more scared by the game than we were about how it's going to turn out. The generally positive vibe was generated in large part by what lead designer Jason Allen told us is changing – but also what isn't. Full impressions after the break.
Following a downright dire scenario that had our character strapped to a gurney and wheeled past all sorts of horrific imagery, we assumed control of our protagonist, war veteran Alex Shepherd, and set about, well ... getting the hell out of there. First off, we noticed that there are no longer pre-set camera angles as in the earlier Silent Hill outings. The camera follows Alex but can be rotated to get a good look at the entirety of the gameworld. "Since this is primarily a mystery game, we wanted to indulge players' curiosity to explore everything," Allen explained. He prefers this approach mainly because "anything that you notice you can't do jars you out of being immersed in the experience" and a next-gen Silent Hill is one experience we want to be as deeply engrossed in as possible ... even if it means sleeping with the lights on for a week.
So we explored, and, before long, noticed our character looking at something while we walked. Allen noted that head tracking is used to indicate important objects are nearby – not exactly anything new – but he also prompted us to click in on the right thumbstick, which gave us an Alex-eye view of the item that had caught his attention.
Our attention was caught by this installment's presentation of the series' trademark fog, which doesn't look all that different at first blush, but revealed its secrets as we stood still. It began to flow past Alex, swirling as it did so – a very subtle yet impressive effect. In fact, the game's visuals are full of subtle details, and look every bit Silent Hill. Allen pointed out that they'd even kept the same font used in previous chapters in order to retain the feel of the series.
Combat felt very unlike past Silent Hill titles ... it was already quite better. It's simple stuff on the surface: lock onto monsters, use regular and strong attacks with whatever object / weapon you're holding. As Allen explained to us, there's a high degree of "old school" strategy in battling baddies. In particular, a large emphasis is being placed on attacking timing. Swing too early and you'll be tossed aside; you really have to read your enemy's "tells" and look for a window of opportunity. According to Allen, this can pay off in spades. One creature, for instance, will go from full-strength to stunned (at which point you can finish enemies off in gloriously gory fashion) with a single hit if you time your wing just right while it's diving towards you.
We had plenty of opportunity to test out strategies of our own, and found the variety in combat situations enjoyable to the point that we were less inclined to simply run away from (or past) monsters. Hopefully the game will keep the level of quality we experienced throughout the final product – in which case, survival horror fans will be running towards their own copy when it crawls onto shelves this fall.