Silent Hill: Homecoming (360)
In the mood to jump out of your skin with fright? If you enjoy strolling the gritty alleys of the dark side of gaming, Silent Hill has long been a destination of choice despite an uneven entry or two. Sadly, though Homecoming boasts some genuinely intense moments of dread, its equally distressing gameplay flaws will take a big bite out of your enjoyment.
THE BOTTOM LINE: What could have been a fantastic surivival horror game, Homecoming is hampered by lackluster gameplay and a linear story.
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I'm lying on a stretcher, and someone's wheeling me down a hallway in a disused hospital that must double as a whistle stop on the route to hell, and 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. 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 clich?d plot twist to another.
But while Silent Hill: Homecoming may lack in the story department, it makes up for it by creating an incredibly unsettling sense of mood and atmosphere. The upgraded visuals bestow a filmic quality to everything and the world's eerie transformations look better than ever. 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. Homecoming's haunting sound design is an oppressive din that made me surprisingly uneasy without every actually getting on my nerves. I lost track of the number of times I found myself perched on the edge of a couch cushion, desperate to discern whether a sound was a harbinger of danger or an artifact of Alex's addled mind.
Your pistol can drop most foes from a distance, but ammo is usually hard to come by, so you're better off saving it for more fearsome opponents.
Streets of Rage
I just wish the actual gameplay had lived up to the high bar set by the game's presentation. The game forces you to endure endless rounds of painfully clunky combat where you hold a trigger to lock onto a foe, tap buttons to dodge incoming attacks, and counter with simple flurries of your own. It sounds serviceable enough but this simplistic step-counter-slice dance quickly wears out its welcome when the streets spawn a never-ending tide of filth for you to carve through, and bullets and shells are so surprisingly hard to come by.
There's no sense of balance or pacing here; expect to face off against up to half a dozen goons at once, only to see the monster population inexplicably restored inside of a minute or two. Finally, after I decided to simply run away from combat whenever possible, I started enjoying myself again. Sadly, I still had to endure a handful of one-on-one battles against memorably warped bosses who are nevertheless not much fun to fight.
Blood isn't exactly in short supply, whether it's pouring from a stabbed enemy or your own flesh.
The tangible sense of dread and ominous ambience that hangs over Homecoming might be enough to salvage Homecoming for devoted scare-seekers, 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.
PROS: Excellent sense of atmosphere; ghastly monster designs; helpful mapping system.
CONS: Weak combat system; predictable story; simple-minded puzzles; infrequent save points.
Some of the foes you'll face are truly monstrous. Unfortunately, fighting them isn't as satisfying as it looks
As you slice into opponents, you'll see their clothing rip and gashes appear in their skin. Sweet!