Generally when writing reviews, I make a conscious effort to not speak in the first person. I want my reviews to be read as objectively as possible, rather than being colored by my own emotional imprint. I’m going to break my own rule here, however, in order to tell you just how absolutely terrifying stealthy horror indie Home Sweet Home truly is. Home Sweet Home, developed by YGGDrazil group and published by Mastiff, is a gritty stealth adventure putting you in the shoes of a man by the name of Tim whose wife, Jane, has mysteriously gone missing. With the implications of a night of heavy drinking hanging over his head, Tim awakens to find himself in a run down building that is quite a bit removed from the happy home to which he was accustomed. Standard to the modern horror genre, Tim doesn’t have much recollection of, well, anything really. This leaves the player to explore Tim’s surroundings in hopes of uncovering clues to figure out what has happened to not only him, but his missing wife, as well.
Home Sweet Home draws its inspiration from Asian horror that has given horror fans Japanese and Korean mythology inspired classic movies and games like The Grudge and The Coma. However, Home Sweet Home shifts things up by relying on Thai mythology, giving life to terrifying monstrosities with important symbolism relating them to their areas of the labyrinthian home they’re left to haunt. An example of this is seen with the horrifying Petra, a giant lumbering monster that is forced to haunt the area where it commited the crime of harming someone who loved them in life. Themes of betrayal, affairs, and dark magic are frequently explored in Thai lore, with these sinful acts often inviting in vicious spirits or condemning the sinner to a monstrous supernatural existence.
Giant monstrous ghosts that clearly want to eat you are not the only thing lurking in the decrepit maze of a dormitory. The very first ghoul that Tim and the player encounters is the bloody girl. She seems quite mundane at first, lurking around making an occasional groaning noise but there’s something off about her. There’s an accompanying sound that takes a few minutes to ‘click’ with you what it really is. You see, the bloody girl is armed. With a box cutter. As she slowly shambles her way up and down corridors she slicks the blade inside of its sheath. Up and down, click click click click. It’s in these heartstopping moments that the audio cues in Home Sweet Home shine their brightest. You know when you hear that god-awful blade clicking that there’s danger nearby, and it only takes being screamed at and chased down by the ghoul one good time to permanently seal the fear of that clicking noise into your head.
It doesn’t take long into the game for that sort of chase sequence to occur, either. Your very first moments with Home Sweet Home will introduce you to the bloody girl, and her damned box cutter, while forcing you to realize that a lot of the gameplay is dependent on trial and error. Like many other games in this genre – titles like Outlast and Amnesia: Collection are the first to come to mind – the player is left completely defenseless against the monsters that are sulking around every corner. Home Sweet Home does give you one main line of defense, but it doesn’t point it out to you in any overt way at all. Early in the game, when you first encounter the bloody ghoul and are forced to follow her into a room where she blocks your path, you will need to get her attention and then endure her blood curdling scream, turning on a dime and running back to find a safe space in a locker. Hiding from the monsters is your only option, but learning when you’re visible or not can be quite a chore.
While the trial and error gameplay typically has the effect of minimizing any horror affect once you start to expect scripted scares, Home Sweet Home manages to curtail this by having AI that is eerily unpredictable. All of this brings us back to my reasoning behind calling Home Sweet Home one of the most terrifying horror games I’ve ever experienced. That bears repeating, especially when given the context that I play a lot of horror games. And still, Home Sweet Home is one of the most terrifying ever. In one early sequence, I was stealthily attempting to avoid the bloody ghoul only to realize that she didn’t just appear in certain rooms to sulk around. No, she teleports using blood portals. Watching a swatch of the wall become engulfed in blood and the ghoul stepping out, clicking away at the box cutter, was enough to send chills down my spine as I scrambled to run to the nearest hiding spot.
During one instance I was searching for a crowbar to open up a boarded over air vent. I was pleased as punch when I discovered a crowbar sitting right in the shower of a bathroom, the first door I checked. Just as I was washed with confidence by solving the puzzle quickly, I was gripped with unbridled fear when the audio cues kicked in. Food steps. Clicking. That cursed box cutter. Stuck in a bathroom with nowhere to turn or means to safely reach a locker I did the best thing I could. I closed the door and hid in the corner of the shower, hoping that the clear PVC shower curtain would be enough distortion to keep the ghoul from seeing me. Then I sat, holding my breath, as the door unlocked and the bloody girl with her box cutter stepped into the bathroom. She doubled over, vomiting blood on the floor, and then turned in my direction. Slowly she sulked toward the shower and my heart raced, knowing she was going to scream and slice poor Tim open with the box cutter at any second. The bloody girl stood motionless in front of the shower for what seemed like an eternity, and then – to my surprise – she turned and slowly shambled her way back out of the bathroom. For the first time ever, I was so shaken by a horror game that I had to pause and sit the controller down. I actually had to walk away and catch my breath before continuing.