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Home Sweet Home

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Mastiff
Developer: YGGDRAZIL Group
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2018


PS4 Review - 'Home Sweet Home'

by Cody Medellin on April 16, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Home Sweet Home is a first-person horror adventure game based on Thai myths and beliefs.

Buy Home Sweet Home

Lately, almost all indie horror games have stuck to a rigid formula. The game remains in a first-person point of view at all times. You put your protagonist in the creepiest of places, with an emphasis on a dark and run-down location. There should be at least one stalker coming for you, and no matter what, you have no way to defend yourself. The formula worked early on in terms of getting people to watch others play it on streams, freaking out at every little jump-scare, but the whole thing seems to have run its course, since you know what to expect from any new indie horror titles. Home Sweet Home is no different, and while it changes things up here and there, it doesn't bring anything too new to the table.

The game doesn't start with much explanation. When you begin, you hear the voice of someone who is presumably your wife trying to wake you up. When you do wake up, you find that you aren't in your house but a run-down bedroom instead. You also discover that your wife isn't there at all. You open the door to find that it is loosely barricaded with furniture and crawling underneath it you discover a flashlight and nothing else. With no other idea what's going on, you roam the building in search for both your wife and a way out.

The good news here is that we have a horror game based on Thai horror myths and beliefs. Most games dealing with Asian horror mythology deal exclusively with Japan and, more recently, China and Taiwan so it is refreshing to see other East Asian countries and their horror belief system now presented to a wider audience. The bad news is that the game only exposes you to the myths but doesn't bother to explain them. Outside of the main game path there are collectibles that try to flesh out the world but by the end of it you have no deeper understanding of the creatures you encounter and just why they're so terrifying to the people of Thailand.

As alluded to earlier, the core gameplay mechanics should be instantly familiar to those that have played any indie horror game in the last few years. You may have a flashlight in your possession but the only thing you can do with it are turn it on and off. You have no weapons you can find nor do you have any real means of defending yourself so all you can do is run when you encounter a threat. You can also hide in various pieces of furniture in order to lose anyone on your trail. Once the coast is clear, your main tasks are to simply explore the environment and solve the various puzzles there that block your progression.

Though the environment initially seems familiar, it does start to become rather peculiar as you progress. An apartment complex changes to a school then to a police station and a home all through the magic of seemingly interconnected doorways. You'll find furniture rearrange itself in front of your eyes and backtracking becomes a must as new passageways only appear once you run into a dead end and decide to go back to where you came from. The lack of static layouts adds to the game's tension and the lack of familiar writing also help with that feeling.

Home Sweet Home features several monsters that appear out of nowhere to startle you, but aside from making noise, they don't seem to do much else. There's a giant skeletal zombie you encounter from time to time, but as long as you play things like a stealth game and stay away from his laser-red gaze, you'll be fine. The real danger comes from a teenage girl dressed in school clothes. With a cut-up face and a bloodcurdling scream, she ends up surprising you at every turn and chasing you in hopes of slicing you up with her boxcutter. While you get a few instances to block her attack and make her stumble, your hiding mechanic is the only way to survive the encounter, and with any luck, she'll move on to another area.

Aside from the girl's sudden appearances, the audio does an excellent job of heightening the horror. Barely any music is playing, so you'll only hear the sound effects, and their mere presence is unnerving. Footsteps, moving furniture, and creaking doors are bad enough, but the girl's screams and blood raining from the ceiling are more effective than expected. This especially rings true for the sound of the boxcutter that the girl is holding, as it instantly alerts you to her presence even if you can't see her. The only part of this package that falters are the voices, which don't seem to present any real emotion in their performances. With the game taking place in Thailand, it's disappointing that the developers decided to not have the characters speak Thai.

While everything about Home Sweet Home sounds like a formula for something frightening, there are some issues that can't be ignored. For starters, the puzzles you encounter range wildly from simple to obtuse. Most of the puzzles are simple to figure out, as everything you need to solve them is in one room, but others rely solely on trial and error. For example, the solution to the safe puzzle is so convoluted that there's no way to figure it out, since there are no helpful hints within the game. The environments have plenty of things present, but only a few are interactive, and their hotspots are overly sensitive. The first encounter with the teenage girl is a good example of this, as you're given no hints about what to do, and when you realize what needs to be done, you need to approach the door to the hiding spot just right to avoid narrowly getting caught. The sensitivity is frustrating enough that you'll encounter a few deaths because you didn't find the sweet spot in time, not because you couldn't react quickly enough.

The teenage schoolgirl chasing you also seems to come with some unintentional technical issues. While the sounds from other creatures are meant to call the girl over to your location, there are times when she'll warp to your location without warning. There are some instances where she's easy to sneak past because she keeps running into walls and ignoring your presence, and there are times when she won't move from an area, forcing you to come out of hiding to get killed to retry and hope she moves away. Her appearances are so constant that her presence loses any scare factor and becomes more of an annoyance in the back half of the game. You'll notice that her presence often occurs when the auto-save icon appears, diminishing the scare factor tremendously once you're wise to this.

The worst thing about Home Sweet Home is that is has no real ending. Without spoiling anything, you'll come face to face with a creature and fall, since you no longer have any control in this scene. You get dragged away only for the screen to fade to black and inform you that a second episode is coming. With no real warning about this in the PS storefront, it feels like a bait-and-switch, especially since there's no word on when the second episode is coming. It would've been nice if this notice were present, so people aren't coming into the game expecting a resolution by the end.

Though the game is listed as being a VR title, you're better off playing this as a traditional TV experience. On the one hand, the title seems to have taken great care to accommodate the headset. The tutorial interfaces wrap around as floating text in the environment, which looks much better in VR than on a regular TV. The visuals may be grittier on the headset, but the depth provided by the technology and the forced headphone use amplifies the scares. While this all sounds good, it's the movement that brings down everything, as you have a staggered turning system in place. It does well to mitigate the motion sickness one might get from VR, but the rest of the game isn't tuned for that, so getting caught and killed is much more common in VR than it is with a more traditional setup. Thus, if you want to have an easier time with the game, leave VR out of the equation.

While the audio does a great job of setting up the atmosphere, the graphics are merely serviceable. The locales look decent, but you can easily spot which textures and structures have been reused for the sake of the budget. The character models look great from a distance, but when you get close, you'll notice that the details you'd expect are missing or of a lower-than-expected quality. At least the frame rate is good enough, but that is also a result of lower-quality lighting and shadow effects.

Home Sweet Home is a decent horror title. It mostly relies on jump scares, but the brilliant use of sound builds up suspense where needed. The puzzles are decent, but some can be too obtuse for many to solve on their own, and the breakdown of AI at times means that some of your escapes are due to dumb luck. The explanation of Thai mythology would've been nice, and the VR use should've been better, but the fact that this isn't labeled as an episodic game will annoy players the most. Home Sweet Home is worth checking out — but only if you aren't already tired of the genre.

Score: 6.5/10

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