Booting up Home Sweet Home and playing for the first time left a really bad taste in my mouth. The visuals were dated, the gameplay was ripped straight out of Outlast, and the trial-and-error gameplay has no place in gaming culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with a difficult game. Dark Souls for example is heavy on trial-and-error mechanics, but it feels more like a learning experience in that regard.
Home Sweet Home follows Tim, a man whose wife is missing, and he spent a long night drinking. Waking up disoriented, he finds himself in an unfamiliar location trying to find his wife. Quickly, Tim becomes hunted by spirits based on Thai mythology. While I often enjoy titles with long cutscenes and exposition, Home Sweet Home breaks those norms. Instead of having the story fed to players, hidden notes and journal entries spell out a majority of the narrative. It’s an interesting way to get players to uncover the intricacies and lore of the story, and the main thing that Home Sweet Home has going for it.
While Dark Souls forces players to learn, Home Sweet Home, on the other hand, makes me feel like I’m ticking boxes. Right from the outset, there is very little in the way of direction or instructions. Again, this is something I’m fine with. I’ve always felt that learning by doing is the best way to learn, but the presentation from Yggdrazil Group feels so disconnected from the player. My first encounter with a spirit in Home Sweet Home should have been a good learning experience for me. Instead, I had to die over and over again just figuring out what I am able to do. Can I shut a door behind me and dash through to another room? No, I have to shut the door, find a hiding spot, hope the spirit didn’t hear me and just wait patiently. Some sort of gameplay context would have been nice, especially with above average loading times.
Running through a checklist of places to hide or go makes the trail-and-error gameplay of Home Sweet Home rather uninteresting, but leads to some really intense moments from other elements. Anyone who has played Outlast knows what to expect, running and hiding from enemies and sneaking past threats. Home Sweet Home doesn’t waver from this formula throughout, but adds in some environmental puzzles. A majority of the puzzles here are basically “find item x” to progress, and though the game is very linear, provide some needed extrapolation to each area. Being hunted through these areas is very tense, and the stealth gameplay is where Home Sweet Home is at its best.
Although relying far too often on jump scares, Home Sweet Home does an admirable job of creating a haunting atmosphere. With enemies that can transport between rooms, and the constant click click click of a box cutter extending and retracting, there should have been more of a sense of dread created instead of relying on horror tropes. That being said, the sound design is almost better at creating that dreading atmosphere than the actual gameplay. Far too often I found myself crouch walking out of a room, just to hear that familiar box cutter noise, and scramble back to my hiding place. The sounds in Home Sweet Home are effective, and more well placed than the jump scares.
Where Home Sweet Home succeeds in sound design and world building, it almost effectively destroys itself with by the numbers environments and visuals. The base version of Home Sweet Home looks like a dulled down VR title. Textures are grainy and bland, and the different areas Tim explores become very similar after a couple of hours. There are a few cases where this isn’t the case, but as an overall package, it feels dialed in. This could have easily been an early Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 title if it hadn’t been for the additional VR mode included. Due to the loss of fidelity that occurs when switching from a good TV to a PSVR headset, I’d have a hard time recommending this mode.
At the $29.99 price point, I’m having a hard time recommending Home Sweet Home. It does some things right, while failing at others. While it does leave a really bad first impression, sticking around for the Thai mythology and world building actually does help the gameplay. While it may sound like I didn’t enjoy very much of this horror title, the excellent sound design does make this outing from Yggdrazil Group worth playing, if you can pick it up for a little cheaper during a sale. Otherwise, stick with one of the other first person stealth horror titles from the last few years. The lack of introduction to any of the mechanics really works against it, but I’ll be damned if accidentally turning on a radio and having to immediately run and hide wasn’t one of the most tense gameplay moments I’ve had since Resident Evil 7.