The titular homecoming of the upcoming Silent Hill game holds a number of meanings. It first and foremost refers to the return of protagonist Alex Shepherd to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen, but it also in many ways signifies a return to the roots of what Silent Hill itself is meant to be--a really, really creepy place. We recently had the chance to play through the first few hours of Silent Hill: Homecoming, and we've gathered our impressions together in one place about this, the most atmospheric Silent Hill yet.
The game begins quite literally inside of a nightmare. Alex finds himself strapped down onto a gurney inside of the Alchemilla Hospital (a location that fans of the series will no doubt recognize). He is pushed, struggling the entire way, through the sinister hospital, and along the way bears witness to a number of horrifying sights. Finally left alone in an operating room, Alex is able to break free of his bonds just as an unseen foe runs a nurse through with a massive and unwieldy blade in the hallway.
After wandering the halls, you find Alex's little brother, Joshua, drawing just out of reach behind a locked door. Alex is determined to save his brother, but with a locked door between the two the only thing you can do is try to find the security code. Luckily, the six-digit number can be conveniently found written across an x-ray, and after tracking down the errant half the door is opened, and Josh takes off down the hall.
You chase Josh into a bathroom, but instead of a younger brother you find a knife oddly embedded into the shattered mirror. Upon securing the weapon, Alex begins to feel lightheaded, and an air-raid siren can be heard in the distance. While in past Silent Hill games the transition to the even more hellish Otherworld took place off camera, usually when you were incapacitated in some way, Homecoming makes it an entirely real-time shift that borrows heavily from the 2006 Silent Hill film. The world begins to change as rust and rot creeps in and paint peels off and flies upward. Once it's done, you find yourself in a very different version of the hospital, and you're immediately thrown into battle with one of the series' trademark nurses.
Though combat in Silent Hill was in the past very stilted and basic, Homecoming has made vast improvements to this experience--Alex was a soldier, and his familiarity with battle definitely gives him an edge over previous series' protagonists. Attacks come in weak and strong varieties that can be strung together in combos to stun or incapacitate aggressors, who can then be taken out with a powerful coup de grace. You can even perform evasive ducks and rolls and follow these up with counterattacks. Don't let it get to your head, though; enemy AI has been significantly improved to compensate for your higher degree of combat prowess, and it's also not uncommon to fight multiple monsters at once.
Once clear of the bathroom, you continue to chase Alex's brother through the Otherworld while fending off overly sexualized zombie nurses and giant insects known as Swarm. You finally catch up to Josh, but after some dialogue it's obvious that he isn't as interested in his brother as he is in finding his lost stuffed Robbie the Rabbit (the creepy mascot of the Lake Side Amusement Park). However, reuniting him with his toy only makes him run some more, and when you chase him into an elevator you're jolted back to reality courtesy of the gigantic sword you caught glimpses of earlier.
Alex, it turns out, really was just dreaming. He awakes in the cab of a semi driven by Travis Grady (who some will remember as the protagonist of Silent Hill: Origins) and is subsequently dropped off in his hometown of Shepherd's Glen, which seems to share a number of similarities to the titular town of Silent Hill. Both cities have eerie "Welcome to..." signs, are covered in an all-encompassing fog, are located off the shores of Toluca Lake, have streets named after people (horror film directors, in the case of Shepherd's Glen), and are suspiciously short on citizens.
Upon returning home, it becomes clear that things aren't too well off for the Shepherds. Alex's near-catatonic mother informs him that Josh has gone missing, and a search through the house reveals nothing but a flooded basement puzzle; a heavy steel pipe to smash things with; and a new monster, the clawed Lurker. With a promise to his mother that he'll find Josh, Alex heads out through the backyard, and into the Shepherd's Glen Graveyard.
The cemetery is every bit as spooky as you would expect it to be and then some, thanks to the presence of yet another new monster, the Feral--an enormous, skinless hell hound that's just asking for your steel pipe to be put through its head. It also doesn't help that there's some creepy guy hanging out at the mausoleum digging graves. Or is he digging up bodies? It's really unclear. One simple puzzle and a dozen piped-in-the-head Ferals or so later, you manage to find your way back on the streets again near the SGPD.
Eventually, you find yourself in the town of Silent Hill itself, which is of course in ruins and full of monsters. At the end of the street near an overturned emergency vehicle, you find a fire axe, which you use to hack through the wooden planks obscuring the entrance to the Grand Hotel. Josh is seen briefly inside the building, and Alex takes off after him again. Inside a dilapidated elevator, the sinister Needler is revealed. These disturbing monsters resemble spiders and sport a collection of scythelike arms and an elongated human head.
About halfway through the hotel, you begin to hear heavy footprints and the sound of metal being dragged. Alex takes cover behind some debris, and you finally get to see who that massive sword from his nightmare belongs to: It's everyone's favorite mannequin-molesting monster, Pyramid Head! He gives Alex a dirty look and then heads down the hall, and of course the only logical thing to do is follow him.
Eventually you're reunited with Josh, who like the jerk he seems to be lets Alex fall back down to the first floor, where everything shifts to the Otherworld and you finally catch up to Mayor Bartlett. The mayor talks about how powerless he was to save anyone, and it's clear that he's on the sauce.
You don't have long with him though before you're interrupted by the first major boss, the enormous Sepulchur. This twisted, treelike demon seems to be propped up by large, fleshy sacs. Once these sacs are pulverized, Sepulchur lifts itself up on long, bony arms and continues its assault. Defeating the sinister beast makes it collapse through a hole in the floor, which Alex, completely exhausted from the ordeal, falls through as well.
Silent Hill: Homecoming features some excellent atmospheric effects such as dynamic lighting and shadows, and we can't wait to get our hands on the full game to see what kind of psychological problems Alex has buried in his past. Homecoming is currently scheduled for release near the end of the month--be sure to check back then for our final opinion.