“There’s no place like home…There’s no place like…Yes I can see that, you dance wonderfully…”
So there I was, enjoying a pleasant afternoon in Home Square, staring thoughtfully at the trickling river dividing the great concrete plaza and contemplating life, when from nowhere a gang of five guys decided to surround me and attempt to, well, interact. Comments like “you‘re now our bitch“, still haunt me. If you want to be a part of the Home beta experience (and let’s face it, at a price of £0 you pretty much have to) then get used to this kind of activity. Countless hours in therapy and an ensuing medical bill left me asking the question, what exactly did I expect? In a game where social networking is really the only objective, it is understandable that people will resort to those less socially acceptable things in life.
Still, the limited nature surrounding the game leads me to the fact that this is not a game at all, and for want of a better word I shall call it a “feature”. For those who don’t know exactly what Home is, I have probably lost you already, and upon reading the first paragraph you will have run from the room and phoned the police. Don’t. Home is a free interactive ‘feature’ (I’m beginning to like this word), designed around the ethos of social networking. In Home you are given a penthouse, create your own character and basically live another life, but virtually.
Not sure still? Don’t fret, all will be explained. To begin with in Home you have to free up a hefty space on your PS3’s hard drive: luxurious furniture comes at a price, you know. Things look rather barren to begin with, as you are dropped into a wardrobe, given a mannequin and given free reign. Generic characterisation options are available, from skin to gender to clothes to shape – now is the time to give yourself the body you’ve always wanted. In Home you can boost your self esteem and give yourself a deluded sense of grandeur all from the comfort of your chair, just cover up all the mirrors for when you’re finished. Equipped with thick beard and bulging biceps I was finished, and opened the doors to Home.
Your first apartment isn’t much to gawk at – comprising of one room and little furniture, it is underwhelming. Until you step outside and wonder how the hell did I afford this!? A pristine and glimmering harbour lies beneath you. Million dollar yachts and perfectly formed rock barriers intrude upon the crystal blue water. A faint squawk from a flock of seagulls is heard as they swoop over and beyond the high valleys in the distance. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood movie, and is absolutely stunning. Once you have closed your jaw and wiped the saliva from your chin, you are greeted with a helpful set of tutorial menus. Designed around a very simple pipboy-esque menu system, one that now looks more like an iPhone than the original PSP, this pop up menu has everything you need to get by in the world of Home. You can invite your friends from here, start a phone call, decide where to fast-travel to, organise your messages and keep track of your clubs. Clubs are an essential if you wish to gather your friends in a handy method, and are tailor made for clan warfare. Gather your squad in a penthouse for a meeting before starting up a game of Warhawk from the menu. In another sense though clubs are essentially a way in which you can experience all of the rejection of the real world, only in a virtual sense. Me, bitter?
Outside of your Home is where the true potential of the feature lies. In the Beta there are only 4 other locations you can visit: Home Square, The Theatre, Shopping Mall, and Bowling Alley. These are all rather self explanatory, in Home Square you basically meet and greet other users, maybe play a pleasant game of chess, chase the only girl you have ever seen online around and around until she logs of. In places there are gigantic TV screens advertising games and products. Red Bull is the most noticeable first addition and we have seen previously that they plan to expand their involvement to involve the Red Bull Air Race. In the Shopping Mall you can buy properties, clothes and items for your House. This is where Home will live or die. It is too early to tell whether or not Home is involving and rewarding enough to gratify spending real money to decorate a world that isn’t real. It would seem that big name brands think it will, as Diesel has already signed up for a clothes deal. I, for one, believe it will catch on, as seeing someone in brand new Diesel dreads, walking past with a crowd of followers left me feeling rather inadequate in my cheesy Home t-shirt.
To explore these different locations you must download and install them, this isn’t much of a chore as the largest is only 42 MB and can be done in the background. Social interactions are the bread and butter of Home. And I am glad to say that in the main they work exceptionally well. There is a short cut menu in which you can say the usual hello, follow me etc, without having to type it in. For more detailed instructions/greetings/insults, you can simply type it in and it appears in a bubble above your head. Physical interactions are cute too: dances, hand gestures and body language all surmount to an experience that mimics social realism quite remarkably. Here, the rather barren beta stages, with not a lot of content, is where you can have the majority of your fun. You will waste hours just talking and interacting, making friends and enemies: achieving nothing, but still feeling happy. A feature that would be extremely helpful is the ability to screenshot, certainly there were moments when I wanted to capture the image of a nerd being shot down by a girl in all its glory. And this time it wasn’t me!
Home certainly is an enjoyable experience, be it trolling the Plaza with your friends annoying the hell out of people, or simply finding new places to hang out and meet. With enough interest, and with enough time, effort and marketing, Home could seriously be the future of online interaction.