Publisher: Konami Platforms:PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 UK Price (as reviewed):£17.99 incl. VAT US Price (as reviewed): TBC
The first scare is critical to any horror film or game and how it’s handled tells you a lot about how successful what will follow is going to be. If the first scare falls flat, the audience will be cynical, able to comfortably remove themselves from the claustrophobic horror world and remind themselves that the scary stuff on screen isn’t real. Get it right, and the fiction will suck the audience in; they will be complicit in the trap, suspend their disbelief and be ready to believe that the shadows really do contain monsters.
Silent Hill Homecoming’s first scare for many players is the fact that if you try and change the resolution from 800 x 600 or up the detail levels, then it dies to the desktop with a ‘Binary Asset tree’ crash. To get round this, you need to launch the game not from Steam, but from the folder it’s been installed to on the hard disk.
Even if you avoid this error, then the start of the game is remarkably lacking in scares. Partly because there’s not much explanation of what’s going on – the opening cinematic appears after the game’s main menu, so it’s easy to start without ever seeing it. Even when you do see the intro movie, it seems more like a trailer than the actual first few minutes of the story, as it lets you see events that take an hour or so of gameplay to actually reach.
The lack of scares can also be blamed on the fact Homecoming's beginning isn't subtle. The game kicks straight off with the horror dial turned up to 11, although it does this by borrowing plenty of generic tricks and touches that will be overfamiliar to anyone who’s ever seen a horror film.
Start a new game and you begin strapped to a trolley, being wheeled through a hospital corridor. Only it’s a scary hospital corridor, because it’s a bit grungy, and through the doors on either side of the corridor, you can see scary things happening to silhouetted people. You shout and scream but the porter doesn’t tell you anything. He’s wearing a grungy mask. It’s not scary because it’s exactly what you’d expect from a scary hospital scene.
You’re saved from being a victim of this quackery because the evil hospital porter is eviscerated by an even scarier silhouette. As evil as it is, it runs away before you can do anything. After this scary intro, you get free, and you’re given control of the hero, Alex.
He’s a scrappy white-trash waffle chef on the run. No, wait, that’s one half of a random crime fighting duo. Alex’s past is less defined: he’s a veteran of an unspecified war, returned to his hometown for want of anything better to do. Fortunately, there’s enough scary stuff to keep him occupied – as you explore the hospital, you soon find your little brother Josh, whose hobby is drawing disturbing pictures of bunnies in peril. He won’t leave the madhouse unless you find his toy, and so you set off to fix this, and are drawn in to a plot that links in to the main lore of Silent Hill and explores Alex’s own murky past.