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Homebody Review

Homebody Review

Do you remembed rClock Tower, the Super Famicom point-and-click survival horror title where a young woman is chased by a guy with scissors in a house with a less-than-normal idea on decoration? In our modern-day hyper-future, we have series such as Outlast, Amnesia, and a plethora of indie titles that follow a similar recipe of a lone survivor escaping a threat, supernatural or mundane, using closets and beds as impromptu hideaways. Homebody — developed by the GameGrumps of YouTube fame and developers of Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, and published by Rogue Games, Inc.— shuns modern graphics and conventions in favour of creating a love letter to the older era of point-and-click horror, creating a convincing replication of a PlayStation title all the way to the controls! But more on that later.

In Homebody, you play as Emily on her way to meet up with her friends at a remote cabin to uphold their long tradition: watching the Perseid meteor shower. The protagonist is a bit of a shut-in by nature, which makes the trip up to the cabin an arduous one. Already set to arrive much later than anyone else, Emily struggles with the idea of meeting her old group after such a long time. After a call with her roommate and words of encouragement, she grits her teeth and finishes the journey to the cabin. When she arrives at around 7PM, her friends welcome her openly (for the most part) and help her get her things in. When she steps into the house, the door locks behind the group with a strange mechanism. Apparently, the house, owned by an artist called Parker Nest, is absolutely brimming with different kinds of mechanisms and strange devices, the uses of which are unclear to any of the residents.

Anyway, from this point on, Emily (aka the player) is free to explore the Nest house and reacquaint herself with her old friends and maybe get some reading done — which you can actually do! One of the many books the game has lying around is the complete Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. I didn't look past page 100, so it could be Lorem ipsum after that! The nice, if awkward, evening is cut short, however, when lightning strikes and the power goes out. The residents notice the lock on the front door needs power to be opened (figures), and so the quest to return power begins. The circuit breaker is in the basement, which is naturally locked, so Emily and Co. begin looking around for what to do. After a while, strange sounds start coming from around and suddenly…bodies. A strange, ragged person is roaming the halls, scissor blade in hand and death in their eyes. With a killer on the loose and nowhere to run, Emily does her best to survive by hiding in cupboards and running away from the weirdly slow killer, but eventually, the inevitable happens. A blade slashes, and it fades to black. It’s over. Or at least, it should be, but before we can start a new save, we’re back in the foyer of the Nest house, and it's 7PM. She’s just arrived.

This, I at least believe, is how it's "supposed" to go. Power goes out, you investigate the cellar, and when you return, the unspeakable has happened. Being the titan of intellect I am, I didn't notice the cellar, and things went… differently. To avoid spoilers, I won't say anything here, but check the ending of this review for my experience!

The Groundhog Day-esque repeating of the evening's events is one of Homebody’s core mechanics. Each time a loop plays, the characters go through the same motions at the same points in time. One friend plays videogames, another cooks, thunder hits, power goes out, and a bloodthirsty fiend enters. Emily is seemingly the only person aware of the cycle, and each time she tries bringing it up with her friends, the words seem to change on their way out, forcing her to “play her role” in the events leading up to her unfortunate demise. Emily must, therefore, explore the house and figure out what's going on, why the house is stuck in a loop, and, most importantly, how to stop it and save her friends. To meet this goal, she must solve escape-room-style puzzles to unlock new rooms and mysteries within. So far, this probably sounds like a pretty basic survival horror setup. Where Homebody differs, however, is how the loops and Emily’s knowledge and experience interact. Whenever you find a clue or figure something out, the game takes a picture of it and stores it for later reference, making the process much faster on the next loops, with some puzzles being pre-solved after some events have passed. With this system, the player can slowly work their way through the house and its mysteries, gaining shortcuts and clues on how to progress ever further and faster. The mechanic of retaining knowledge is a fantastic addition to the game, as it really makes you feel the progress you make. Additionally, the way the “memories” are displayed (like polaroids on a corkboard), gives hints on what they're related to and how they’re connected. The one downside of the loop, however, is the whole dying thing.

Though death is usually seen as a bad thing — it should be — death in Homebody is not as bad as you'd think. On the contrary, whenever you die, one of a few things happen: you may receive a visit from a… friend who gives you a hint on where you should be headed or what you're doing wrong, you may see visions of other get-togethers and get a chance to talk to some of your friends, or you may see a series of flashing images that hint at things to come. The clues the game offers are also somewhat dynamic, with the first being vague and later ones being more concrete, to aid newer players or players missing important clues. It sounds morbid, but sometimes while playing and stuck on a tough puzzle, I started considering tackling the roaming knife enthusiast just to get a hint or two.

You're only as crazy as you feel!

The system is not without its faults, however. During one especially nasty puzzle, I wound up dying more than once in quick succession. This had the dual effect of aggravating me as a player, as the game proceeded to show me a lengthy cutscene when I just wanted to give the puzzle another go, and of the game playing too many plot-relevant scenes back to back. There was one instance where, between two cutscenes, Emily’s… friend said something along the lines of “Sorry we haven't spoken in a bit”, even though we met five minutes ago when I had Emily try her hand at being a steamed dumpling a third time.

Another system I really liked in Homebody was how your friends are smart. On multiple occasions, a puzzle or clue will present themselves, and the protagonist will have little to no understanding of the context. In these cases, the game will give hints on one of her friends, who may know more on the matter, be it an obscure gaming company, what certain symbols mean, or how to pat your head while rubbing your tummy. While this could be told to the player via sticky notes or other means, having the NPCs be a part of the puzzles makes them feel more real and gives a bit of variety to the otherwise solo affair. In general, I enjoyed the puzzles Homebody offered and found their difficulty to be fair in comparison to my smooth brain. My main complaint is probably with the movement system.

