Home is Where One Starts
Gameplay 6
Graphics 7
Sound 9

Help a young girl explore the lonely countryside around her childhood home when she misses her bus to school. Although very short, Home Is Where One Starts is a captivating experience with excellent narration and interesting environments. The short length along with the absence of puzzles or action means it won’t appeal to everyone, but players who enjoy more relaxing titles like Gone Home or Dear Esther will feel right at home.

Gameplay: The walking speed of the protagonist is a little slow and the gameworld small, but exploring it is interesting.

Graphics: The visuals are quite beautiful, but some objects lack detail when viewed up close.

Sound: The soundtrack is excellent and the voice acting superb

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Home is Where One Starts

Developer: David Wehle | Publisher: David WEhle | Release Date: 2015 | Genre: Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam / itch.io

Memories are tricky things. Some fade away over time while others stay with us for the rest of our life. Home Is Where One Starts is a game about the memories of a woman who grew up in a broken home somewhere in the American South. It follows the events of a single day where she missed her bus to school and decided to explore the desolate area around her house instead. We get to view the world through the eyes of a child, while the narration is done by a much older version of her, reflecting back on that particular day.

Home Is Where One Starts is not a game that focusses on puzzles or action, but instead leaves players free to simply explore and immerse themselves in the atmosphere. Those familiar with games like Dear Esther or Gone Home will know what to expect, but HIWOS is even simpler. The lonely countryside setting isn’t very big, but from the perspective of a child it had a world of opportunities. However, despite her tranquil surroundings, it is also clear that the protagonist had to deal with plenty of hardship during her childhood. The tiny trailer in which she lived with her father is sparsely furnished and show clear signs of neglect, while outside it garbage and empty beer bottles are heaped up. Careful exploration also reveals the places where the protagonist sought refuge from the depressing conditions at home. Where she retreated into her imagination to make her world a happier place and to get away from the cramped confines of her room. Since the game is extremely short and can be completed in a single 30 minute sitting I don’t really want to divulge any more of the locations.

Apart from walking around and triggering narration for special locations you can also pick up and examine some objects. However, these are few and far between, so don’t expect anything like Gone Home. HIWOS runs on the Unity engine and actually delivers some very nice visuals. Since everything is viewed from the perspective of a small child the world and its objects appear larger than usual, which is a really nice effect. Trees and foliage also sway in the early morning breeze, while the sun rises over the horizon. Unfortunately, up close the objects and textures look a lot less impressive though.

Yet, my favorite part of the game is the audio. A single, slow, haunting melody accompanies your exploration, along with the sound of birds singing and the lonely footsteps of the protagonist. The only voice acting is that of the narrator reminiscing about her childhood, but she delivered her lines in a manner that frequently left me with goosebumps. None of the dialogue feels forced or overly dramatic and the voice actress managed to capture all the emotions perfectly. My only criticism is that I would have liked to hear more of the narration as not everything you find or see triggers a voice-over.

Controls are very straightforward, with WASD handling movement and a single mouse-click for interaction. Since the protagonist is a small child the pace of the game is very slow, which might annoy some players. HIWOS is not a game to rush through though, but to slowly explore while taking in all the detail. The invisible walls you encounter are also a little annoying, but understandable.

The story of HIWOS is not a new one and neither is it very groundbreaking. There are countless books and films that deal with the subject and the developer himself mentioned that he drew inspiration from countryside stories like The Tree of Life and East of Eden. In fact, the title of the game is derived from a poem by T.S. Eliot. Despite all of this the game remains captivating and really captures the feeling of stepping into someone else’s memories. The replay value is not very high, but it is possible to miss a couple of locations, which makes it worthwhile to play through more than once.

HIWOS isn’t a game for players that want clearly defined goals, challenging puzzles or plenty of action. The game offers a calm, reflective atmosphere where there is no rush or danger. Some players will find this extremely boring, while others will appreciate what the game is trying to achieve. The asking price for the game is also low enough to make it an impulse purchase.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP+
  • Processor: Intel i3 or equivalent
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DX 9.0c video card with 256 MB VRAM and shader model 3.0 support
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 575 MB available space
  • OS: Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel i5, 2.8+ GHz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 570, AMD Radeon 6870, or equivalent
  • DirectX: Version 10
  • Hard Drive: 575 MB available space
  • Additional Notes: High processor speed recommended for Oculus Rift mode
  • OS: Mac OSX 10.7
  • Processor: Intel i5 1.8 GHz
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD 5000
  • Hard Drive: 575 MB available space

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