Commenting on the state of our world and the direction in which it may be headed, Homesick’s message is clear, but is ultimately diluted by a dull narrative and esoteric puzzles. The first person exploration game invites the player to navigate a desolate apartment building to discover what led to the planet’s demise. The game’s creators Lucky Pause successfully funded development through Kickstarter, and it looks exceedingly more expensive than its goal might have suggested – both its graphics and setting are immaculate. Despite its strong presentation and my desire to become invested, the thin story failed to engage me.

Your purpose is to restore life to withered flowers that lie dormant in each area. Exploring the decrepit apartments, the player can find tools to help replenish the perished daisies. The task becomes slightly more complex as you progress, with new obstacles introduced and later discovered. Sunlight that cascades through balconies and windows acts as a roadblock – attempt to pass through them and you’re overwhelmed by radiating glare and recoil away – whoever you are, you haven’t been exposed to the elements for a long time. Once you’ve tended to the gardens, you return to a soiled mattress or a grimy couch and drift off to sleep. This brings you to the secondary puzzle element – your nightmare.

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While these dreams contain aspects of survival horror, there’s little to fear in Homesick. Wielding an axe, it’s now night and the atmosphere is teeming with menace. The darkness enables you to pass through the formerly luminous hallways to new areas. Here, a locked door adjoining the previous room can be forcibly hacked open, creating a new path. A black viscous substance rises from sickly pools throughout the room – hesitate too long and the liquid consumes you. While it’s imposing at first, failure merely results in a restart, and the urgency disperses. It becomes another puzzle to solve. Once the objective is fulfilled, you wake from this sequence. Daylight has returned, and you move towards the path forged in your nightmare.

The visual presentation is exquisite, with an exceptional amount of detail afforded to the few remains of the devastated building. Rusted bed frames and splintered tables furnish apartments, and curled wallpaper looks as though it could be stripped entirely by a slight draught. Rooms are diffused with ethereal light, casting highlights on the muted grey palette. Only the restored flowers break the monochromatic setting –  garden beds become vibrant and violet petals float airily throughout the ravaged surroundings. A sorrowful musical score intertwines perfectly with the bleak setting, beginning with a sparse piano melody. As nature blooms at your hands, it subtly builds to a moving, cello driven composition. I was bringing life to a deceased world, and the score intensified that feeling.

Gone Home mastered storytelling through correspondence, and while Homesick endeavours to achieve similar investment, it falls short.

If atmosphere is the strongest aspect of Homesick, the narrative is where it lacks. While the overarching theme is told through visual cues and the game’s mechanics, tales of the resident’s lives prior to the destruction is in itself a puzzle. From the beginning, notes, diary entries, and literature can be found in each apartment, but these are written in an initially impenetrable text, leaving nothing to create a coherent narrative until they can be deciphered. Even when this is accomplished, they merely hold vague character backstories which attempt to add gravity to the main story. It feels bare – and with a single exception – unrelated. Rather than creating a subtle, enriching narrative, they’re simply letters and notes that detail irrelevant scenarios of unseen characters we are implored to care about. Gone Home mastered storytelling through correspondence, and while Homesick endeavours to achieve similar investment, it falls short. The game’s climax aims for a gut-punch, and it mostly succeeds – but not as much as it may have had its story threads tied together in unison.

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Where the game also falters is its puzzles. There’s an uneven progression – they become obtuse and unintuitive mid-game before returning to a more logical form in the final stages. I spent an embarrassingly long time in a particular area attempting to find a scrap of information or missed clue to overcome stalemate. While doing this the glacial pace of your character becomes more apparent; the game adheres to a languid, contemplative momentum, but when traipsing room to room in a dire attempt to progress, it feels restrictive. Upon deciphering these abstract scenarios, there wasn’t a feeling of accomplishment or joy that followed, I simply felt relief that I managed to penetrate the obscurity and would no longer wander aimlessly through the halls.

While Homesick is visually arresting and creates a stellar ambience, its occasionally awkward puzzles and underdeveloped narrative prevent it from reaching the emotional pitch it strives for. It tackles similar themes that were better explored in thatgamecompany’s Flower, while neglecting the human aspect that would make the statement connect in a meaningful way. This threadbare house needed a little more depth to make it a home worth pining for.

 

About The Author

As an Australian, Simon enjoys paying slightly more for games, and occasionally isn't allowed to have the really naughty ones. When he isn't writing about video games, he studies journalism so he can actually one day be good at it. He also experienced an existential crisis after writing in the third person.

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