There are two options for controls: mouse only or keyboard (you can use both simultaneously). When using the mouse, you clicky click on where you want to go or what you want to interact with, and Emily will scamper to the indicated place. Click twice, and she'll jog a bit faster. On the keyboard, it's the same thing, but you use the WASD buttons to move in a direction relative to the camera and hold down SHIFT to run. Both systems are fine, but I found myself struggling a bit. As is common for mouse-only controls, it's sometimes hard to go where you meant to, causing Emily to suddenly lunge for a door you’re trying to run past. Similarly, using the keyboard has the downside of being relative to the camera, meaning more than once, I found myself entering a room and then promptly leaving it right after because the camera was on an opposite wall. These are petty niggles, but they become annoyances when a misclick or fiddly movement is the difference between completing a puzzle or getting zapped and having to start the loop again. Naturally, clunky controls are part and parcel of horror games, making escape more panicky and hectic, but I am displeased about failing puzzles because I was too slow, even though I'm pushing the W key with all my might. Another small issue of note is that the game only understood American keyboard layouts, making remapping and figuring out keys a bit of an adventure. Finally, I spotted some bugs (the killer clipping through the attic floor above me to menace my hair, for example), but nothing serious. All in all, the game ran smoothly and worked well, controls and timing issues notwithstanding.

My heart says run, but my legs say pizza

In terms of design, Homebody is very good, if not excellent. Sure, it isn't filled with vibrant beauty like Tears of the Kingdom, but it captures the charm of the PlayStation era well. The characters are visually interesting and distinct, and the house looks like a nice place to hang out, at least until you delve into the secrets within. When the game wants to be scary, it definitely can be, with an ambient world of creaking floors and bubbling fluids keeping the player in a constant state of spooked. The sound design comes alive when the killer is set loose, as each of their actions is accompanied by an audio sting. Was that a friend chopping onions, or was it the sound of a blade taking said friend down…? The game also adds a delightful sting whenever you see one of your friends on the ground or, better yet, see the killer itself. When chased by the fiend, Emily — quite understandably — cannot interact with puzzles. Instead, you need to skedaddle and hide until the killer loses you or loses interest before you can continue. Weirdly enough, this wasn't an issue for me, as I was either killed very quickly or completely missed the killer most of the time. One very memorable instance had me climbing the steps from the cellar to ask a friend about a thing when I stumbled upon a heap of victims, no killer in sight! Talk about awkward.

One thing I will give endless and unrelenting praise for in Homebody is the subtleness it shows. During Emily’s multiple loops, you may notice some subtle changes in the house and your friends and their actions and reactions. I won't go into detail here, as it´s something to be experienced, but I will say some of the changes are wonderfully obvious (think slapping a ghost sticker on a painting), and some were devious to the level of causing paranoia if there even were changes. The locations you explore are varied and interesting, with fitting ambient and sound design to match, with a few areas being memorable, such as a nice lobby complete with lounge music to match in between spooky basements and steam-filled vents. The only gripe I personally had with the design choices was, regretfully, the killer itself. While the design is fine, creating a mix of human and inhuman, I just found the creature more adorable than not, especially due to the sounds it makes and the way it flails its arms. Maybe it's just me.

Excuse me miss, would you be interested in amateur acupuncture?

Before we wrap this review up, I promised to tell the tale of my first encounter with Stabby McGee. Be warned: the following contains light spoilers. On my very first foray into the game, the lights went out, and I started bumbling about, trying to figure out what to do about the situation. If I was smart, I would have noticed that the cellar door opened once the power went off. Especially since a character explicitly said, “GEE, I HOPE WE CAN GET INTO THE CELLAR TO FIX THE POWER”. But no, my smooth brain thought that going upstairs was the solution! So there I was, playing Minesweeper on a computer, when I saw a flash of movement nearby. The adjacent wall had this slit in it, from which you could see some kind of room on the other side. Since I couldn’t find any way to get there, I assumed I wasn't supposed to yet and carried on. However, it was from this slit that I saw something move, a person maybe? So I looked in but saw nothing. Not to be deterred, I walked out of the room and onto a hallway, only to jump from my seat as the killer slowly rounded the corner, accompanied by a loud musical sting. I was ready to vamoose, but then one of my friends calmly walked out onto the hallway, placid as can be. They looked at me, looked at the killer and just… stood? So I stopped and looked for a while. Stabby McGee, our killer, slowly wobbled over to my friend. Sliced him to bits and then lazily walked over to the now stunned Emily and pow, back in the foyer. I don´t know if this was the intended “first meeting” with the killer, but it sure was memorable!

In conclusion, I really enjoyed Homebody. It awakened a nostalgic fondness for point-and-click titles I didn't know I had, and it also was an engaging, thought-provoking experience that was much deeper than its pedigree; a couple of internet funny guys (love you, Dan and Arin!) would suggest. The loop mechanic was fun, and being able to blitz past early puzzles gave me the feeling of mastery I enjoy in games! There were some small niggles with the controls and some puzzles, but for the most part, I felt I was constantly aware of what I was doing and what I hadn't yet checked out. The biggest issue I had was that near the end, I was getting a bit tired of it and/or stuck on a few more annoying puzzles. Regardless, I think this is a title worth exploring if you like survival horror, have a soft spot for PlayStation titles, or are looking into developing a puzzle game yourself!

8.00/10 8

Homebody (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

Homebody is a love letter to the Original PlayStation era of point-and-click survival horror. It has an interesting mystery, fun puzzles, engaging mechanics, and a fair hint system that kept me coming back! A hearty recommendation for fans of the genre!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Martin Heath

Martin Heath

Staff Writer

Professional Bungler

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te.nelon - 10:43pm, 7th July 2023

Intresting article, thanks