First, however, you are thrown into a "learn by doing" nightmarish tutorial that's more eager to disturb than teach. You, as Alex, are ominously strapped to a gurney which a masked nurse is wheeling through a dimly lit hallway. Making your way past rooms where unspeakable acts are being committed, impending doom begins to sink in with all the subtlety of a carnie barker bellowing under a neon sign reading "Abandon All Hope!" Finally wheeled into your torture suite, the nurse parks you under the surgical lamps and leaves. Series mainstay Pyramid Head then appears, zaniness ensues, you seem to be next on the "To Stab" list, and finally the frantic flashing of the ubiquitous arrow-over-button ushers in your escape. Then the game both emasculates itself and renders its QTE power useless by not following through with the painful death promised by failing-to-mash-buttons. You just lie there on the gurney, awaiting a disembowelment that never comes.
Fans of Silent Hill (particularly Pyramid Head) may find the beginning misleading. Again, the implication of the scene is that not freeing yourself will arouse the interest of ole' P-Head, and he will cleave you in two with his ridiculously large sword. Instead, he leaves, only making two more cameos that mean nothing to the story. The next time you see him, he's dragging his sword down a hallway while you hide behind a pile of rubble. He looks sad, sullen, like the former star of the school football team, who's been reduced to equipment manager after having suffered one self-inflicted skull piercing too many; a shadow of his former glory. He looks at you, a tear rolls down his face as he turns away and continues down his path to impending mediocrity. I've never felt that sorry for a guy with a knife that big.
The storyline is filled with characters that don't seem to understand what's happening around them, and in a disturbing twist, don't seem to mind. In one scene, Alex's love interest is standing by the town bulletin board putting up the thousandth missing person sign of the day. Alex approaches, a little witty banter, and then off again to battle a monster around the corner. I would think that any good and decent person in that situation would return to the girl at the sign and warn her of the impending danger at the hand of the gross and disturbing, but no. There are other such occasions in the game, sewn together with Zelda-esque dungeon progression guiding you to the next "Silent Hill Approved!" location. The other characters' personalities range from helpful to reprehensible, but they all possess the same quality of irritating and clingy. Previous games in the series made it a point to make the player feel abandoned by reality. Regardless if there were others stomping through the demonic fog, they were themselves figuratively not of this world. In Silent Hill: Homecoming, a half-hearted attempt is made to emulate that feeling of being alone, yet it only serves to make the other characters come off as irritated or distracted and not suffering from the deep-seeded psychosis that previous NPCs had been.
Broken into its individual parts, much of this game can be shredded, but we're not playing these parts individually. The graphics are good, and the music was mostly recovered from the first games soundtrack (one of the best game soundtracks ever). On the whole, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a good enough game. It's not going to turn heads or be a shining example of anything, but if you've never played a Survival Horror game, this is a pretty good intro for the easily spooked. If you're a fan like me, you will note the glaring differences and will likely weigh these issues against the previous installments, and you'll be right to do so. Changes under the guise of improvements should not be made unless none of the essential elements, even the tiny negatives, are de-valued in the attempt. Regardless, it's a part of a series I have always loved, and I would recommend any gamer give it a fair chance.
Bottom Line: A bland and somewhat timid continuation of a hitherto highly enjoyable and darkly atmospheric game series, presented almost entirely as a Resident Evil 4 clone.
Recommendation: If you are a fan of the series, new to the survival horror genre, and/or are looking for a quick sense of accomplishment, Silent Hill: Homecoming is not a bad addition to your collection...for about $25, no more.
Sam Henry can't wait for Pyramid Heads cameo on Degrassi: The Next Generation.