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By Thomas McKinnon 11 March 2009

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Spine chilling and downright eerie, the latest Silent Hill installment doesn’t disappoint with its claustrophobic environments and psychological thrills.

Konami and Double Helix have managed to keep the series fresh without fiddling too much with the game’s traditional appeal.

You play Alex Shepherd, a wounded soldier who returns home from a tour of duty only to find his mother in a near catatonic state, his father and brother missing and his home town of Shepherd’s Glen in disarray.

Shepherd promises his mother that he will find his brother and it is pretty much a nightmare for him from there on as he searches the town which leads him to Silent Hill and some disturbing truths.

Homecoming’s opening scene remains true to the game’s roots, offering little context and no explanation, just a sense of foreboding. The rest of the game’s cut scenes, especially the peeling ash-like transition into the Otherworld, are terrifyingly striking adding substantively to the player’s overall sense of anxiety. In game graphics are also decent with a real improvement in comparison to it forerunners. Environments are well detailed but intentionally limited with thick fog outdoors and extremely dark environments indoors. That said there are instances with dropped frame rates, especially in more intense combat sequences.

While remaining true to the game’s survival-horror pedigree Double Helix have made some vital improvements over Homecoming’s predecessors. The fixed position camera angle has been done away with, making way for a 3D player controlled camera which adds greatly to your ability to explore and experience the game’s detailed environments.

The awkward controls of yore have also been streamlined to include light and heavy attacks and even the ability to dodge. This allows for more intense combat, bringing a new element to its action component.

While these improvements may even be welcomed by Silent Hill purists a number of elements that are supposed to be improvements may irk some series fans. Alex Shepherd’s military background means that he has an existing aptitude for combat, unlike previous protagonists who started off hopeless at combat only to improve as the game progressed. Such elements added a certain authenticity to the storyline and a greater sense of the survival facet to the game.

The other ‘improvement’ is a coherent narrative. No matter which of the game’s multiple endings you experience you are left with no uncertainty or nagging questions as to what really happened and why. The game’s appealing nuance and mystery is just not driven home in the same way it was before.

Other notable aspects of the game are its puzzles and the audio. In game puzzle are generally quite obvious and not really difficult to work out. This might bug a few puzzle nuts but it really helps with the pacing of the game. Thus there is a good balance between combat and puzzle-solving which ensures that built-up tension is maintained. Homecoming’s sound effects and soundtrack do as much as the visuals to create suspense and get you jumping out your seat. Effects are very well presented with our only complaint being the quality of the voice acting which can be a little flat.

The gist of it is that Homecoming is a welcome addition to the series. Innovations in presentation and controls and improved graphics and sound make it a solid game. In terms of horror the game delivers, although many would argue that it isn’t quite as terrifying as earlier editions.

PROS
The game is genuinely scary and the 3D player controlled camera and simplified controls are great improvements.
CONS
The puzzles were too simple the game has gone a little mainstream in terms of its narrative and combat.
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