After having rewatched the first Silent Hill movie, I was reminded of how bad things really get for this franchise; this inspired me to give Silent Hill Homecoming another spin. Having dabbled a little bit in Skyrim modding after the death of my graphics card, I learned that lowering the resolution to 1280×720 drastically improved performance. Upon reinstalling this game, I preemptively lowered the resolution to increase performance, and discovered that the map was fixed (as shown in the previous post). With the sole technical issue of the game fixed, it was on to the remainder of the game. Shortly after the bathroom where we collect the dagger and defeat our first enemy, a rogue wheelchair rolls down a flight of stairs, acting as a pseudo jumpscare due to the speed with which it appears, and the loud clanging of metal that plays at it descends. I suppose that it makes for this kind of thing to happen, we are in a hospital after all, but I still don’t like it.
Speaking of being in a hosptial, the map states that we are, in fact, in Alchemilla Hospital; it does not look like the Alchemilla that I know. Initially, I thought they had reused the name, but not the layout.
(Above, the map of the area as it appears in Silent Hill. Below is the Silent Hill Homecoming map once I changed the resolution of the game to allow it to display properly.
It wasn’t until I was actually comparing the maps while writing this post that I realized they were supposed to be the same area. The most obvious difference is that the Homecoming map has been rotated 90 degrees, which completely stopped me from recognizing the similar layout, but that rotation only affects the map, not the actual level that we traverse. There are three things that make the area unrecognizable; the first is the updated graphics. Silent Hill released on the Playstation in 1998, with Homecoming releasing on the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and the PC in 2008.
I will be playing more Silent Hill 1 later, so here is where I will place the comparison between 1 and Homecoming’s graphics, if I get around to it
The second reason the area does not feel the same is another change made where, similar to the control scheme change, it is not immediately obvious that anything is different because the game works exactly how you would expect a modern game to work. Silent Hill Homecoming does away with the pre rendered camera angles used in small areas in the original games; it instead uses a modern style where the camera is always centered behind the player. In the originals, this modern style of camera was typically used in larger areas, such as the streets of the town or hallways where players have more freedom to maneuver. However, Alchemilla Hospital is comprised of many small rooms, each of which might only have a single camera angle in the first game. The freedom of the new camera means that we see each area almost exclusively through new angles, dramatically reducing the ability of the player to come to the realization that this is supposed to be the same place.
The third cause of the area’s unfamiliarity is the how you transition from room to room. In the first 4 games, doors were very solid boundaries between rooms; entering a door caused the game to enter a brief loading screen. This was likely a necessity in Silent Hill 1 in order to preserve the graphical quality of the game, but I have to wonder if it was as crucial to Silent Hill 2-4, as even the smallest rooms are still sectioned off with loading. I would imagine that having each room be handled separately was not quite as necessary with the increased power of the Playstation 2 over the Playstation 1, although I admit that I could be completely wrong on this point. I am not quite sure of the pros and cons of each style of game (Silent Hill 1-4’s world full of load screens, as opposed to Homecoming’s nearly seamless levels), as I somehow prefer the style of the previous games; however, I suppose it was inevitable that the load screens would disappear as the technology advanced from the 6th generation of consoles (Xbox, Gamecube, Playstation 2), to the 7th (Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3). I am not exactly sure what it is about the style with tons of load screens that I prefer over the seamless version, but perhaps I will figure it out as I ponder it during the remainder of the game.
An interesting type of door appears in this area, and is the first new thing this game brings to the series that I am quite positive about.
This door initially looks like a piece of leather with a seam in the center, and only reveals its true form after a quick time event in which you slice it down the center. As I stated, I prefer the load screens to the seamless nature of this installment, but this door is not something that would have been possible in the original games, due to the nature of fading to black to load. Instead of other doors in this level, where you can open them but choose not to walk through, you must walk up to this door and purposefully activate the prompt to pass through. Once you accept the the prompt, you are locked into the animation of squeezing through until you have cleared the gap. It is quite likely that this is some variety of living (or undead) creature, as the gums writhe slowly; this makes it even more unnerving to pass through, as there is always the possibility you could get chomped at any second. I’m thankful that this doesn’t happen during the 2 or 3 times you see these doors in this area, as the possibility that such a thing could happen is more terrifying than it actually happening.
