Written by Jonathan Wojcik
A Silent Hill Monstrouspective:
The Sixth One.
Oh boy. Here we go. You know things are bad when the sequel to a Japanese series doesn't even get an official Japanese release. Granted, no official reason was given for this decision, its developers tried to make a good game, and a lot of people even genuinely liked it, but a lot of what was wrong with Origins is just as wrong or even wronger in Homecoming, from the lack of anything new or surprising to its cheesy, ultra-violent, more Americanized feel. If previous Silent Hill games invoked films like Jacob's Ladder and Eraserhead, this mess is closer to Saw or Hostel, or perhaps most damningly of all, the Silent Hill movie, from which it even directly lifts some of its imagery.
Homecoming starts off interesting enough, even if it's somewhat difficult to tell the protagonist apart from four out of five previous games. KIDS! Can you put these confused, handsome white men in the correct order without cheating?!
Alex Shepherd, who I guess is one of these guys, comes home from a military discharge and a prolonged hospital stay to discover that his father and his younger brother are mysteriously missing, while his mother is in some kind of catatonic state. That's not too bad a hook. When I pretend hard enough that I don't already know how this game ends, I find myself really wanting to solve this mystery, then I remember how every one of its half-dozen-some endings range from somewhat underwhelming to remarkably asinine, and I'm not going to go over them here, because this is a monster review, and perhaps the most wildly conflicted monster review you'll ever read on this website.
Booble Bobble Dooberdoop
It's as if they expect us to believe that almost every single dude stumbling into Silent Hill just happens to suffer some kind of psychosexual problem that manifests as faceless fetish nurses, and that overflowing cleavage is super duper spooky when it's on something with a spooky boogedy face, but I think you and I both know the real truth: that when the town of Silent Hill was stocking up on monsters at the monster store, there was a buy-one-get-one blowout clearance sale on "family size" bags of faceless fetish nurses, already ridiculously marked down because the store misplaced a decimal point and ordered several times more than it ever intended.
What's more, Silent Hill happened to have a competitor's coupon for $5 off, and though a heated argument erupted amongst customers and staff alike, management finally relented that store policy had to honor the coupon on top of their advertised sale. In the end, the retail price came out to the negatives and the store had to pay people to take their bags of nurses home. From a business standpoint, it was a mess. From the customer's standpoint, it was an Easter Sunday their children would never forget.
Lying Figure "Smog"
For contrast, let's look at the original Lying Figure again. With its simplified features and shuddering movements, it calls to mind a sort of vestigial impression of the human form, the kind of blurred entity that likely haunts the overlooked peripherals of our dreams and nightmares.
It's dark, indistinct and wet. It's disturbing and uncanny and above all else it is subtle. The same simply cannot be said for a smoldering magma zombie.
...On the other hand, an early concept of Homecoming would have been that its monsters had an ability to "morph" before your eyes, and this was the alternate "feral" we almost got. Not a bad design for a monster, per se, but it suffers from a problem I've discussed time and again reviewing horror games; it puts emphasis on ferocity and physical danger over anything you could call "creepiness," and that just isn't the kind of "horror" most people are looking for in a series like Silent Hill. Supposedly, this idea was only scrapped due to software and budgetary constraints, which means it still never occured to the team that this idea was actually just a little too corny.
The problem here, of course, is that it's not that simple. Silent Hills one through four were not simply "scary," but uncanny, distressing and weird, and you can argue that the Lurker is also basically all of those things, but they're all sort of drowned out by the RARR! SCARY!!! factor. The end result just feels kind of cheap.
This is a monster whose scare factor isn't that much different from a normal knife-wielding killer... if you duct-taped their legs together.
But then we get to the Needler's giant, prosthetic scythe-feet, and we go straight back to the Lurker dilemma. It's just too much. It's too "Clive Barker" or "Marilyn Manson," when what originally put Silent Hill on the map was decidedly more along the lines of Zdzislaw Beksinski.
...But you know what's really interesting about the monsters from those games? Almost none of them had claws or fangs. In Silent Hill II it was actually none of them. They actively avoided the easiest, most obvious go-to qualities of a "monster" and opted to invoke a sense of sheer wrongness. They weren't merely alarming because they were dangerous. They were alarming because they were baffling. When you first see an Abstract Daddy or a Mandarin, you have no idea what it's going to do to you. It's a twisting, throbbing meat-shape blindly flapping its ambiguous protrusions in your general direction for reasons known only to itself, if at all. Sometimes, you still can't even tell what's going on when one of them has you in its clutches. Is there any worse thought that could cross a human mind than "what is this, and what is it doing to me?"
When you see something like a Lurker, a Needler or even lovely Schism, there's no such mystery. All that's going to go through your mind is "oh no, a bitey scratchus is going to cut me all up. That will hurt and is bad." It isn't any different from facing a tiger or a crocodile or a guy with an axe, all of which are "scary," but they're certainly not "question everything you ever thought made sense in this world" scary, let alone "lie awake at night wondering what kind of orifice it was engulfing your face with" scary.
...And then there's "Asphyxia."
Asphyxia also has the rather creative and interesting property of dying if it can breathe. The uppermost set of hands usually cover its mouth, and to defeat it, you have to jump on its back and pull the hands open until breathing air causes the thing to, well, asphyxiate. A very unique idea for a monster weakness.
