I used to not have too much trouble with scary games. Even though I scare easily, horror video games used to be pretty manageable as long as I played during the day and had something going on in the background to keep me mellowed out. For some reason, though, Home Sweet Home really got under my skin because of how it uses ghost stories and folklore from Thailand, where the game was developed. In my opinion, no one does truly more unnerving, uncomfortable, and psychologically driven horror movies than the East. There are jump scares to suffer through in Home Sweet Home although it’s the cool and unsettling special effects that’ll have you questioning your sanity.
Or, I suppose, Tim’s sanity. Tim is the player character in this freaky deaky ghost story, who is normal, everyday husband trying to find his missing wife, Jane. The game opens with Tim waking up to his wife’s voice only to find himself in a rundown, dilapidated school dorm. A short jaunt through the school puts you face to face with an angry spirit in the form of a young girl with bloodstained clothing who pursues you through the grounds, the uncomfortable clicking of her box cutter announcing her presence. Just when you think you’ve suffered enough from this vengeful spirit, something dramatic happens: you step through a Being John Malkovich-style cupboard door that leads back into Tim and Jane’s modest home. The sequences inside the house (not too dissimilar to PT) serve as interludes in between each location Tim visits in his search after his wife.
By changing the locations, the game gives you different creatures to contend with. The first area, mentioned above, involving skulking through a school while avoiding the ghost of a young woman. The school is designed to account for a monster that can appear whenever she wants through bloody portals on walls. If spotted, there’s a brief window of time to break her line of sight and hide inside lockers. You’ll die if you can’t make it to a hiding place in time as she slices you to ribbons with her weapon. Later interactions give you a chance to fend her off by mashing a button on the controller. The game switches gears with each visit of a new location. An encounter with a Petra demon has you moving from cover to cover to avoid its red gaze lest it crushes you with its gross, bulbous hand. Another trip to the school makes a change to the lockers, as holes allow the ghost to see you inside the metal box if you don’t duck down. All the while you’re going back and forth to Tim’s house that grows more chaotic with each visit. Scattered across these areas are torn pages from Jane’s diary that offer a glimpse into her head in the lead up to her disappearance, clues regarding her suspicions that her deteriorating mental state might be paranormal in nature. You’ll also find newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts, and police reports that give insight into the different locations and the monsters that inhabit them.
In between hiding from scary ghosts and chasing after Jane, you’ll be confronted with a few light puzzles. This is an area of the game I had problems with because some of the puzzle logic doesn’t make much sense. I hit a hard brick wall with one puzzle in particular that left me thoroughly confused over how to solve it. I resorted to going online for help but walkthroughs were limited to a few Let’s Play videos on YouTube which showed me the solution but didn’t give an explanation of how they got there, considering that was my main problem. The kicker was this: I loaded the game, went to the puzzle and put in the answer.. .which was wrong. I then discovered that the game randomizes the combination of numbers every time you reload it, which kind of sucked only because I couldn’t parse out the solution. Desperate to get past this roadblock, I did what any sane person would do: repeatedly restart the game until I got the same numbers as in the walkthrough. Am I proud of that? Not particularly. The game doesn’t offer any sort of hint or nudging system if you get stuck, so I’d rather spend the extra time brut- forcing the puzzle than spend even more time trying to figure it out.
Another area of the game I found annoying (though not nearly as bad as the number puzzle scenario) were the moments spent in Tim’s house. Confined to a small, two-story home, there’s really nothing to do but walk around until you trigger certain events that are typically preceded a myriad of sounds, like muffled footsteps, disembodied laughing, thumping, and static from the TV. It’s not the most interest area of the game but still, it’s a nice bit of respite from spooky, angry ghosts.
Home Sweet Home was developed by Yggdrazil Group based in Thailand and I don’t know how big their studio is but they’ve made a really solid video game. It looks great with its overcast of dim lighting to heighten the creepy atmosphere. The sound design is good too, from the incessant clicking of the ghost’s box cutter to the orchestral stings that play whenever you’ve been spotted. What’s really neat, though, are all the cool visual tricks inflicted on the player. This is one of those games where you’d find yourself walking down a hallway with only one door that’s locked. Turning around, the plain, nondescript hall has been changed with the addition of bloody wall stains, furniture, and a few extra doors. All of this is done seamlessly and knowing you can’t trust the environment to stay static makes the experience considerably scary. All of this comes together to create a solid and effective psychological horror experience.
And now, for the bad news. I ran into a painful bug late in the game that caused me to walk away from it. I reached an area where I had to collect three pieces of paper to reveal another lock combination. I was having trouble seeing the puzzle because I had the brightness turned up (so much so that the whiteness of the backdrop made it almost impossible to see the markings on the paper), so I had to quit to the main menu to make the change (why I couldn’t do this from the pause menu makes absolutely no sense). Afterwards, I loaded the autosave (you can’t manually save the game) and was sent back to the area but those pieces of paper were gone. I ran back to the places I had found them from and they were not to be seen. And unlike the safe puzzle I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t just watch a video walkthrough to get the answer because it was different in the PlayStation version. Unable to advance, I went back to the menu again to restart the chapter - hoping that the place I was stuck in had been the start of a new area. It wasn’t and in doing this, I had lost about an hour’s worth of progress and that didn’t make me happy. At all. It’s times like this that all you can really do is turn things off, walk away, and sulk for awhile.
Yggdrazil Group’s Home Sweet Home has lots going for it. It’s genuinely creepy, uncomfortable, and playing it makes me feel good about supporting global game development. The game supports the PlayStation VR headset, though let’s be real, you couldn’t pay me to play a game like this with immersive tech. I did try it and as expected, I lasted a good five minutes before getting too freaked out and ripping the VR off my head. The bottom line, though, is that I can’t help feel disappointed that the bugs I experienced really ruined it all as I hate losing game progress over something that wasn’t my fault. I’m hesitant to recommend the game until it gets patched (again, let people make setting changes from the pause menu! And give us a manual save, too!). Or, at the very least, let me caution you to be extremely conscious of how and when you go back to the game’s menu screen to avoid harsh, mental anguish.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.