Silent Hill: Homecoming

I like Alex, but his under development doesn't quite put him on the same level as James Sunderland.

I like Alex Shepherd, but he feels under development compared to James Sunderland.

There’s always a sense of nostalgia when a long time Silent Hill fan goes back for a visit. There’s a few monsters who are just, classic. The creepy atmosphere. The same sense of foreboding and the story concept often have to do with the subject of sins left without atonement.

Let’s start with the story and characters. A major difference between this Silent Hill and others is that the likeable main character, Alex Shepherd, knows almost everyone in his home town. This sets the plot apart in that Alex has existing biases (both favorable and not) for the people of his hometown. I feel this better drives the story than a handful of strangers. Yet at the same time, the story itself wasn’t exactly well executed. I had to deduct points for the poor voice acting with memorably bad lines like, “Where’s… my… brother?!”

Although the developers did a great job of maintaining the mystery element, the ending was not quite what I expected.

One can draw a lot of parallels between Silent Hill 2 and Homecoming. At its heart is the denial of one’s sins and atonement. However, it is hard to top the overall experience and discovery of the earlier game. Homecoming‘s ending surprised me, just as SH2‘s did. But it does not give you time to really reflect on the surprise. I like, if not love, twist endings. But the main character needs a bit of time to really reflect on the surprise. That was something I got with SH2 but not with SH:H.

Another point of contention that many fans feel is how Pyramid Head was resurrected strictly to draw upon SH2 appeal. Rather than as a masculine avatar of self punishment that he was for James Sunderland, Pyramid Head was used as the Boogeyman for Shepherd. A scary entity of revenge.

Although the third possible ending made some sense of Pyramid Heads return, Konami blew two great opportunities here. First, they had a great opportunity to develop a monster that is parallel to the original Pyramid Head, but different and just as memorable. Considering how awesome the bosses were in this game, they have no excuses.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget, and hard to compare too.

Second, they never successfully developed just what the Boogeyman was, a conjuration of childhood fears manifest from one’s lack of parental protection. Instead, they plugged Pyramid Head into a role that didn’t quite fit.

Again and again, the developers wrestle with the combat system. I admit they have to strike a difficult balance between keeping the main character as combat green as possible, while allowing the player to succeed against rough odds.

One considerable difference is that Alex Shepherd is a soldier, and it shows in the game. He can switch weapons on the fly, which is great because the various monsters are weak to various weapons. He can evade and duck, and recover from being knocked down. Getting your timing down for dodging is very tricky.

The music is good as ever, as are the sound effects and the atmosphere. I got a little frustrated by the shadow effect that creates pixel-shadows on the characters during cut scenes.

I think what frustrates me the most about the Silent Hill series, and SH:H, is that the game developers don’t want to get off the path they’ve worn. Sure, there was Silent Hill 4: The Room, but the game play wasn’t terribly different.

Personally? If I were to develop another Silent Hill game, I’d focus a lot more on sneaking around. Sure, you can cut out the light, kill the radio, but there are areas where combat is unavoidable. I want to move with stealth across the map. Even with bosses, I’d try to avoid being spotted and steal or undo something important that kills them. Combat would be a last resort. Shake it up already.

Silent Hill: Homecoming was satisfying enough, but will not enter my hall of favorite games.

Super Hill or Silent Bowl

Can’t believe that Patriots lost like that. I don’t follow football often, but that game was a see-saw of expectations. Most of my friends, who are Patriots fans, were not pleased.

I totally can't wait to see this family's photo albums.

I totally can't wait to see this family's photo albums.

So anyway, I beat Silent Hill: Homecoming yesterday. Yeah, it took forever because I didn’t hammer away at it.

The ending wasn’t quite what I expected. I understand that the developers were really aiming to pull from the same psychological vein of Silent Hill 2. They even borrowed and re-purposed Pyramid Head strictly to draw upon that fan mystique and loyalty. I have to applaud their effort, but I’m still struggling with some of the plot holes. I’ll talk about this more in depth later.

On another note, I noticed that the developers of Silent Hill drew inspiration from the movie Jacob’s Ladder. Without even reading what the movie is about, I’ve added it to my Netflix. I don’t care if the movie’s bad, I’m watching it.

