Last year, newcomers Yggdrazil Group Co., Ltd. released their first game ever – Home Sweet Home, a first-person horror title based on the mythology and folklore of the developer’s home country, Thailand. Initially, the title was released on PC, but on October 16, 2018, it was ported to XBox One and PlayStation 4, with optional VR on ps4 – which is what I played it on.
So here’s the setup. The main character, Tim, wakes up in a strange bedroom one night and finds that he’s in a run-down office building he’s never seen before. He’s stalked by a young undead woman armed with a box cutter as he finds his way back to his apartment, only to discover that his lovely wife Jane has gone missing. Through a series of terrifying ordeals with multiple evil creatures, Tim must sneak, hide, run and solve puzzles to find his wife and unravel this mystery. Along the way, he’ll learn subtle back stories about the monsters that roam the levels as he comes across newspaper clippings, pieces of photographs, eerie radio broadcasts and more that are scattered throughout the game.
How is it? In a word, frightening. If you can’t tell by this article’s clunky wording, I’ve just finished my playthrough and I’m still shaken up. Yggdrazil has put together a horror game that seldom relies on jump scares and false alarms to get the player’s blood pumping. Gamers will feel hunted, alone, cautious, inches from death as they traverse the worryingly quiet areas and run to hide behind low furniture as they’re preyed upon by ashen humanoids and enormous angry demons. I’ll never hear the click of a box cutter the same way again; I can tell you that much.
Let’s talk universe. Last week I mentioned in my review for Call of Cthulhu that if you didn’t know the source material of the game, that wasn’t my problem. This week I’m going to hold myself to that standard and admit that I know nothing about Thai mythology and folklore. I imagine that players in Bangkok would be pretty excited to see the red string that tied Tim’s and Jane’s rear patio door shut (and reappeared throughout the game) or the first time a preta made its entrance, and that may be lost a bit on Western gamers. However, I want to raise two points in its favor. First, knowing that Home Sweet Home is based on Thai folklore at all helped me appreciate the game and culture more, and take the lesser-explained parts of the game with that grain of salt. Second, players in the States or in next year’s UK release should be able to deduce what some of the monsters are, since information on them is sprinkled throughout the game in both traditional (historical details about the kind of monster) and in-game (fictional accounts of characters who have died and become said monster) contexts.
Aesthetically, the game is also a treat. At times it looks like Resident Evil 7 or Outlast but with the wooden houses and religious idols of other traditional Asian horror titles like the Siren series or Fatal Frame. It even reminded me at times of Silent Hill 4: The Room. Tim’s portal to the levels seems to be a half-sized storage door underneath his staircase. It regularly leads to (and from) different places, and whenever Tim returns to his apartment, his once-charming living space is a bit more Hellish. Home Sweet Home is a non-combat game, so players can expect to hide instead of fight, but the rich environments and occasional puzzles help squash any fears of monotony. Occasionally, successfully hiding from baddies seemed a bit random, which wasn’t my favorite thing but also not a deal-breaker. Also, thanks to the VR, there are several immersive experiences like physically moving your head just inches to one side in order to peer around a corner, or hiding under a wooden table and looking up through the gaps between its slats to spy on an overhead giant and hope he won’t pick up the table and see you underneath it. Spoiler alert – one time he did, and it was a blast. It goes without saying that the sound is great too, from the ominous sounds of a stalking monster to the frequent nearby opening or slamming of doors by unseen forces. Children giggle, Jane screams off-screen, the music peels away at the player’s sense of ease and occasional periods of silence add to the tension.
Some reviewers are saying the game is short. I’m not a fan of going by other players’ game times because of speedrunners and people who don’t care about the story. You can speedrun Fallout 3 in about two hours but I don’t know anyone who played it for less than 50. The Order: 1886 was criticized for being a five-hour game but I played it for 10 or 12 easily. I think my playthrough of Home Sweet Home took me about seven hours, which isn’t bad for $30, but I suppose it could be longer. I’ve heard that Yggdrazil is planning a series of games with Home Sweet Home as the first entry. I don’t know if I’d have preferred double the game for double the price or if it’s better broken up like this, but that’s a decision for each player to make.
I’m grateful for having played Home Sweet Home and being granted this peek inside Thai folklore and culture. The game plays well, it looks and sounds and feels great, it’s creepy and it will scare gamers a fair amount. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, sometimes the monster encounters seemed less about stealth than luck and some may find it short, but, to put it bluntly, it’s just a cool game – especially for a first effort. Kudos to Yggdrazil Group Co., Ltd. for turning this one out; sign me up for the sequel. I’m calling Home Sweet Home an 8 out of 10.
Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment was given a free copy of Home Sweet Home for review.