Another Kickstarter success story, Homesick arrived for Windows PCs a few months ago after two and a half years of development. Brought to you by Lucky Pause– a small studio ran by two people and a dog named Argon-, this game feels a lot like Dear Esther with a welcomed increase in interactivity in the form of puzzles.
We find ourselves in a brightly illuminated room, yawning- in game, of course- and exploring our surroundings guided by a piece of debris being carried by the wind. The world is kind of bare, so our interest will be on the floating paper, which is revealed as a clue for something. We move around, pick up the paper and follow the clues to solve the puzzle and discover our environment.
Light is not good
Many games use our inherent fear of the dark. Shadows, dirt, night, poor visibility, these are all tools games use for atmosphere, to make us feel a certain way. Homesick does the complete opposite and uses light to make us feel oppressed, and it works. Sometimes the world seems black and white, devoid of life, like bones bleached under an unforgiving sun.
It’s also eerily silent, with few sound effects, which only helps further our feeling of dread, like the calm before a storm. The music is beautiful and serves the mood of the game well.
The combined effect of the visuals and sound creates a deliberate slow pace. You don’t want to rush, and that makes you take more of the game at a time.
Dark is not good either
Remember what I said about the light being oppressive? That wasn’t a metaphor. Sunlight coming from the windows will literally stop you on your tracks as you go near it, ramping up the bloom and brightness to an almost blinding degree. That’s when the nightmare feature comes in.
The main menu helpfully tells you that you save the game by going to bed, which you do by watering flowers and then lying down with the paper you found earlier- videogame logic, I know. Then come the nightmare sections. Everything is dark, shadows drip from everywhere and grow like weeds, you must navigate sticking to illuminated areas or the shadows will wrap you and wake you up.
I half expected to fight enemies, nightmarish creatures or at least a zombie. Specially because in this section you have a weapon, an ax that I could talk more about but it’s an even bigger spoiler than it looks at first. So this mechanic feels very gimmicky, they could have done more with it, the nightmare segments add very little to the game other than unlocking the next area after finishing a puzzle.
Talking about the story of this game is tough. By the developers admission, this is a short game that shouldn’t take you more than four hours and no less than two. If you’re using a walkthrough, first SHAME ON YOU, and second you’d finish in a fraction of that time so you just ruined the game for yourself.
The puzzles are for the most part straightforward and make a lot of sense. You won’t be using rubber chickens as pulleys in this game. If you feel you’re stuck, my advice is explore. You will find many clues and cleverly hidden hints around the game to help you push forward.
The most confusing part of the game is, at first, the notes. You’ll find books, notes and letters but the script is in a code. Eventually you’ll reach an area where you can solve a puzzle that will allow you to replace the code with actual letters with some lateral thinking, but it may be too late for some of you to want to backtrack and read everything. Which is too bad, because once I finished the game I found it was very worth the effort, having discovered many foreshadowing things.
Besides all that, the worldbuilding is quite nice. Not only the story told by the apocalyptic logs, but also the art. The furniture is rotten, the wallpaper is torn, light fixtures don’t work, there is ruin everywhere but not what you would expect from an actual apocalypse. Its disrepair. The place was abandoned either years or decades ago, and through the yellowed pages of old newspapers and friendly letters you’ll find out what happened. All thanks to the Unreal Engine 4, which enables an unparalleled level of realism.
I really enjoyed piecing together the backstory, what happened to the main character and what is the building where he finds himself. Most of all, I liked the way a lot of videogame tropes and cliches used here make a lot of sense once you figure everything out.
The end has quite an unexpected twist too! But not so unexpected if you pay attention to the story bits you can uncover, which feels really rewarding and doesn’t diminish the shock from the ending.
Homesick is a good game that excels at it’s presentation and atmosphere. It’s slow pace can be annoying to some players- but you can cheat the speed with the console- although it serves as an immersion tool. The puzzles are not super hard but they don’t hold your hands either. And it comes with a beautiful piano and cello soundtrack. The only fault I can find is the content, the game being barely a couple of hours long.
For $15, that is unacceptable. But if you see this game with 50% discount, give them your money! If you like mysteries, suspense and superb immersion you won’t regret it.