Which brings me to another concern. I seem to be out of a story-driven, single player game for now, as I wait for the price of Gears of War 3 and the latest Castlevania game to go down.

So despite reservations, I am considering BioShock for now. I feel cautious and leery because I’ve done reading about the game development of it. And I guess I worry that the game is a form of interactive propaganda against certain philosophies. Or maybe that’s wrong, and the critics merely misinterpreted the game’s themes.

Eh, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll give a whirl. Write a Silent Hill: Homecoming review later. Time to hunt for jobs and write.

Silent Hill and Good Horror

Those aren't pinatas... those aren't pinatas at all.

Wait a moment... those don't look like pinatas...

So for the first time in probably two years I’m playing a Silent Hill game. A sale on Steam however put Silent Hill: Homecoming on my plate. Within the first few seconds, the game assaulted me with the old, familiar aspects but I felt as though something was missing.

I bring this all up for a few reasons. First, the second Silent Hill movie is being produced as I speak. The first Silent Hill movie was, when you consider that it was a horror film based on a horror video game, fairly decent. The acting was poor and the plot needed some work, but they did an alright job of maintaining the setting.

There are many things I’ve always loved about the game series, especially Silent Hill 2. This game is what good horror is about. To explain, the plot was entirely character driven, and the setting was merely a reaction to the characters, even if they didn’t know or understand at the time.

People don’t really come to the ghost town of Silent Hill willingly, you see. They go there because they are guilty, they have sinned. In the second game, James Sunderland is brought to the town by a letter from his dead wife. In the midst of his investigation, he encounters troubled individuals who apparently have checkered pasts themselves.

The monsters, like good horror, have a reason behind them. They have themes.

To explain, my horror films course back in college discussed some classical monsters with regard to themes. Count Orlok (one of the earliest vampires on the movie screen) was one we contrasted against Frankenstein’s monster. The two villains are different in that Orlok is the nobility, upper class or bourgeoisie to the monster’s proletariat, or lower, working class. The vampires feed on those that are weaker, as they are regal and all powerful. Meanwhile the monster is slower, more dull and dressed plainly, causing destruction more out of ignorance. The vampire intentionally takes the lives of others while, while the monster doesn’t seem to understand the death it causes, such as in the scene with the little girl tossing flowers.

But whether out of naive innocence or intentional viciousness, both are a form of villain.

Reason is not absent with the monsters of Silent Hill 2. The nurses and mannequins are said to be symbols of James’ repressed sexuality, which the story eventually unfolds. One could view the faceless and almost shapeless ‘human roach’ characters as the strangers in the streets, the figures in the void we scarcely remember while we pass them by.

...

Good eeeeeeeeeeevening.

And then there’s Pyramid Head.

Pyramid Head is one of those monsters that stays with people. He is iconic and unforgettable despite how little people see of him. He made enough of an impact to have his own Wikipedia article. In the original movie he had a couple of scenes, the most memorable of all being when he ripped the entire skin off of a woman.

Although I will link to the video of this, I think it’s pretty clear that this scene is awfully graphic. Horrible acting aside, it makes me nauseous to watch it.

Many things make Pyramid Head unforgettable. There is the impact you feel upon looking at him as he is quite trademark. There’s the sounds he makes, as he drags his great knife over metal grates, a terrible sound that is also iconic. What little clothing he does wear is something between a judge and a cultist’s robe. People debate to this day whether or not he was raping a pair of mannequins in his first appearance.

But like my analysis of Tzeentch’s symbol, Pyramid Head refuses to be completely and easily defined. Some say he’s a judge of the old world, attracted to the guilty and sinful and existing independently of any greater powers. But others feel he is a symbol of James Sunderland’s anger and desire to both punish and be punished, and with the conclusion of Silent Hill 2, has no further place within the series’ story.

The combination of unmistakable imagery coupled with an unclear and undefinable-though-hinted at origin has kept Pyramid Head in people’s nightmares years after the game’s release. But Pyramid Head is simply a quintessential aspect of everything that embodies Silent Hill as a fantastic horror story. He is a manifestation, alongside the town and, of human sin. An equal and opposite reaction. His appearance, like the town of Silent Hill, can only come with recognition of guilt.

Going to Silent Hill is a trip into a person’s mind. The horror is merely the self discovery.