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Having just played through the first episode of Alan Wake (herein AW) on the Xbox 360, and comparing it to the first four (or so) hours of Silent Hill: Homecoming (herein SH:H), it is really starting to hit me that Silent Hill as a franchise is clinging on to its past at the expense of growing as a game series.  Alan Wake, I believe, has been accused of being the type of game that is all style and no substance, but first impressions are certainly good.  (The beginning of the second episode, in particular, reminds me of Indigo Prophecy in the way it jumps times/locations.) Please be aware all comparisons are very much "first impression" based, and that I have not yet played Silent Hill: Downpour.

The combat is SH:H is deliberately difficult, a throwback to the first three entries in the Silent Hill series.  You are given a range of melee weapons and are tasked with dodge moves, and have to face powerful foes that really tear you apart if you aren't quick with manoeuvres.  The combat in AW, however, is quicker, and mainly ranged with guns.  The flashlight mechanic, however, gives it a slight subtlety and really forces you to focus on where your enemies are at any given time, as multiple threats can quickly overwhelm you.  This is different to the focus in SH:H because difficulty in combat comes from deliberate contrived actions you have to perform rather than the nature of how enemies attack - essentially, one is player friendly and fluid, one is harder for the player and is very staccato.  You feel as though you progress and become proficient in dealing with different types and sets of enemies in AW, but SH:H punishes and expects you to get better through punishing repetition.

The narrative in AW, whilst very generic in both content and delivery (horror, darkness, possession/ghost-like entities attacking you), is satisfied with being just that.  It is a slick and professional looking horror film turned video game.  By the time SH:H had been released, the story was simply contriving reasons to send yet another character back into the same location.  Of course, this is not a problem since the location of Silent Hill was what made the game important and famous.  But the connections between characters and the town become less tangible as the series goes on: the locations created for Alex Shepherd to visit are sometimes winding and occasionally grandiose, but it never really felt as though I was in Silent Hill proper.  Again, though, this may be because I simply did not progress far enough into the story to see the town and how Alex was meant to chart his course there.  Having just checked a FAQ from http://www.gamefaqs.com it seems I made it approximately halfway through the game.  But unless the plot really develops brilliantly in the latter half of the game, then it seems a waste of a great location.  Why keep the player waiting to visit what is the title of the series? Suspense? I don't think this argument holds water.

[Continued from 10/3/13]

Having completed Alan Wake since writing this blog post, my opinion still stands.  I say again, that Alan Wake is not innovative and trail blazing, and as time passes, my initial warm feelings to the game start to cool.  But Alan Wake is good enough in doing what it sets out to do, which is provide a decent horror experience and a fairly competent narrative, hung together with a decent combat mechanic that rewards the player with steady progress, not punishing unfairness.

What I also know is that the feeling behind SH:H is all wrong: there is a mismatch between Alex Shepherd from SH:H and the location of Silent Hill, whereas Alan Wake fits a little more neatly into his setting.  Silent Hill: Homecoming tries too hard to stick to precisely the same formula that made the earlier games successful as opposed to breaking genuinely new ground, which is what AW seems to try to do.  Or at least deliver something generic in books and film as a video game, which is something of a step forward for the horror genre.

Fin.  For now.

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