Horror

Welcome Home: How ‘Silent Hill: Homecoming’ Pushed Me into the World of Horror Games

Video games have been a constant source of joy in my life, but my enjoyment hardly expanded into the horror genre for the longest time. My earliest memories tend to revolve around the various Mario games I owned on the Nintendo 64, like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Kart, Mario Party 2, and Super Smash Bros. to name several. Coupled with the Crash and Spyro games on my PS1 and my earliest preferences encompassed platformers and anything related to the lovable and lovestruck Italian plumber.

As I grew past daycare age, my game collection would soon be filled with various fighting games. Tekken 3, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and even the occasional obscure relic such as Flying Dragon from the Hiryū no Ken series made up a small portion of the fighting games I obsessed over as I got older. Even the switch to the PS2 was mostly spent with me playing a type of fighting game, whether it’d be traditional 2D, 3D, wrestling, MMA, arena fighter, or a beat `em up. 

With a side dish of skating games and a couple of sandbox shooters, it led me to miss a wide selection of iconic games over the years. All my time spent trying to string together combos as either Eddy Gordo in Tekken or Jacky Bryant in Virtua Fighter meant that I missed out on games like Shadow of the Colossus, Halo, the original God of War games, Resident Evil 4, the Devil May Cry series, etc. I was perfectly content keeping in my own wheelhouse of games.

I stayed that way heading into my teens until the year 2009 when I officially upgraded from the PS2 to the PS3, keeping with the tradition of acquiring the latest in video game technology since my days with the PS1. With the purchase of the PS3 came the obligatory first game that my dad would get me as my introduction to a new console. For the PS2, he chose Virtua Fighter 4 as a surprise based on his knowledge of my interest in fighting games.

For the PS3, the choice was left to me which game I would take home with my brand-new addition to my console collection. Maybe it was the shortage of fighting games available during that specific trip. Maybe it was burnout from spending most of my prepubescent years stuck on fighting games. Maybe I just wanted to branch out in some form. I can’t tell you what I was thinking when I decided that Silent Hill: Homecoming was the first game I wanted to try out, but that’s exactly how I introduced myself to video game horror.

I was no stranger to grim and violent games by that point, having familiarized myself with the likes of Mortal Kombat, the True Crime series, and even a recent foray into somewhat new territory with Hitman: Blood Money. But other than the Haunted Mansion game on the PS2, I mostly avoided horror games at all costs. 

Watching something scary was easily more palatable than having to actively play something scary because the immersion brought me closer to the horror than I would’ve preferred. It’s no wonder that Let’s Play’s on horror games have managed to retain substantial popularity even in the 2020s. I would’ve no doubt contributed endless hours and views as a kid if YouTube was the gargantuan platform it is today. 

Silent Hill: Homecoming represented a shift in my game collection by being the first explicitly scary game I would own (I rented The Haunted Mansion). Adding to the previously mentioned list of iconic games I never played during my early childhood, you can gather that I had also never once played a Silent Hill game. Not the first four games or Origins or any spin-offs. Homecoming was my break into Silent Hill and it didn’t happen until I became a teenager.

At this age, things like a critic or even audience reviews didn’t affect my excitement for playing a game so drastically different than what I was used to. The game, which follows ex-soldier Alex as he returns to his hometown to find his younger brother Josh missing and being forced to trudge through the familiar mist of Silent Hill, dealt with themes of grief and loss in a manner that I was simply not used to from any sort of art I consumed around that age. 

By then, I was already starting to position myself as a more “mature” person by watching more drama films in place of the usual slashers or slapstick and gross-out comedies. Even if I didn’t understand or comprehend the scope of what I was watching, I felt like a bigger person for finally trying out movies that my parents wouldn’t feel as annoyed with watching. But I was still young and not able to fully grasp what I was watching.

Silent Hill: Homecoming, the sixth mainline game in a psychological horror game franchise, separated itself entirely by letting me experience the horror in a visceral and intimate manner. As I encountered horrid monsters lurking on the streets blanketed by what looked like an ashy grey fog and in the basement of our family home, I was bombarded by a heightened sense of tension that not even the most competitive fighting matches could compare to.