Which is why it is so baffling that they go back on this idea immediately afterword.
The first picture is of Homecoming, the second is of Silent Hill 2. This new door type had earned back some of the favor that the game had lost, but it quickly squanders it by rehashing this moment from Silent Hill 2, but in a much worse manner. To explain how Silent Hill 2 did this moment better and what Homecoming dropped the ball on, I’ll have to spoil this small scene from 2. In this part of the game, James has collected a key to Room 202 of the apartment complex, and makes his way there, encountering the hole in the wall pictured above. This is the only room in the building currently available to us, so it is obvious that this strange hole is somehow related to our ability to progress in the zone. Faced with no other option, we must reach into this hole to grab the item that must exist inside to enable our progression. I have watched many people play this game for the first time on Twitch, and every single time, they mention how bad an idea this is. The camera slowly pulls in as James fumbles around for a second, then quickly zooms out as James pulls his hand out, confirming that the danger we suspect does, in fact, exist. However, he puts his hand back in after a second, retrieving the clock key that is required to advance. Crucially, the second attempt at retrieving the key is automated, as the scare would likely stop most players from attempting this again. Because this second attempt is controlled by the game, not the player, the game gets to have its cake and it eat too; the player recieves a small fright at no actual risk, and they guaranteed to progress past this point.
This same scene scene in Homecoming suffers from a catch-22: Its either damned if they do the same thing, as there is no real point in rehashing the same concept exactly, or its damned if they don’t do the same thing, as what is currently in the game is not nearly as good. When Alex reaches into the hole, he is also assaulted by some unknown entity. Whereas James quickly retracts his hand, then reaches back in, indicating only mild danger or a danger that has passed, Alex is in far more trouble. He is pulled up to the wall, shouting in pain as his arm is in danger of being torn off. Clearly, the best way to represent this danger is by immediately starting a quick time event.
Losing your arm is only worthy of mild grimace.
This silliness of this quick time event is highlighted by another unfortunate aspect of the PC version. I can only assume, as I have not played the console version, but I have to imagine that the button prompts were not numbers; the prompts likely displayed the actual buttons of the console being played. I am playing on a wired Xbone controller, so the number prompts don’t exactly help, but I don’t think they would be useful even on keyboard and mouse; I’ve never played a game primarily with the number pad. Strangely though, the buttons are color coordinated to the Xbox controller; the blue 3 matches the the blue X I am meant to be mashing. Due to the fact I couldn’t quickly identify the button I needed to mash, I ended up failing the quick time event, and Alex had his arm ripped off, resulting in a game over. This is where I learned that the game features checkpoints, as I started off right back in front of the hole, rather than at the previous save. I don’t like checkpoints that are too lenient, but I also don’t think dying here and being booted back to the previous save would be a much better experience. I think this scene could have almost been good, but the interactivity is what ruins it. Its a strange complaint that a game is interactive; I’m normally against having scenes in games that are not interactive, but I feel that this quick time event works against the oppressive atmosphere of the game.
Once we retrieve Robbie the Rabbit from the hole, we attempt to return it to Joshua, but he runs off for some reason. An interesting inclusion in this game is that of dialogue choices. I have no idea what effect this has on the game; I’m assuming minimal, but I guess I will find out in time. After Joshua runs away, we enter an elevator, and are killed by Pyramid Head. I did play a bit after this point, but I’ll save it for next time, as this one is getting quite long. Next time, I will talk about how the troll controls got me again, as well as the ill fated time I tried to collect the pipe. Thanks for reading, hope to see you next time.