Rows and rows of Nebraska corn pass as the daylight dies. The gas is running low, and the blaring of the tornado sirens almost drowns out the sound of the muted music on the radio. You click it off, but the sound of your mom nagging in your ear blends with the screeching sirens, and it feels like the storm is inside your head. The rain grows heavier, and your foot squeezes the accelerator, as the fuel needle creeps lower and your speed creeps up…
If you’re the kind of person who mocks Gome Home and it’s similar friends for being “Walking Simulators”, you might want to turn and walk away now. For all intents and purposes, Three Fourths Home is a driving simulator. Or to put it more accurately, a driving-while-on-the-phone simulator.
The game is rendered in muted black and white, with very basic graphics. It’s all nothing more than a stylish vehicle for what comes down to a choose your own adventure story. You’re twenty-something year old college student Kelly Meyers, driving home in a massive storm, with a tornado on the way. As you drive, you talk to your family on the phone.
Through these conversations, a moving and nuanced story about a family going through some hard times slowly drips out, with a range of dialogue options allowing you to decide the kind of person you want to be. Are you kind and nurturing, or do you close yourself off, dripping poison from your tongue, pulling the pin from the truth and throwing it like a frag grenade?
There’s a sense of impending dread throughout, and it’s not just caused by the darkening road, and the increasingly loud screeching of the tornado sirens. Three Fourths Home spins a rich and compact tale of millennial angst and uncertainty, and the low-fi feel and droning sounds of music, the road, and eventually the sirens give an unsettling feeling. It reminded me the way that Gone Home spun a feeling of dread throughout, as if you were going to find a body in a closet at any moment.
I had a similar feeling here. I realised at times, that I was so engrossed in the dialogue, that I was no longer paying attention to the road. Driving is simple, holding the right trigger makes you accelerate, and letting go of the button stops everything - the music, the rain, the dialogue, everything creeps to a stop. There’s no escaping the difficult dialogue or awkward conversations, but interestingly, you can choose not to engage in it at all. At any point, you can stop replying, and finish your drive with no dialogue spoken at all.
It’s poignant, because through the bonus epilogue episode in the Extended Edition, along with extra content in the form of Kate’s photography project, and a range of her brother’s short stories, you get a deep, and real sense of this family, and the trauma they have experience. While the dialogue can be light, funny, and incredibly evocative of a real family, it also deals with these issues softly, treading lightly across the open wounds of the Meyers.
The core story takes about an hour to complete, and the epilogue adds another half an hour or so. The epilogue changes things up a bit. You’re waiting on the bus, in the snow, and you can start to walk, and call your mother. This call is framed as something that didn’t happen, an opportunity to make up for lost time that’s hinted on throughout the main story. There are multiple different ways to finish this segment of the story, and you can opt to not have that cathartic conversation at all. You can choose to say what you should have said, rather than what you actually did.
There’s a secret ending that provides an extra feeling of closure too. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that, and it’s not a spoiler to tell you that you must get it. It represents the most complete experience of the game, and leaves you with a sense of catharsis that… well honestly, you’ll need after this. Since so much of the game is about discovering this family and their story, this extra content doesn’t feel like needless fluff. It’s essential.
Three Fourths Home is as basic as basic goes, gameplay and graphic wise, but it’s such an excellently crafted way to tell the story it wants to tell. It’s a perfect example of the incredible ways that games can tell stories that no other medium can offer. Three Fourths Home sneaks up on you, punching you in the gut, winding you before you even realise you were under attack.