Home is where the heart attack is
If there’s one thing I love, it’s survival horror games. Ever since the creepy Nurse Edna first scared the living daylights out of me in Maniac Mansion as a kid, I’ve been a glutton for punishment when it comes to getting my digital horror fix. And while I’ve always enjoyed the eerie offerings from Western studios, such as the Lovecraftian nightmare Alone in the Dark and, more recently, Bloober Team’s terrifying psychological horror, Layers of Fear, I have to admit there’s something about Asian horror that really makes my hair stand on edge.
From the haunting 8-bit frescoes featured in Capcom’s pioneering horror RPG Sweet Home (not to be confused with the game we’re reviewing today) on the Famicom to the ominous shrines and creaking manors showcased in games like Siren and Fatal Frame, something about them has always stuck with me. Maybe it’s the focus foreign mysticism and folklore that grabs me. Or maybe their monster designs are just unrivaled. Either way, they’re damn spooky. Home Sweet Home is the latest chiller to make its way from the Far East. Developed by Bangkok-based visual effects studio YGGDRAZIL Group, it’s a horror game steeped in Thai occultism and mythology. And despite some rough edges, it does a solid job of delivering some genuine scares over the course of its 5-hour adventure.
Ghouls’ Night Out
Home Sweet Home puts players in control of Tim. After his wife Jane goes missing, Tim finds himself transported to a strange and unfamiliar place. So, as any good husband would do, he ventures into this alien hellscape to find and rescue his missing love.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Just moments after stepping foot into a dilapidated tenement, you’ll come face to face with an eerie, boxcutter-wielding spirit who’d like nothing more than to slash you to ribbons. To make matters worse, the world around you frequently shifts and changes – not unlike the aforementioned Layers of Fear – which makes exploring the claustrophobic corridors and crumbling apartments all the more unsettling.
This constant feeling of dread and uncertainty is perhaps Home Sweet Home‘s greatest strength. One minute you could be scouring a haunted police station as a chittering spirit stalks you from the shadows. The next thing you know you could find yourself in a secluded manor in the countryside as a giant “Preta” – a restless, starving spirit the size of a giant palm tree – looms above just waiting to strike with his massive mitts. And, as you’re armed with little more than a flashlight and your wits for most of the game, you’ll often have to rely on stealth to stay alive. That being said, lockers or giant dragon vases make excellent hiding spots when being hounded by your stab-happy pursuer.
When everything goes right, it’s some pretty unsettling stuff for sure. However, there are more than a few nagging issues that keep Home Sweet Home from becoming a macabre masterpiece.
A tormented Thai-breaker
Home Sweet Home makes a strong first impression. The first few times you come face to face with the ghoulish main antagonist can be genuinely scary. It’s just a shame that this sense of terror quickly fades when you realize just how predictable she is. Every encounter essentially plays out the same as you simply hide in the nearest pot or locker and wait for her to wander by so you can get to your next objective. Occasionally you’ll come across demons who essentially act as supernatural alarm systems and will alert her to your presence. However, they’re easily avoided, either by waiting for them to look away or by burning some conveniently-placed incense to lure them away from their position. This sense of predictability is at stark odds with the game’s often surreal, shifting world.
Simply put, more creatures to contend with or more interesting AI routines for its lethal leading lady would have gone a long way towards making the game a more compelling experience.
Another monster lurking under Home Sweet Home‘s bed is its repetitive stage designs. While each area features a small handful of memorable rooms, they’re all tied together with bland, nearly identical corridors that quickly lose their luster. This problem is compounded by the fact some rooms look much more detailed than others. For example, the police station (pictured above) features excellent lighting and reflection effects on the floor that not only look great, they also really enhance that atmosphere. However, they’re cobbled together with lifeless corridors that look very dated in comparison – almost as if they were lifted from another game altogether.
Items are also very easy to overlook thanks to the game’s rather finicky UI. It can be incredibly difficult to highlight the items you can interact with unless your camera is in just the right position. This caused me to miss a key I needed to progress that was stuck in a doorknob at the very beginning of an area, leaving me to fumble around for well over an hour as I attempted to solve a puzzle on the other side of the stage without knowing I was missing a vital piece of the puzzle. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my fair share of exploration and puzzle-solving as much as the next guy. But this just came across as a byproduct of shoddy design.
Lastly, the most infuriating issue I encountered was a game-breaking glitch with just ten minutes left of the main story where my character simply sat down in a cutscene and refused to move. This forced me to replay the game’s longest and most challenging sequence all over again in order to progress to the finale. Talk about a buzzkill.
The PlayStation 4 version of Home Sweet Home offers full PSVR support. And, as you’d expect, the game is all the better for it. Huddling in a locker as the spooky specter is peering in, seemingly inches from your face is genuinely terrifying. Likewise, the titanic Preta is much more imposing when viewed through Sony’s headset as you can really get a sense of his massive scale. This added sense of immersion VR provides can’t be stressed enough. After all, few genres benefit from the medium quite the way horror games do. And trust me, Home Sweet Home is no exception to this rule.
If you decide to play through Home Sweet Home in VR (and you should), I have to recommend playing with a decent set of cans to further enhance the experience. The game features some masterful sound direction that will really put you on edge with a nice sound setup. Whether it’s the sound of doors slamming behind you or the clicking gurgle that bubbles up from the rotting throat of the game’s big bad, YGGDRAZIL has done a spectacular job of crafting one seriously spooky sounding game.
Make no mistake, Home Sweet Home has its share of issues. However, despite its shortcomings, it still manages to deliver a chilling adventure that’s worth experiencing at least once – especially if you’re a PSVR owner. Each of the six chapters features a handful of good scares to get your heart racing. And while the story may mostly be delivered via a slow drip of notes and radio broadcasts, I really enjoyed the game’s unique focus on Thai folklore and mysticism, which we’ve seldom seen explored in games until now.
With a little more polish and refinement, Home Sweet Home could have been a Halloween hit. Still, while it may be a bit rough around the edges, those looking for some fresh frights infused with a dash of eastern flavor may find there’s no place like home.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Publisher: Mastiff; Developer: YGGDRAZIL Group; Players: 1 ; Released: October 16, 2018; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 codes given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.