I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster while playing Home Sweet Home; I was terrified during the first five minutes, somewhat disappointed after encountering Belle for the first time, and screamed like a wuss (multiple times) throughout the game’s later chapters.
Home Sweet Home is a first-person horror title, similar to games like Amnesia and Outlast. Tim, the main protagonist, unexpectedly wakes up in a gloomy and desolate apartment building. Having no other choice, he traverses the dark and narrow corridors in order to find a path to his own home. Shortly after, Tim discovers a flashlight which serves as the primary light source throughout the game and, thankfully, doesn’t require a change of batteries every few minutes. That’s because Tim is about to be pursued by a girl in a school uniform, which would be fine if only she wasn’t a vengeful spirit covered in blood. After some running and valiant hiding in lockers, Tim finally reaches the soothing comfort of his condominium.
The apartment greatly contrasts with other locations in the game; rooms are brightly lit and pleasantly soothing music is playing in the background. This is Tim’s final respite point before he ventures any further. After exploring the rooms and discovering some clues, Tim will set out once again into the darkness, in search of his missing wife Jane.
According to the developer, Home Sweet Home is based on actual Thai mythology and the environments do their best to represent that. Altars, voodoo dolls, and letters describing various rituals can be found across numerous locales: including a police station, a school, and more. While exploring the environments, Tim will be solving puzzles and discovering collectibles, like newspapers and excerpts from Jane’s diary. These documents provide more insight into the game’s world, characters, and surrounding events. Unfortunately, some of the achievements pertaining to these collectibles seem to be glitched and don’t unlock properly. This is not a deal breaker per se, but little things do matter.
To progress, Tim will often be required to find a particular item, like a key, on the other end of the current locale. At least initially, the game relies too much on jump scares and some of them are even repeated when entering a particular room for the second time. Later on, however, Tim’s advancement will be frequently stalled by the appearance of Belle, the girl mentioned previously. Belle appears from bloodstains on walls and ceilings and pursues relentlessly until Tim is hidden from sight (or dead). To avoid her, he can hide behind boxes or tables, inside lockers or giant urns; while hidden, he can peek around corners to check for any present threats. Belle is frightening when you hear the sound of her footsteps approaching, or when she constantly clicks the utility knife in her hand.
If Belle ever detects Tim and catches up, she stabs him several times, which results in a restart from the most recent checkpoint. There are no weapons within Home Sweet Home and the character is completely defenseless. At times, however, Tim is presented with an opportunity to fend her off with a few quick button presses and escape. Direct encounters like this are where Home Sweet Home loses some of its allure. Belle is only intimidating when her presence is not immediately apparent; up close, her animations are awkward and the facial expressions can seem rather loony. The same goes for other assailants; none of them are particularly imposing or scary.
The final chapter, however, deserves a separate mention. It takes place in a dark, old wooden house, and traversal through its corridors is illuminated hardly by anything apart from the candle in the character’s hand. Doors are opening and closing by themselves, thunder is striking in the background, an unsettling funeral prayer can be heard on the radio as you’re being followed by a mysterious assailant from the shadows. If Home Sweet Home was like that all of the time, it would be nigh impeccable.
The story takes place across six chapters and the overall completion time is not very long; it’s about as long as can be expected from a game in this genre. Previously completed chapters can be revisited and collected items are tracked on the main menu. Its inconclusive ending left me somewhat disappointed though. It was obviously done with the intention of continuing the plot in a sequel; Home Sweet Home is the first entry in a series of games, but still, I would’ve preferred a little more closure to the events.
Home Sweet Home is at its best when relying solely on atmosphere and sound design, much less so when the hero is pursued by an awkwardly animated being. Nonetheless, the second part of the game delivers a substantial fright factor, making it an excellent choice for a Halloween playthrough. And who knows, maybe one day Belle will be known as a legendary slasher villain.