With All Hollows’ Eve upon us, this is the time of year to brush off the nerves and settle into some horrifying fun. Thai developer Yggdrazil Group is here to heighten our fears with their 2017 survival-horror, Home Sweet Home. With the original release launching in Thailand (and Steam), North American horror fans can finally delve into this sweet title both digitally and physically on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PSVR. We play in first-person as our protagonist, Tim, who wakes up in an unfamiliar place. Searching the area, it appears that we’re stuck in an abandoned high-school of sorts. Immediately, the game creates a solid atmosphere to heighten the horror elements. We don’t have to walk far into the game for the action and mystery to begin. Our protagonist, Tim, is the average everyman searching for his wife. Little is known about her disappearance, yet throughout clues and entries from her diary are found that unravel the story. Shadowy figures have been following her and she kept having dreams, or visions, about certain events. As we search further, we learn these creepy coincidences could have something to do with our wife’s disappearance. Home Sweet Home does well in creating intrigue and atmospheric horror, yet does have some missteps in its gameplay that hinder its quality.
It’s unclear why Jane ran away, but as we wander the halls of the abandoned building we catch glimpses of Jane with the possibility of catching up to her. From what we gather, it appears that Jane has been feeling unwell for some time and has absconded on her own. Following Jane through these spaces means having to navigate obstacles, puzzles and supernatural enemies. Immediately the game introduces us to our main antagonist, whom I have dubbed “Box Cutter Girl.” She’s a disgruntled spirit who chases us down through the hallways to stab us with her box cutter. We’re able to avoid her and even hide in lockers until the coast is clear. Her character design adds to the title and heightens the horror elements. We’re able to hear Box Cutter Girl before we see her, as she’ll click her cutter to signal her presence. Hiding in lockers save us, but she’ll still walk by to check, all the while proclaiming in her raspy ghost voice, “I miss you so much.” It becomes a frighteningly fun game of hide and seek as she searches for players. She won’t be the only enemy encountered, as there are various spirits taken from Thai mythology who haunt the halls. These traditional Thai elements are refreshing in the title and add to its uniqueness. In some cases, we must find offerings to appease these spirits so that they will let us pass to the next area.
There may be times where we aren’t in immediate danger, yet we need to figure out puzzles in order to move on. There are a myriad of puzzles, some may need us to combine items we find in the environment. There might be others that require information to bypass the area. While many of the puzzles are interesting and intuitive, there are a few that truly make no sense. It becomes a frustrating trial and error to solve them and seriously detracts from the flow of the game. By having such a stall in the gameplay, the elements of fear and urgency that have been building up are lost. It’s not scary anymore when I have to take twenty minutes to try and open a safe because the combination I found is coded and upside down. Puzzles can be fun, and even a necessary component in survival horror, but frustrating puzzles take players out of the immersion and can ruin gameplay.
Regardless of frustrating puzzles, gameplay is still fun and frantic. We have the ability to run away and hide from enemies and even interact with the environment. Exploring each area yields clues for traversing gameplay and even collectibles. Attempting to find every collectible is a task for the brave. Home Sweet Home excels in creating an atmosphere worthy of the horror genre. Dimly lit hallways of an abandoned Thai school provide the backdrop, while traditional Thai music is used to create a horror soundtrack. Music within the game provides hints for threats that might appear and even adds to the atmosphere. We might stumble upon a radio with chilling chanting being broadcast in Thai and even news alerts that give more background to the game. And while most of the game takes place in this abandoned school, we often find ourselves traveling back and forth between the school and Tim’s home. It’s not apparent how this happens, but we could go into a crawlspace and end up in Tim’s closet. The home becomes a vehicle for story elements, yet this back and forth is confusing and doesn’t provide much insight into what is happening. This switch-up in scenery is disjointed and is another element that detracts from the overall gameplay. Yet, despite this, the title has unique components which create personality and depth.
While visuals and sound are solid and provide heavy atmosphere for horror, Home Sweet Home doesn’t utilize these elements at the forefront and instead overly relies on jump scares. While jump scares have their place in the horror genre, too many of them become repetitive and lazy. It’s a cheap tactic that inevitably weakens games if used too much. It becomes an element that’s expected and doesn’t pay off in the long run. When I open a door and a spirit is behind it to scare me, my pulse and heart rate are only elevated for a few moments. Jump scares are startling, not scary. There is a difference between being able to surprise someone and creating elements of lasting fear. Home Sweet Home does have these moments, like when Box Cutter Girl is clicking somewhere in the vicinity, but we can’t see her. Having to look over our shoulder constantly creates the lasting impression of fear. It’s a shame that the title feels the need to overuse the jump scare tactic since it does have the ability to stand on its own.
Home Sweet Home provides a memorable experience for survival horror between its atmosphere and personality, yet falters greatly in story. While this is the first in a series of games, meaning that more story will be revealed, what we do know is disjointed. We’re not sure how Tim got to where he is and we don’t know exactly why Jane is haunted by spirits. Even the ending of this chapter doesn’t make much sense. Unfortunately, Home Sweet Home suffers from a classic horror genre issue: forgoing story to focus on scares. It’s possible to have both and there are titles that do it well. A lack of concrete story adds to the frustration and just leaves the player wondering, “why?” Despite this major flaw, if players can overlook the lack of plot, Home Sweet Home offers more entertainment value in its gameplay.
Survival horror Home Sweet Home offers a unique installment to the genre with its use of traditional Thai myths and practices. The title excels at providing a creepy, necessary atmosphere for gameplay while various puzzles offer a challenging experience. Many of the puzzles are intuitive and entertaining, yet a few standout as overly complex and mar the flow. A major lack of story creates a disjointed experience, despite the numerous hints and collectible information found throughout. Home Sweet Home does an excellent job of creating a solid foundation for fear, yet overly relies on cheap jump scares to carry the horror. Despite its flaws, however, the game utilizes its gameplay strengths to create a fun survival horror game with unique Thai personality. Home Sweet Home is a worthy addition to any horror fan’s playlist and leaves us asking for more.