The titular homestead refers to the cosy abode belonging to Tim, the protagonist of this first-person horror adventure.
It initially seems the house is somewhere peaceful to spend downtime between chapters, looking for scattered pages of his missing girlfriend’s diary while taking in other forms of environmental storytelling. But after the first trip back home things become rather surreal, such as the bathroom becoming coated in blood and a portal to a demonic realm appearing in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry Potter never had to contend with this.
These portals are access points for the game’s four chapters, set in such locations as a ramshackle apartment block, a police station and a multi-floored school. That’s to say, Thai developer Yggdrazil Group – an offshoot of a movie production company – has managed to avoid the ultimate horror game cliché by not setting their game within an abandoned hospital or a deranged mental asylum.
In fact, by favouring Thai mythology, they’ve successfully managed to avoid using many of the well-worn tropes associated with the genre.
Many, but not all. The story begins with Tim trying to escape the clutches of a psychotic, knife-wielding, teenage schoolgirl – an entity most gamers will have encountered dozens of times before in games such as Fatal Frame and Siren. Her limbs are twisted and bend; her face is coated in blood. She can be observed sobbing uncontrollably, and as soon as catching even the smallest glimpse of Tim she lets out a genuinely bone-chilling scream. Eluding her grasp is tense, challenging, and rewarding.
Later, demons are introduced. Unlike the reoccurring malicious maiden, demons remain rooted on the spot – they can only be drawn away from their ‘posts’ by finding and lighting incense. This puts a focus on rummaging around the environments to find the items required to progress. Hammers, crowbars, keys, ID cards, boxes of matches – Home Sweet Home certainly doesn’t fall back on warped logic.
Another chapter introduces a colossal beast that towers above the environments. His glowing red eye coats the world below in crimson. Accidentally stroll into his field of vision and you’ll soon feel his wrath, prompting you to remain in the shadows and only move while his back is turned.
This is Home Sweet Home’s rogue’s gallery in its entirety – three evil entities used shrewdly and sparingly in different situations and locations. Up until the final chapter, Tim is defenceless – he’s armed with just a torch, and so stealth is the only option. This mostly entails hiding in lockers, a la Metal Gear Solid 2, and scurrying under desks until the path is clear.
The twisted schoolgirl’s AI routine is reasonably simplistic, ergo predictable. But within this simplicity, lies an uncomplicated elegance – the stealth sections rarely frustrate as it never takes more than a couple of failed attempts to memorise movement patterns. While letting out the aforementioned scream (the sound design is a highpoint, incidentally), a few precious seconds are at your disposal to run and hide.
Tim can withstand a couple of attacks, too, and the fact that checkpoints aren’t far apart also helps keep frustration levels low. As for the towering giant, it’s always obvious which areas are no-go zones. Shadows light the path ahead, so to speak.
A few pointers wouldn’t have gone amiss elsewhere, however. Mission objectives are often no more descriptive than ‘Escape’ or ‘Find an exit’ and there are no hints whatsoever during the few puzzles that feature. Particularly when back at Tim’s home, you’re often forced to search high and low until finally locating the object required or a hidden trapdoor (or similar) to access the next area.
It eventually builds up to the chapter set within a school, involving lightning candles found on different floors while overcoming various stealth sections along the way. It’s the most demanding mission of all, taking at least an hour of the game’s 4-5 hour runtime. The use of hidden collectables helps to add some additional playtime. Handily, it’s possible to see how many undiscovered collectables remain in each chapter.
Home Sweet Home’s mechanics may be simple but they’re all rather effective. It also helps that it’s reasonably accomplished visually, with a decent amount of detail within the environments – the school’s art department is a notable highlight – and atmospheric use of lighting. The voice acting is of questionable quality, but to be honest, we would have been disappointed if this wasn’t the case.
While Home Sweet Home may not be remembered for being wholly original, it does deserve recognition for offering an entertaining, and occasionally unnerving, ride.