Home Sweet Home Review
Release Date: September 27th, 2017 (Steam), October 16th, 2018 (PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Yggdrazil Group
Platform: PC (Steam), PS4 (Reviewed)
Price: $16.99 (Steam), $29.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
Horror games have been delivered in a variety of ways, and the great thing about the genre is that it's surprisingly flexible and doesn't always have to be about blood and gore or cheap, predictable jump scares accompanied by crescendos and dissonance. Looking back at what we consider classics now, the biggest thing that's always made them memorable is the atmosphere that was accompanied by a profound narrative that made us ponder for days afterwards, and still make us talk about them today. Games such as Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Eternal Darkness, Haunting Grounds, Rule of Rose, and so much more did what they could with the technology they had back then to convey true fear by manipulating your own mind and play tricks on you psychologically rather than present you with an image or action upfront to scare with. Lots of games, big and small, are inspired by these and continue to push the envelope, but they continue the trend of focusing on atmosphere, which is why they work so well. Jump scares have become more of an excuse to be scared and used as a way to elicit a feeling of a horror theme park, where you may feel uneasy during the ride, but afterwards you're all smiles saying "that was fun." This is not what I want from my Horror games. I want something that lingers long after it's been turned off, and something that makes you think and explore what's possible within its lore and the medium. Much like how when Silent Hill 4: The Room came out and I had played it, I actually had to get rid of it shortly after because even just having the box in my room scared me (seriously). What Home Sweet Home does within the genre is almost a blend of what works and doesn't work within the genre - a mix of playing it safe, trying out new ideas, and executions in some areas that may or may not have worked out. Home Sweet Home is unique in what it tries to do and the inspiration behind its Thai folklore helps, but in a lot of cases it finds itself bordering a forgetful experience that starts off strong but quickly becomes a frustrating and unrewarding mess.
Home Sweet Home starts off with what seems like a dream sequence. Your character is looking for their significant other in a multitude of locations, which seem perfectly normal at first, but then become more twisted the further in you get as well as more demonic and terrifying. It doesn't take long before you're greeted by the main spirit that will be haunting you for the bulk of the game, as she chases you down hallways, corridors, buildings, and more. You realize things go wrong very quickly the moment she's warping through blood splattered walls as she looks at you with skin that's indicative of no blood flow, and soulless eyes. If not that, I'm sure the massive knife she's holding will put things into perspective as she runs at you in dirty clothes. With a lack of puzzles - and where there are any they're fairly easy - the game very much feels like a game of hide and go seek, and while that's fine to a degree, the stealth elements end up becoming rather frustrating as the level design almost fights against you, with the killer's movement being that of a Cheetah to your guinea pig.
No matter where you hide, chances are you'd get caught. All it takes is one look and from there on out it's a pointless chase before the inevitable happens. Sometimes, if you're lucky enough, you can actually get away from her, but most of the time the fate is the same and you're better off just staying still to get it over with so you can restart at the last checkpoint. It's a shame because being chased in horror games isn't necessarily a bad thing and can add a huge amount of tension. Games like Alien: Isolation, Remothered: Tormented Fathers, The Evil Within, and classics like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis did this really well, and the feeling of entrapment lingered throughout their games, but Home Sweet Home doesn't try to hide the girl from you. You very much see her right away whenever she's supposed to be in a certain location to notify the player that "hey, be on the lookout for her" as if it's never meant to be a chase to begin with, but rather a glorified alarm that essentially means "try again." The horror experience started to become very dull very quickly, and I stopped feeling scared and more upset with the whole situation. I wouldn't be afraid of the girl anymore and instead would talk a lot of garbage as if I was right there with her, inviting her to catch these hands. There's this incessant door slamming that happens throughout Home Sweet Home as well, and while it got me the first couple of times, the same audio file being used time and time and time again at random, but frequent moments became annoying. "There's another one" I would find myself saying after the previous door slam less than 60 seconds ago. Someone somewhere in this dream-like sequence either had some clear animosity against doors, or simply had trouble getting one shut. I went to the main menu to check for microtransactions to replace doors with beaded curtains, but that was a missing feature.
Performance-wise, Home Sweet Home holds up well as it's not a particularly demanding game, but there are some hiccups from time to time, as well as obnoxiously long loading times that pull you away from the immersion. Each chapter has a different setting that you must navigate through, and it's clear that some chapters suffer more than others. On a PS4 Pro, I found this rather unfortunate as a lot of the textures are flat and animations are barebones. Environments don't have the best lighting, and looking outside of windows you can clearly see that every building you're in is floating in mid-air instead of being further detailed with the outdoors. This may have been deliberate since it's almost a dream-like, Nightmare on Elm Street-esque experience, but it makes the overall presentation seem poor. Going through menus don't do you much good either, with a simple 'Continue' and 'Main Menu' option available when you're paused mid-game with no way to tweak settings to your liking. There was one instance at the very end where I was being chased (surprise), but it was a scripted event in which the girl gets progressively closer to you and as you're running furniture begins to fly against the walls and any obstruction in her way slides to the side, but she managed to get stuck at the door you start that final sequence in and I found myself stuck unable to move forward since I needed her to approach me to move the last pieces of furniture in the building to progress. With no option to restart, I had to go all the way back to the main menu (upwards of a thirty second wait), hit continue on the main menu, wait another thirty seconds, and have to do that sequence not only a second time but a third time as well since she had gotten stuck at the door again. Believe me when I say I tried to go back and see if I could open the door for her to invite her in, but that didn't work. Credit where credit is due, however, somehow the game manages to make you feel somewhat bad for the girl at the end of the game. Not to say it's justified that she's doing what she's doing, but there's a bit of humanity left within her that you see that's really depressing.
The true ending is bitter sweet, because it's my favorite part but also immensely frustrating that it came down to doing what it did. Without spoiling, you see a very unique perspective on everything that's going on, and the tension, atmosphere, environment, and aura the entire thing gives you felt so different from the rest of the game. The frustrating part is that, beating it after 4 hours, the game leads up to this climactic moment only to leave you with a black screen that says "Part 2 Coming Soon." This was incredibly upsetting, but I guess me being upset with that fact shows that I was more invested than I felt I was, despite the qualms and issues. I was looking forward to more by the end of each chapter for some reason, and I think it's because of the mystery and folklore behind it that kept me guessing and wanting to find answers for. Another reason why I was so angry, however, was because this game had been on Steam Early Access for a long time, where it'd also been sitting in my wishlist since the beginning of 2017 (with a demo having been released in Q4 2016), and now having just come out to consoles a short while ago, all this waiting had still left an incomplete product.
At the end of the day, Home Sweet Home is a frustrating trip that certainly has its moments, but ultimately holds itself back due to bugs, unintuitive controls, and repetitive tactics. The inspiration behind the Thai-folklore is actually really great, but it's unfortunate that audio issues, poor voice acting, and borderline comedic puzzle designs take away from the overall experience. It's a game that has potential, and I think Horror fans will still find stuff here to enjoy, but with a sequel on the way, here’s hoping to a much more polished experience that learns from its mistakes, as the game has a great foundation for a memorable and outstanding Horror title, but execution is the missed mark this time around.
Fair puzzles that never feel easy nor overwhelming, though being chased 80% of the time can be frustrating.
The Thai folklore really helps with environmental storytelling.
Too much door slamming
Controls are a little wonky despite its straightforward nature
Level designs are good but work against the player
A big thank you to Yggdrazil Group for sending us a copy of the game for review