If only Asphyxia weren't so tastelessly over the top, in the same way as the "Two-back" monster was from origins. It's a conga line of curvy bodies all groping one another, complete with a grody hand sticking up between its legs. Wow, "creepy." I am totally spooked out by this boobapillar whacking off at me. This totally fills me with existential dread and I am really questioning the nature of good and evil while these grimy monster ladies stuff their heads up each other's butts.
What should be the scariest thing about Asphyxia is that it's made up of ostensibly human anatomy in an extremely non-human arrangement. Instead, the scariest thing about Asphyxia is just that google might complain to me that I'm running its ads alongside "indecent" material again. Chilling.
Alas, Scarlet is only another fanged, snarling boogedy-beast for George or Mitch or whoever we were playing this time to chop up with an axe or blast in the face with a shotgun. Did I even mention yet that Homecoming put significantly more focus on fighting than any previous Silent Hill? Like they honestly thought the appeal of this puzzle-solving, psychological mystery series was that we didn't spend enough time cutting heads off? It just feels like the Homecoming team really wanted to be making a Resident Evil title instead.
"Siam" is supposed to be two humanoid beings fused together, and they're supposed to represent a "male" and "female" body. The "male" body is the lower one, an inhuman-looking, ape-like brute with giant club-limbs, while the "female" body is just a fully human-shaped woman melded to the thing's back in a BDSM fetish pose, curvy legs kicking in the air complete with platform heels. We've all noticed the tiresome tendency of video games to make the "female" monsters so much less monstrous, but I've seldom seen that dimorphism demonstrated in just one enemy model.
And once again, it's only a bit too far. If the woman-body were just slightly less human, slightly more of an abstracted, alien impression of a human, it would capture what made past monsters so memorably hair-raising. Instead, this thing feels way too much like the artist was aiming for straight eroticism, basically just strapping a woman to the back of a beefy dude in a sexually vulnerable pose and calling it a day. It has a "cool" factor distinct from its fetishistic factor, it really does, it's an inventive idea with a striking execution, but it could have been all that and more if it were only given one more push down the slope of uncanniness.
If this concept had appeared in a previous Silent Hill, I don't think the difference between Siam's flesh and its bondage gear would be as easy to discern, and I'm sure the upper body would look just as distorted and otherworldly as its lower body. It certainly wouldn't have likely had that perfectly natural, mundane human face on the back of its head, and definitely not smooth, healthy human legs in store-bought looking heels. Where is it even getting those? Who's taking all these damn Siams shoe shopping?
You might wanna brace yourself, because we're about to tackle the final boss, and holy hell is that thing a trainwreck.
What's the silliest thing about Amnion? Is it the fact that its body is just a naked woman with an enormously pregnant stomach? The fact that there's a black hose going from her mouth to her crotch? The fact that she's suspended in a colossal set of rusted, bloody, cybernetic spider-legs with jagged metal knife-toes? Or is it this:
Tell me you didn't either hear an accordion sound in your head or you aren't hearing it now. To be honest, I actually really like this pop-out face gimmick. This might be the creepiest thing this game has thrown at us, and certainly feels like genuine, nightmare-style outrageousness, but I feel like I'm expected to find the rest of Amnion disturbing along with it, and that's just not possible.
Imagery like this has a niche, and I'm not solely talking about the kind of niche that involves crudely animated tentacles, either. This kind of overwrought, edgy "grimdark" monster can be sincerely entertaining in a setting that knows it's overwrought. This monster is an example of "schlock," and would feel right at home in a game where the protagonist fights battles on a rocket-powered skateboard with a chainsaw that's also a guitar. This is a monster that just works so much more as a tongue-in-cheek Warhammer 40,000 model or something airbrushed on the front of a death metal album, which has basically been the problem with everything in Homecoming.
I can even accept that maybe the monsters of Homecoming make sense to manifest from the mind of someone who has seen the horrors of war, that their motifs invoke the brutality and machismo of our military culture, but they don't really care a military theme otherwise, and still seem like they want to invoke the finer qualities of Masahiro Ito's disquieting creations. It feels like they're trying to carry the torch of Silent Hill II and III in clumsy flipper-like appendages, subsequently setting fire to their surroundings, shrugging and doing a few riffs on their electric guitar instead. "Look how DARK we are!" they seem to be saying. "We've got, like, sex stuff, but it's scary!"
Here's one last comparison to a prior game: the Glutton from Silent Hill 3. This thing couldn't even hurt you, and it was still nightmarish. You couldn't even tell what the hell you were seeing, and were left wondering how it could possibly be.
Homecoming never really hits those buttons. Its monsters are undeniably imaginative, and I can commend the effort of the artist(s) who cooked them up because there's certainly quite a bit of it on display, but it's not quite the appropriate effort for this series, and I know I've sounded like some sort of snobby purist here, but Silent Hill really was once so different from the rest of the horror scene. Its frights once came from the sheer unknown. The ambiguous line between what was real and unreal. People fell in love with it because it wasn't just another blood-spattered torture-porn or masculine apocalyptic survival fantasy, and Homecoming only lent credence to what everybody feared once the series left Japan: that American horror has all the finesse of Micheal Bay with a box of fireworks.
...And the damnedest thing is, I went on all this raving, and I still didn't get to the single worst thing about the whole game.
In the bad ending it turns out your guy became Pyramid Head. DUN, DUN, DUNNNNNN!!!!!!!
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