Joystiq E3 hands-on: Silent Hill: Homecoming

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Joystiq E3 hands-on: Silent Hill: Homecoming

A few things. First, I love the Silent Hill series. Second, E3 really isn't the venue for demoing a Silent Hill game. Even in Konami's relatively quiet meeting room, it was impossible to hear any dialogue or music in Silent Hill: Homecoming -- headphones were available, but they were broken ... grrr. Considering that the soundscape of any given Silent Hill game is responsible for half of the atmosphere (arguably more), it makes it hard to judge how the game feels. So, you'll just have to settle for a look at how the game plays.


As the first console Silent Hill title not developed internally by Konami, and as the first Silent Hill title to make its debut on console in nearly four years, Silent Hill: Homecoming has a lot to live up to. Developed by a western studio, Double Helix (formerly The Collective), fans are understandably worried about how their cherished franchise will be treated. As I said, I love Silent Hill, so I was eager to see what Double Helix had cooked up.

My demo began as protagonist Alex Shepherd first arrives in Silent Hill. As is usually the case for the poor souls in the Silent Hill series, Alex arrives in the town looking for something, in this case his little brother. Of course, the second Alex gives chase, his brother vanishes, leaving Alex to sort out the bread crumb trail left behind. Typical Silent Hill fare.

Unlike previous entries in the series, the game uses a completely free camera and controls more or less like an FPS. The left stick moves Alex forwards and backwards and strafes left and right, while the right stick turns both the camera and Alex. Honestly, the controls were a little frustrating. I repeatedly found myself running into walls and getting stuck. Since pressing away from the wall the would simply make Alex walk toward the camera, I had to spend a few seconds adjusting the camera to correct the view. This might not be a big deal in large environments, but in small, cramped rooms -- which are all over the place in Silent Hill games -- it got annoying fast.

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Combat in Homecoming handles more or less the way it always has: lock on to the enemy and start swinging. Alex can perform quick, weak strikes and slow, heavy strikes depending on which button is pressed. A new feature in the game is the ability to dodge. Alex can quickly shift from side to side or crouch down out of harm's way. Attacking immediately after dodging produces a quick counter attack. In theory, you could wait for an opponent to strike, duck out of the way and follow up with a sharp upward swing of the ax. I had trouble using these counters effectively though. An interesting cosmetic addition, enemies are deformed in real time when attacked. In an encounter with one of the game's trademark nurses, my ax carved several huge gashes into the monsters face. It made me smile, though she wasn't quite as pleased about it.

Another new feature -- one that reminded me of Resident Evil 4 -- is on screen prompts. These come in two flavors. In one instance, Alex will simply be cued to perform an action, such as chopping down a barricade with an ax. Pressing the A button pulls back the camera for a more dramatic view of Alex's chopping prowess. The second flavor is quick time events. These are presented when you need to escape from a monster. If one of the giant Swarm bugs latches on to Alex's face, for example, the game will prompt you to start mashing a particular button to pull that sucker off and smash it against the floor.

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The small section of the game I saw looked nice enough, adequately dilapidated and grimy (my demo unit actually crashed before I had a chance to see the transition to the Otherworld, unfortunately). Alex's character model was also well detailed and well animated. Put simply, it looks every bit like a Silent Hill game with some current gen polish. There is the new addition of physics based objects that react appropriately when Alex interacts with one. I can personally say that I did accidentally knock a vase off of a table while playing. It actually made me nervous too. Thankfully, no monsters were around to hear it.

Speaking of monsters, the ones I saw looked great, especially Smog, a shambling beast with slimy skin and an exposed rib cage that opened to reveal a putrescent pair of lungs. These lungs inflate just before Smog attacks the player with noxious gas. The lungs serve as the monster's weak point, incidentally. There was another monster that actually made me jump. It resembled a human walking on its arms and legs like a spider. I should also mention that its arms and legs were actually giant knives and its head looked like it was on backwards. That's important. The monster ambushed me during an elevator ride, crawling on the outside of the car and tearing holes in the walls. Thankfully the monster is seemed to be allergic to bullets. Oh, and Pyramid Head makes a return appearance as well, for what it's worth.

Summing everything up, Homecoming looks like a respectable entry in the series. If the plot holds up its end of the bargain, and if gamers warm up to the controls, Homecoming could even be a good entry in the series. All the pieces are there, now it's up to Double Helix to make sure they all fit together.
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