There is something within our most basic human nature that drives us home to lick our wounds, be it to mourn, pout, or simply regroup, we often find ourselves looking for safe spaces in times of need. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be the victim of a burglary or home invasion, you know all too well the feeling of being victimized in your own home, no matter how big or small the event is, you feel it. The horror of having someone or something in your home, the place you view as the safest space of all, is palpable. Once that space is violated, it leaves a sting for years to come; this is partially what has made the home invasion sub-genre so popular in the horror industry. But what happens when you can’t retreat to (or leave) your home? This is just one layer of the horror that Home Sweet Home has in store for you.
The narrative places you in the shoes of Tim, a grieving husband who is dealing with the unexplained disappearance of his wife. When we first meet him, he wakes up in a strange place far from his home. In order to survive the night, he’ll have to evade the strange forces that have placed him in his own personal version of Hell, picking up ominous notes and solving mild puzzles as he explores the various environments that are all interconnected to his house. The additional locales are no stranger to the genre, as many of them tie into the “safe space” idea: schools, police stations, and hospitals are all areas we deem as “safe” due to the security or mental pedestal we place them on, playing on basic human psychology.
The game takes full advantage of the Unity engine, resulting in the majority of the game looking picture perfect, with stunning textures and realistic lighting throughout that really put you into the game. A small oversight such as the complete lack of a reflection breaks immersion here and there, and while this is common for the engine, the addition of these small details could have elevated the title into true greatness. The one area the game fails to impress visually is where it really counts: the enemies.
If you’re a fan of older or low budget horror movies, you’ll know the drill – showing as little as possible of the evil forces that seek to do our protagonist harm. Failing to properly hide low budget effects with laughably bad animations or unimpressive designs will result in drawing back on the horror, leaving the viewers laughing or worse, disengaging with the medium. With the exception of one of the reoccurring enemies that will stalk you relentlessly throughout most of the game and provide a few of the jump scares, this is the case with Home Sweet Home. The largest enemy you face will come out of nowhere during multiple scripting segments, leaving destruction and sheer terror in its wake until fully revealed, only to look like the end boss from one of the early Devil May Cry games from a few generations past.
Your opinion of the terrors that Tim faces off against will likely hinge on how you feel about Asian style horror, as it’s not for everyone. I’ve found most of the Asian horror films (or their Western remakes) to be a bit dull, due to their dependence on wide eyed, stringy haired ghosts and flashes of strange imagery. This game is no different, with the primary antagonist fitting this description to a T, chasing you through numerous segments in the vein of Outlast, requiring you to run for your life or hide. Early into the game, the constant, slow clicking sound of her opening and closing her utility knife was enough to send chills down my spine, stopping me dead in my tracks to look for the crazed women or make a mental note of where I could hide. Much like the previously mentioned Outlast, these chases are frantic, stressful events that will wear on the player. I was left more frustrated than scared by the time the credits rolled.
The horrors are not limited to chases, with ambient sounds coming and going frequently, and distant voices or footsteps just around the corner to keep your on your toes. Jump scares are frequent enough to keep you on edge but rarely become overused, resulting in the cheap tactics to be more effective in this outing than most. There are plenty of subtle changes to the environment that you’ll notice if you take your time, such as a picture frame that never stays up, despite how many times you interact with it. Even during the slower opening segments, I never felt like I was truly alone, constantly checking behind me for someone or something creeping up from behind.
The gameplay is fairly limited, as this is yet another walking sim with deeply rooted horror elements that are sure to make you jump out of your skin at least a few times, with puzzles in place to break up the pace. Most of these will involve searching small areas for specific items to be used in a set order to progress, often while being stalked by the previously mentioned knife bearing girl. While the solutions themselves are not overly difficult, the execution is where the true challenge awaits, since the AI changes from dumb as a sack of hammers to superhuman at the blink of an eye. Making matters worse, some in game assets will allow the meandering being to get stuck, just outside of where you need to go, requiring you to become visible only to lead her away and hopefully make it back without being killed. In addition to the puzzles, there are a fair amount of collectibles to be found, which encourages replays as well as exploration. With the bulk of the collectibles driving the narrative forward or offering hints into the solution of the puzzles, I would recommend seeking these out on your first run, although a few of the notes do provide more info than they should, often alluding to the ending far before the curtains close.
Home Sweet Home is a slightly flawed yet rewarding horror experience that marks yet another win for the genre, making it the first great entry for the genre this Halloween season. I would strongly recommend turning off the lights in a quiet room and buckle in for the few hours of sheer terror this provides.
9 out of 10
- Immersive Visuals and Sound Effects
- A Number of Solid Scares
- Deep Narrative
- Some AI Issues
- A Few Mediocre Enemies
Home Sweet Home was developed by Yggdrazil Group and published by Mastiff. It was released on PC in 2017, as well as PS4 and X1 October 16th, 2018. The game was provided to us for review on X1. If you’d like to see more of Home Sweet Home, check out the official site.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.