There was that sound again. An unceasing click-click-click could be heard nearby, indicating that the malevolent apparition has once again managed to stumble into my general vicinity. Looking around, she wasn’t in sight so I moved on. Slowly. The grimy walls of the dormitory feel like they’re getting closer. It almost seems like something viscous and old is dripping on my shoulder. The clicking is getting louder, the almost rhythmic beat of my avoided demise. The spirit has a retractable box cutter and has developed a nervous habit of playing with the blade as she searches for a victim to use it on. As a round a corner, the music swells. I’ve stumbled into her line of vision. Turning, I sprint for a hiding place. Veering into a bathroom, I quickly find an a locker and ensconce myself within. The being isn’t far behind. Unsure if she saw the last minute hiding spot I chose, I hold me breath. Either, I will be cut to ribbons, or I will live a bit longer to figure out how I got here and how to get out. “Oh hi, scary ghost lady,” I intone in a cheerful, but terrible Tommy Wiseau imitation. “How’s your sex life?” Her response is nonverbal, but telling, as she doubles over and proceeds to vomit a pile of bloody nails that wouldn’t look out of place in a Skinny Puppy music video. “So…not great?”
This reaction and attempt at humor while playing Yggdrazil Group’s Home Sweet Home might seem like I was making light of their product. In a way, I was, but for a specific reason. When experiencing a situation of extreme tension such as I found myself feeling while demoing the PlayStation VR version of this horror title, I tend to react by attempt to be humorous. It’s probably why I was deemed too weird in high school to bully and also why I don’t get invited to many funerals. It’s kind of a win-win situation. For a game to actually provoke that kind of reaction from me, though, is extremely unusual. That, and the game asks players to be stealthy when trying to avoid the being, and I’ve never been good at the sneaky-sneak. Knowing this compounded the stress.
Part of what makes Home Sweet Home work is that it doesn’t rely on jump scare nonsense. Instead, the horror comes from an implacable sense of dread from the environment and situation. The player awakens in a dormitory that almost feels like reality, but one that has been neglected by humanity and whatever deity one chooses to believe. The building is obviously one of foreign nature to western players, and is loaded with cultural touchstones found on shelves and in rooms. Drawing heavy inspiration from Thai mythology, the metaphysical logic for why the incorporeal being is present and bloodthirsty makes sense, and the player will accidentally learn something about another culture, but the sheer alienness compounds the feeling of dread for the player while piecing together what is happening and why. This is a game that captures the Silent Hill approach to horror, and it’s richer for it.
It should be noted that this game is already out on PC, in VR and screen. The preview time we were given was for the console release, and it is coming along really well. The publisher admitted that the initial launch of the PC version was a tad bumpy, and they had to spend time ironing that out. It was resolved in rather quick order, and the lessons learned there are going into making sure that the console versions launch in the best state they can be. It’s working, as the framerate remained solid on PlayStation VR, and the direct controls (no teleportation here) did not even begin to evoke a feeling of motion sickness. It’s technologically sound. The interface itself is simple, allowing for easy actions and movement. There is no worrying about a complicated series of button combinations. The developer would rather you worry about not getting stabbed. Spoiler: you will get stabbed, as Home Sweet Home is interested in having consequences for failure to plan an escape if caught. The best way to play this title is to always know where the closest few hiding spots are. If the murderous ghost decides to emerge from a bloody spot on the wall, it’s good to have a bug out plan.
Despite the bumpy launch, Home Sweet Home found an audience on PC, and it’s easy to see why. This thing is terrifying without being cheap about it. Console fans are absolutely going to be in for a gooey treat when it releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year. The PlayStation 4 version will be $29.99 for the package of VR and non-VR versions. The publisher hasn’t yet settled on a price for the Xbox One version, though, as there is no way to include the VR version for the system. No matter the platform, though, this will be one worth exploring.