As with most previous Silent Hill games, Homecoming uses a 3rd person viewpoint, and gameplay can be charitably described as a mix of combat and exploration. Or, more accurately, a dull mix of button-bashing and running nonsensical errands with the kind of slavish devotion to the task more commonly associated with heroin addicts chasing their next fix.
Combat doesn’t occur all that often and that, in conjunction with the fact Homecoming presents you with a large play area, at first fools you into thinking the game will be free-roaming and non-linear, in say, the style of Mass Effect. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Alex prefers to tackle tasks one at a time, and the designers have clearly put a lot of thought into breaking them down into extremely manageable chunks.
Early on, you find the basement of your house is flooded, which is preventing you from opening a door. There’s a pump, but it needs fuel and a note says you can find this in the garage. There’s a can in the garage, but it’s empty. You need to go and find fuel. Other doors and gates are locked, blocked by debris, or otherwise obscured so that you can only really pursue this single task in hand.
When you do pump out the basement, you find the reason you couldn’t open the door is that there’s a sliding bolt on the bottom. Given that water is reasonably see through and that Alex was once in the army, it seems slightly ridiculous that to overcome a bolt, you need to pump out the whole basement.
Unlike Mass Effect, there are no sub-plots or deviation either. When you do complete tasks, you frequently feel let down, as they’ve clearly involved far too many stages. In fact, the only breaks in your relentless pursuit of the next widget, doohickey or McGuffin that you need to get to the next room are cut-scenes or combat. Combat itself isn’t terrible, as the control scheme is perfectly functional. Homecoming originally appeared on the Xbox 360, but the developers have done a decent job of making the game work with the mouse and keyboard.
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The problem with combat is that it’s not really very ambitious in terms of design; you’ve got one dodge button, and a couple of attacks. It usually ends up with you reduced to walking backwards in an attempt to line up your supernatural attackers in some kind of vulnerable conga, after which you can set about them with your steel pipe like a particularly cruel bouncer kicking off at a naff '80s club night.
One extremely irritating problem with combat though is that the game clearly thinks it’s scary to knock over objects and have them clatter noisily to the floor. This is scary, once or twice (remember the awful twinkling noise of the chains in Alien?) but it happens far too often in Homecoming. Alex is staggeringly clumsy. Again, a comparison with Mass Effect is instructive. Mass Effect’s combat is purposefully slowed down in order to fit into the tone of the game, and is fun, tense and strategic. Homecoming’s combat is underwhelming, frustrating and dull.