Crispy Gamer

Silent Hill: Homecoming

Silent Hill's first title on next-gen consoles has been teased quite a bit in the past, but finally at Konami's recent Gamer's Night, we not only got the first details, we got a chance to play through two levels. Homecoming marks the second Silent Hill title to be created outside Konami Japan with no Japanese team members besides famed series composer Akira Yamaoka. If you're worried the game may lose focus because it's being developed stateside, fear not. Silent Hill: Homecoming is shaping up to be just as creepy, macabre and terrifying as previous Japanese developed entries.

Silent Hill: Homecoming is being created by Double Helix, a new house comprised of former members of The Collective and Shiny Entertainment. The game's story is penned by Patrick Doody and Christopher Valenciano, and even though this game isn't being developed by Konami Japan, the team receives constant feedback from Yamaoka-san to make sure it's faithful to the franchise. I mean, we don't want another Silent Hill movie on our hands, do we?

The story's central character, Alex Shepherd, is returning home from the military. Apparently, Alex was discharged from service after a series of horribly disturbing dreams. It's also mentioned that he was hospitalized at some point, though it's unknown if the hospitalization was for physical or mental problems. Alex has a premonition that something is wrong with his little brother Josh and it haunts him so much he's pulled towards his home town, Shepherd's Glen. Yes, it's obvious, there's some connection -- Alex Shepherd / Shepherd's Glen -- but its relationship isn't know yet. As the demo began, Alex arrives in Shepherd's Glen, and gets dropped off by a friendly truck driver. With a thick blanket of familiar fog, Alex quickly realizes that Shepherd's Glen isn't looking much like home any more -- it's looking a lot like Silent Hill. Somehow Shepherd's Glen is tied to the world of Silent Hill, and that connection will undoubtedly be revealed as you work your way through the game.

As Alex reaches his home he finds his mother in a rocking chair, completely dazed, and clutching a revolver. She doesn't understand why Alex is there and explains that his brother and father have vanished. Alex pledges to find them both, but what form he'll find them we don't know, but we can guess it'll be somewhere in Silent Hill. Overall, the team is still remaining quite cryptic about the story and what exactly is wrong with Alex or his mother, but the trailers and demo have indicated Alex will receive some help from a local law enforcement officer and a female childhood friend. According to the team, the Shepherd family's relationships with other Shepherd's Glen families play a pivotal role in the game.

Fans of the series may be concerned that it's yet another game not being developed by the Japanese Silent Hill team, it's obvious that by using a western development house the team is looking to garner a larger Western fanbase. With this entry, Double Helix is dedicated to evolving the Silent Hill series instead of completely revamping it. While we experienced a healthy dose of the usual environmental puzzles and how to get from point A to point B by oozing back and forth between the real world and Silent Hill, combat is the portion of the game that's getting a host of improvements. Silent Hill hasn't previously been a primarily combat-driven game, and the team has focused a lot of effort on expanding the combat set. When entering a combat situation the player goes into a new stalk mode as the camera pulls back and frames the character from the right side to see the action better. Alex can lock onto enemies, strafe around enemies, and, when multiple adversaries are present, toggle between enemies. It seems as if Double Helix is taking a cue from Resident Evil 4 on the combat side, but adding a few nifty additions.

Armed with light and heavy attacks, Alex can chain moves together in various combinations. Heavy attacks can be charged and when an enemy gets the drop on you, Alex can dodge out of the way. If a dodge is successful, you can use counterattacks to level baddies. Stunning an enemy will also allow Alex to pull off a powerful one-hit-kill finishing move, with one finishing move per weapon. Silent Hill isn't known for gunplay, but we did see Alex wielding axes, knives and lead pipes. In practice, we can see where the team is going with the engine and it felt good to smack down a nasty bandage-faced nurse, but if the team is looking to equal or best Resident Evil 4's combat, they still have a ways to go.

Taking out the horrors you face with such items will provide for a pretty grotesque soundtrack, and with Akira Yamaoka on board, horror fans can be sure to have their ears full of an eerie, blood-curdling soundscape. Audio will encircle the player, and the team promises some intense high-dynamic range 5.1 surround audio. We had surround-sound headphones on while we played, and even though we were playing the demo in a crowded theater, the audio truly sucked us into the world of Silent Hill: Homecoming.

The visuals stick with the dingy and decrepit environments to which we've grown accustomed from Silent Hill's past, but moving to more powerful hardware meant the team had to rethink how to do things. Considering high-definition assets look much cleaner, designers opted to add a grainy filter to keep the game true to its dingy roots. That's not to say Homecoming will fall short of using special graphical effects. Expect plenty of dynamic lighting, a brand-new fog technology, per-pixel lighting, and wicked shadow work.

Even though much of the conflict to be found in Homecoming still remains guarded, Double Helix promises an experience that revolves around Alex's personal issues, internal struggle, a dark mystery and discovery. After our short time with the game, we already know the game will offer plenty of scares, but we're hoping that this evolution that the team promises with Homecoming expands on more the franchise in more ways than just the combat. Maturing the game's puzzle concept further than just finding a certain object and putting it in the right slot, and taking the game even further horror-wise -- think "Ju-on: The Grudge" -- may give Homecoming some room to breathe in this highly competitive genre.

This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo at Konami's Gamer's Night.