It's been a long time since anyone set foot in the relentlessly punishing town of Silent Hill. Our most recent preview dates back several months, nearly back into 2007, and no other outlet has seen or heard much since. What horrible shapes have been lurking in the darkness since the last time Konami offered a peek? We've got the answer, spread across three days of exclusive Silent Hill: Homecoming coverage.
Day 1: Updated impressions | Day 2: Exclusive movies | Day 3: Interview with Akira Yamaoka
We'll get into the story details later in the impressions, but first we want to bring up the major gameplay changes Double Helix (formerly The Collective) has brought to next-gen Silent Hill. Don't worry, they know what makes the series special, so the traditional standbys are in place; fog-choked streets, unlit hallways filled with broken doors and mind-bending psych-outs are intact and as haunting as ever, but with all new hardware, the time was right for a handful of tweaks.
The most immediate change we picked up was how alive the environments are. As much as we love the older titles, it often felt like you were merely observing the world instead of affecting it. Now, when war-vet Alex Shepherd bumps into a chair, it'll squeak and scrape across the floor, creating a piercing noise that acts as a beacon for all kinds of blood-chugging beasties. Imagine how Peregrin Took felt when he sent the skeleton careening down the well in Fellowship of the Ring - it's not quite that epic, but your toes will definitely curl anytime something tilts, droops or falls.
Later, in Alex's backyard, we saw dangling swing sets twist and tie together after a light brush from his arm. A graveyard further into town has swinging gates that slide open based on how hard you plow into them. Oxygen tanks in the requisite hospital section hit the tiled floor with a heart-stopping clang. Lights hum, crackle and flicker. Even the fog scatters your light all over the place in certain areas (like a car's high beams). If only the vegetation behaved the same way; the outdoor areas we saw felt devoid of wind and Alex's body passed right through dangling branches instead of pushing them aside.
All of these seemingly minor environmental touches aren't just next-gen perks, they seem to genuinely affect the way you'll get through the game. No longer can you storm through a room, quickly glancing for items of interest, at least not in the areas we saw, cuz there sure were a lot of monsters ready to take a bite of Alex's neck. Busty nurses, inside-out dogs and a smoke-spewing organ-sack-with-legs all wanted to have words, but for the first time in Silent Hill history, their prey knows how to fight dirty.
Alex, as you already know, is a military man. We can't wait to see what Silent Hill's personal-purgatory powers to do someone with such a turbulent past. His shaky history isn't just for story though; it affects gameplay by bringing a familiarity with violence to the fight right away. He's not afraid to bust some heads, even heads covered in goo, separated by a toothy vertical slit.
The left trigger targets an enemy, allowing you to strafe around and enter the combat stance. Each weapon has light and heavy attacks that can be chained together to defeat or stun any given monster. They'll even sustain cumulative damage, so if you've been slashing a nurse for ages, all those cuts will show. Another first is the dodging mechanic, a simple one-button action that either completely avoids an attack or, if done a little too late, deflects it. There's no specific "hey here comes an attack" prompt for the dodge, so you kind of have to "read" the monsters and predict their strikes. No small feat considering they've been specifically designed to be more vicious than before, giving even longtime players a reason to fear the dark again.
Once you've got a creature on the ropes, it'll bend over or fall down, enabling Alex to pull off a one-hit finishing move that ups the series' brutality exponentially. Creepy-ass nurse giving you shit? Pull her head back and jam the knife deep into her chest. Inside-out dog ripping out your throat? Pull out a lead pipe and crush its skull into pulp. You even have enough time to switch weapons before the finisher, letting you decide how each macabre creation will die. If you choose the knife instead of the pipe to kill the dog, for example, Alex will throw it to the ground and slash its head off, splattering blood all over the screen. It's intense as hell and immensely gratifying after having to run from these things for the past five games.
Double Helix likened each creature battle to a minigame - what's the best way to take this thing out? Smog, the gory smokestack you see to the right, has a bulletproof ribcage, so firing rounds (now in RE4 over-the-shoulder view) isn't going to do much. But, if you wait for it to open and expose its pulsing yellow guts, just a few shots will put it down. Later enemies may have weak legs that you can exploit, or proximity to something hazardous in the world. At the very least, combat looks a lot more inviting and rewarding than the previous titles, where we were more than happy to avoid confronting enemies.