Indie games. #indietears. Love ’em or hate ’em, their lack of a major publisher driving their creative pulses does allow them at times to break free from conventions and try exciting new things in games.
Sometimes the results are incredible. Sometimes they are pretty mediocre. And as is the case with Three Fourths Home, sometimes they are almost unplayable. Too short, too weak, and too unreadable, this is a game best remembered for its failures.
Three Fourths Home is a title from [bracket]games, focusing mostly on its story rather than its gameplay aspects. Set in Nebraska at an irrelevant time, the player observes Kelly as she drives back to her parents’ house through a thunderstorm.
“Observes” isn’t really the best term; “is forced to observe” might be a better phrasing. Since the game includes no mouse controls the keyboard settings have to be learned before starting the game as there is no tutorial. But rest assured: there are only two keys that matter: ‘D’ and ‘spacebar.’ And the player will swiftly find a rock of some kind to place over the ‘D’ key, as the game shudders to a screeching halt unless it is continuously depressed.
Because all the player really does – aside from honk the car’s horn and turn the tape deck on and off – is drive to the right and advance the conversation ONLY when the game thinks they’ve had enough time to read it. It’s a style of gameplay that [braket]games touts like a great thing, but you might know it as a “visual novel.” It’s a medium typically used when the story matters most in a game, when a game wants nothing more than to draw a player in emotionally to identify with characters and their conflicts.
Though this designation also requires that the player be able to see what’s going on. Since the game’s primary “color” is white with black shapes vaguely resembling objects as if they were viewed without ground and the text is in a very light grey, some players might have to adjust their monitor settings to actually see the words and the very teensy tiny ellipses that indicate that the conversation may now advance.
Being the visual novel that it is Three Fourths Home depends greatly on its narrative, characters, story. In a neat choice the characters are never seen and only inferred from the conversation. In a less-neat choice said conversation includes choices that Kelly can make. Aside from altering character responses and possibly twinging the emotions of the player a bit, they have no impact at all on the story.
Making sure that the themes of the game are recognized by the player, Three Fourths Home takes no chances with the player’s intelligence and beats them about the head with “disability,” “emotions,” and “drinking problems” at every opportunity. In a completely canned and mass-produced manner, the so-called “issues” that Three Fourths Home proudly showcases as dramatic reasons to be immersed in the story fail to matter, as they lack adequate characterization necessary to create the subsequent attachment in the player.
This is a game that doesn’t really make any meaningful artistic choices, though it tries very hard. Minimalism seems to be the running theme, though failing to include enough details about characters isn’t mysterious. Here it feels lazy and creates a feeling of meaninglessness. Setting the text in a vast white nothingness taking up 75% of the screen below a very narrow strip of black and white shapes isn’t effective and edgy, it completely divides the player’s attention from any visual excellence onto a wordy conversation. When lightning flashes revealing what could have been awesome imagery, the player instead misses the opportunity as they were focusing too intensely on the difficult-to-read text.
When the primary premise of a game is to draw the player in emotionally to a story that should be relatable, simply adding in the standard ingredients of “obviously mentally handicapped in some way,” “physically disabled in some way – how ’bout loss of limb?” and “slightly alluded heartbreak” isn’t enough. The player has to be made to care, to be given a reason for them to want to know more. Otherwise the characters are just grey faces in the crowd, filed away in the brain as unimportant and swiftly forgotten.
And the player must not be cut off from the story just when it reaches a point that at least slightly resembles a beginning. Just when Three Fourths Home approaches a level of cohesion and the family the player is observing starts to seem less like characters and more like real people, the game cuts out and the credits roll. That’s it. Done. No closure. No meaningful “open ending.” Just… nothing without any importance at all.
This is not a game worth playing. With only a finger aching from having continuously mashed down the ‘D’ key to advance the story and burning eyes from over-straining them on the poor color palette, the player will feel not the intended emotional reactions to this story but only a feeling of time wasted and potential physical pain from having “played” it.
[+Almost a good story] [+Doesn’t crash] [-Failure to immerse] [-Canned conflicts] [-Meaningless characters] [-Ends when it should have begun] [-Can literally hurt to play]