[su_highlight background=”#3b88ff” color=”#ffffff”]Platforms: PC & Mac, | Developer & Publisher: David Wehle | ESRB: N/A | Controls: Keyboard/Controller[/su_highlight]
Directed ambiguity is a difficult beast of a concept to tame in game development. Too much ambiguity, and you risk leaving players wanting more, while too little usually ensures player boredom and dislike. But David Wehle found a lukewarm balance between these two extremes in his short indie PC and Mac first-person exploration game, Home is Where One Starts…. Here is my review. (NOTE: Minor spoilers ahead. Also, Home is Where One Starts… will be shortened to HiWOS from here on out)
The disembodied voice of an unnamed older woman greets players when they start up the game. Her first lines make it immediately obvious that the woman is reminiscing about a day during her childhood somewhere in the American South. For me, I love that Wehle used a memory-like approach to the storytelling, but more on this later.
After a short cinematic that sets the somber yet distinctly childishly-naive mood, players are immediately able to move and control the younger version of the narrator. Movement around a 3D world with graphics and environments like you stepped into a Thomas Kinkade painting is controlled by a simple W-A-S-D directional-pad-like keyboard scheme. The players’ first-person POV (basically, the camera) is controlled by the movement of the mouse, and has a central cursor, which itself becomes highlighted and changes shape when it is placed over interactable objects. I will not give any more STORY spoilers following this sentence, because I urge you to experience HiWOS for yourselves; reading words about this game does not compare to playing it first-hand.
Only certain objects can be picked up by clicking on the highlighted cursor, and can be rotated by moving around the mouse in the direction players want to invert or move it. Clicking again drops the object. The same controls apply when opening doors, where clicking on the doorknob allows players to open or close them. However, this part of the control scheme became a little annoying because some doors swing out instead of in, so if I opened the door from the wrong side of the door (i.e. from the left instead of the right, and vice-versa), then I’d get blocked from moving past the door until I closed it. But this is a small annoyance that’s solved by a single click.
HiWOS’s asynchronous narration gives direction and meaning to its sometimes-blind exploration element. What does asynchronous mean? Basically, just that the narrator isn’t from the same time-frame as the in-game avatar, as I mentioned earlier. The future woman gives insights into the day that the player goes through while controlling the avatar of her younger self.
This is the major strength of HiWOS: the presentation and unraveling of its deep and relatable plot elements. The player is essentially free to explore the narrator’s main trailer house and the boonies area surrounding it. I got lost in just exploration several times, since the walking speed of the player avatar is a little slow. Thus, much can be missed in terms of interacting with objects or visiting sites that give clues as to the narrator’s troubled childhood, family situation, and state-of-mind (Hint: see the tags in this post!).
I encountered multiple objects and areas triggering narrator voice-overs to play during my playthrough that would have left a major chunk from my understanding of the story and back-story had I not found or visited them. So, exploration is key, and replayability is a must, if you want the full story, and even a few secret endings. The one ending I got during my first and only playthrough of around 30 minutes was poignantly-empowering while still somber, so you can be sure I’ll try playing it a few more times to see what else I can get.
Somber music permeates the background of the majority of HiWOS. The same track plays over and over throughout the game, until players reach the final stretch: slightly-happier music starts to play at that point, and then fades out as the credits that start to roll reach their end.
HiWOS is well-worth the low price point in exchange for its realistic, thought-provoking, and somber storyline and gameplay. It can teach all of us that, even when our situations and circumstances seem at their worst, we each make our own “home” wherever and however we can, whether it be by riding our bikes, laying on a haystack to catch the sun, or even steeling ourselves to do something we think is scary but not doing it in the end.
Home is Where One Starts is available now on PC and Mac.
Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by the developer.