The opening moments of Homesick induced a vague flashback to my college years, which is to say I woke up in a greyish, rather dumpy room with a busted ceiling fan, a few indecipherable papers scattered about and ostensibly no memory of preceding events. I sometimes wonder if it’s some inherent unquantifiable facet of human nature or just the way my brain is wired from a lifetime of adventure games that I’m rather nonplussed by this and my first instinct is to fling open cabinets and cupboards, flip every switch I can find and pick up, pull, prod or screw with anything that’s generally not nailed down (and if it is nailed down, I’ll generally look for something to pry it up with). Given that I’m predisposed to this sort of behavior just as often in real life, it could probably go either way.
And so, in those early minutes of the game, I eventually found a bucket I could pick up, filled it with water from a bathtub and poured it on some wilted plants that were growing from the floor of the room I woke up in. (This might be something of a spoiler, but it was in the gameplay trailer, so I consider it fair game). Why did I execute this particular sequence of events? For the only reason that you ultimately do anything in this type of game…because I could.
It’s an interesting thing that with the advent of the first-person adventure gaming perspective, popularized by Myst and its ilk, the deliberate absence of an explicit narrative became an acceptable and often compelling (depending on who you ask) storytelling device, and a significant part of gameplay became simply wandering around and effing with everything until you found something tangible to do. It doesn’t seem like you could get away with this sort of thing in a traditional third-person game, perhaps because we’re less likely to tolerate a visible avatar with no apparent agenda, which is a bit like having an uninvited stranger sitting on your living room sofa staring at you for no apparent reason.
I suppose that looking through the eyes of our avatar and observing the world “directly” gives us a sense of agency so that just walking around and looking at stuff feels like a tangible activity, rather than just clicking around on the screen (even if it’s essentially the same thing). In particular, once we could transplant this experience into a fancy real-time 3D engine, it became a lot easier to enhance this sense of agency so that the balance of gameplay could effectively shift even more towards the idea of exploration and discovery – which is to say, walking around and looking at stuff. And therefore, the only apparent objective of any of these games is to find a way to move forward, notwithstanding the why (but assuming that the why will eventually reveal itself through the act of exploration).
To that end, I poured a bucket of water on some flowers because it was the only tangible thing I could do that promised to unlock the way forward, even if I had no rationale for doing such. But then, Homesick is essentially a game about moving forward, and although it’s entirely possible to finish the game without bothering with any context or backstory, you can probably take an educated guess at the motivation from the title.
Wandering around the initial room, I instinctively made for the open doors leading to a balcony and what looked like a welcome respite from the dingy building I was in, but as I moved closer, the sunlight became blinding to such a degree that it physically stopped my approach, and effectively defined one of my obstacles going forward. It also effectively established the overarching mood; the light offered potential comfort and escape from my rather squalid surroundings, but I was categorically and repeatedly denied that small comfort.
As I continued to explore, an atmosphere of general gloom hung over the decaying environment. This world exists in a rather bleak, monochromatic palette of greys and browns, punctuated by the occasional spare splash of actual color to tease you, much like the blinding sunlight, of a less forlorn world that probably exists outside the grey walls you’re trapped within.
As depressing as it sounds, which I’m assuming was quite intentional, it’s a testament to the fine graphic design that it feels appropriately depressing. The contrasting graphical style is reminiscent of that used in The Lost Crown, albeit (thankfully) without the godawful interminable voice acting. As effective as it is in setting the mood, however, the scenery does gets a bit same-y after a while, since the building you spend the game exploring is essentially a collection of rooms and corridors with the same variety of rotting furniture and scattered rubbish, but in slightly different configurations. If the game were much longer (and I’ll come back to that in a bit), it might to start to lose its punch, but as it is, it’s quite effective.Continued on the next page...