Home is Where One Starts
Gameplay 6
Graphics 8
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 gameworld is small, but exploring it is interesting.

Graphics: The visuals are decent and look even better after the update.

Sound: The soundtrack is excellent, and the voice acting is 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 over time, while others stay with us for the rest of our lives. 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 when 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 on that particular day.

Home Is Where One Starts is not a game that focuses 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 has 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 where she lived with her father is sparsely furnished and shows clear signs of neglect, while garbage and empty beer bottles are heaped up outside it. Careful exploration also reveals the places where the protagonist sought refuge from the depressing conditions at home. A haven where she retreated into her imagination to make her world a happier place and escape from the cramped confines of her room. Since the game is extremely short and can be completed in a single 30-minute sitting, we don’t want to divulge any more locations. In fact, since there’s no way to save, the game was designed to be played in one session without interruptions.

Apart from walking around and triggering narration for particular 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. In the original release, the objects and textures looked less impressive up close, but the game received a substantial graphical overhaul a few years later.

Our 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 us with goosebumps. None of the dialogue feels forced or overly dramatic, and the voice actress captured all the emotions perfectly. Our only criticism is that we would have liked to hear more of the narration, as not everything you find or see triggers a voice-over.

The 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 was languid upon release, but this was fixed much later with the addition of a run button. HIWOS is not a game to rush through, though, but to slowly explore while taking in all the details. 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. Countless books and films 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 game’s title is derived from a poem by T.S. Eliot. Despite all this, the game remains captivating and 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 who want challenging puzzles or plenty of action. The game offers a calm, reflective atmosphere without rush or danger. Some players will find this incredibly boring, while others will appreciate what the game tries to achieve. The asking price for the game is also low enough to make it an impulse purchase.

Five years after the game’s release, it received a remastered edition, which is free to owners of the original game. Along with countless bug fixes, performance optimations, and quality-of-life improvements, the update also overhauled the visuals, added a run button, and revamped the input system. This update also simplified the game’s objective to finding the eight memories. Purists who prefer the original version can still play it thanks to the separate branch that can be enabled in the Steam settings.

*Review originally published in 2015.

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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