Figuring out the mystery behind Josh’s disappearance and the importance of a cult called The Order riveted me as a child and not simply because of the upgrade to a newer console. I was finally experiencing a semblance of a series I had constantly heard was “amazing, scary” and many more positive descriptive terms. I had no knowledge about how much better a game like Silent Hill 2 allegedly was in comparison to this Westernized take on the series. 

The criticisms regarding the use of recognizable iconography of the series for Homecoming in spite of the symbolism not holding any weight towards Alex’s own psyche and mindset were lost on little me. As far I was concerned, I was simply playing a horror game that managed to scare the daylights out of me on more than one occasion.

Alex Shepherd himself isn’t exactly the most interesting “everyman” to follow on this type of journey, but I found myself engaged with his quest to find Josh and figure out what the hell happened to his small community. Much in the same manner as most Silent Hill protagonists, I felt like a complete stranger to this world and the horror game genre as a whole. Each discovery felt fresh and new and each jumpscare was one that terrified me with anticipation.

Even catching a glimpse of what looked like Pyramid Head in the hotel section of the game gave me the kind of fear that made me hesitant to explore the game any further. Nowadays, I view it as a simple cutscene with Pyramid Head (or the Bogeyman as it is known here) and I know that he won’t follow me around the narrow corridors a la Mr. X or Lady Dimitrescu. But continuing the game without that knowledge was an experience that more than made up for the lack of horror games I tried back in the day.

The third-person narrative-driven game was nothing exceptionally new for me, but the eerie dread of Silent Hill: Homecoming drew me closer than any previous game. Something about its bleak and dreary tone ignited a gradual shift from my usual set of reliable favorites into uncharted territory. No, I did not try out Uncharted at the time. But being able to withstand something I personally found to be terrifying built up the confidence to try out a little game called BioShock. The sense of investment I gave to Homecoming was doubled at the story of a man going inside a lighthouse and finding something that changes the foundation of his purpose forever. 

As my PS3 collection grew and I finally played through differing games like The Last of Us, the original God of War remastered for the newer generation, and Heavy Rain, my appreciation for Silent Hill: Homecoming never waned. I was slowly transitioning into a stage in my life where I garnered a new appreciation for horror games and the likes of the Outlast and Amnesia games, as well as arguably the most notorious horror game of the 2010s in P.T. called to me in ways that Homecoming simply couldn’t.

But I’ve never considered myself part of the crowd that actively dislikes or hates Homecoming despite its numerous flaws. For many Silent Hill fans, Homecoming was understandably underwhelming in comparison to how the series started out and this article isn’t even trying to convince those fans that it’s a secretly brilliant game that deserves a bigger following. Whether you hate or like this game is not something I’m trying to change here.

Homecoming fails to stand on its own as a memorable horror game thanks to the game’s scares feeling dated at a point where horror games had been coming into their own as feasible works of art. Yet the game managed to convert teenage me into the world of horror and narrative-driven games when I was still ill-equipped to handle horror games. A story filled to the brim with mostly forgettable characters hooked me nonetheless and I don’t quite know how many more iconic games I might have missed otherwise.

There’s an underlying beauty to this kind of thing happening and it’s something I don’t see talked about enough in the world of entertainment. Focusing on horror, it’s hard to predict how everybody started and how their first experiences with horror shaped the way they look at the genre now. My start was mostly slasher flicks as a kid, but that never transferred over into video games. Games were my safe haven and horror deserved no part in it in my eyes for the longest time.

But Silent Hill: Homecoming, an installment to a stalled franchise that was quickly lost to time as other horror games made a bigger impact, snuck its way into my safe haven and it has come to redefine what my personal safe haven of video games means to me. Of course video games are a source of comfort, but every so often comes a game that looks like everything you may not want in your ideal video game. A game that you’re not used to playing and you’re not sure how you’ll react.

But safe havens can mean more than simply an echo chamber of everything you like. A safe haven can allow people to consume art of a greater variety than they might be accustomed to. But it’s all with the purpose of expansion. Trying something new is not a guarantee that you’ll take to it right away. Instead, venturing into unknown territory can adjust you to take bigger risks with video games in the future, blazing a trail that can lead you to discover a game or piece of art that you wouldn’t have given a chance otherwise. It can all start with the most mediocre game imaginable.

Everybody’s story on horror games is different. Mine just starts with a so-so Silent Hill entry.

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