There are few times I can remember being more frightened during a video game than playing this year's "Siren: Blood Curse" on PlayStation 3.
But as a horror buff, I'm always left wanting more. Which is why I eagerly anticipated the release of "Silent Hill: Homecoming" this month.
I haven't finished "Silent Hill" yet, but have a good feel for it. After a few hours of "Siren," I'd experienced a turn-on-the-lights moment.
Did it happen with "Silent Hill"? Sort of.
Double Helix Games, previously known as The Collective, has nailed the "Silent Hill" atmosphere with this one. The presentation, from top to bottom, is "Silent Hill." But whereas "Siren" felt like I was entering uncharted horror territory, partly because I'd previously passed on the series, "Homecoming" feels like Double Helix spent most of their time nailing the established feel of "Silent Hill" before putting in anything unique. You're in a creepy, fog-filled town with traditional hot spots -- school, hospital, etc. -- and no character ever questions why monsters are running around everywhere.
Have you seen the "Silent Hill" movie? I'm a big fan of it. It wasn't a perfect adaptation, nor the best horror movie ever made, but it was scary and nailed the crucial elements a "Silent Hill" movie needed to touch upon. "Homecoming," at least in its first few hours, feels like an adaptation of the movie. The way the walls impressively peel away during a transformation sequence, the movement of the nurses -- it's all very much like the movie. If you liked the movie, you'll connect with the game's atmosphere.
One of the reasons "Siren" is so effective in creeping the bejeebus out of you is because most of the gameplay is largely irrelevant. You never worried about what to do or where to go next. The gameplay was there to serve the atmosphere. "Siren" held your hand from start to end, never making a puzzle more complicated than checking where to go next on the map, and combat was kept simple. If you had a weapon, the enemies were a piece of cake. If you were weaponless, run like hell. "Silent Hill" doesn't subscribe to that philosophy.
"Homecoming" continues the "Silent Hill" tradition of ridiculous puzzle mechanics that break the pacing. One minute, you're screaming loudly because something just moved in the fog -- but the next 20 are spent looking for half of a circular puzzle piece that needs to dropped in a hole on the other side of town.
Despite the progressive idea of handing "Silent Hill" to an American developer, it feels very much Japanese in design. Except this time time, it's in a bad way.
But I'm spending too much time dogging the gameplay mechanics. "Siren" wasn't a very good game in terms of gameplay -- but it oozed atmosphere and horror. "Silent Hill" largely does that, as well, and kept me on my toes every time it wasn't asking me to solve a puzzle. Pyramid Head remains the scariest creature I've encountered in a video game, and that hasn't changed in "Homecoming." The moment I hear the sound of his sword scraping against the floor, I become a little girl on the couch.
So, while this latest "Silent Hill" didn't cause me to turn it off, flip on the lights and take a break like "Siren" did early on, it made me sweat. I spent time reading a book before going to sleep. Games like "Siren" don't come along very often. Who knows if its gimmicks will hold up in a sequel? Double Helix has done an admirable imitation of "Silent Hill."
For some horror fans -- myself included -- that's enough. Is it for you?