While the “What is a game?” debate seemingly flares up with bizarre intensity with each new release that challenges the traditional model, plenty of people are content to ignore this largely pointless semantic argument over product labelling and take an occasional interesting detour into some of the new ideas that are finding their way into the broader gaming space. Those in this group might well be interested in checking out Three Fourths Home, the new release from Bracket Games.
Described by its creators as a visual short story, Three Fourths Home is the interactive tale of Kelly, a young woman in her early twenties who finds herself somewhat adrift in life as she makes a short drive home to her parent’s house in Nebraska through increasingly inclement weather. There’s no need for the player/reader to make any fancy evasive manoeuvres, though – holding down the ‘D’ key keeps Kelly’s car steadily moving through the pelting rain from left of screen to right, progressing her journey through a varied landscape rendered with stylistically crisp art of simple white and greys.
Kelly immediately receives a phone call from her concerned mother, and players are tasked with taking her through a conversation with Kelly's wider family who are waiting for her arrival at their home. Through dialogue choices, the player both explores and helps to establish the details of the circumstances Kelly is currently in and the nature of her relationships with her family. All the while, the car takes her closer to her destination – unless the player lets go of that 'D' key, which grinds time to a halt and freezes the story in place.
This is more or less the entirety of the “gameplay” on display in Three Fourths Home, but a bare-basics description doesn’t really convey the tonal effectiveness of the complete package. The stark, visually effective and at times eerie graphics and sounds of steady rain and rumbling thunder, the low hum of the car and moody music (if Kelly decides to turn on the car stereo) very much set a mood, and are wonderfully effective at drawing the player into the story that is unfolding and its world. Landmarks Kelly passes on the road make their way into the conversation with perfect timing, adding to the sensation of a journey being made in real time.
Despite these trappings though, any appraisal of Three Fourths Home must almost be a literary review. The writing generally doesn’t disappoint. It’s refreshing to sit in front of a PC and enjoy characters being subtly developed through naturalistic dialogue for a change, rather than having to sit through more archetypes spouting cliched and extremely blunt exposition at one another.
As the story goes on, the player helps to define Kelly’s demeanour and character through their dialogue choices, and although it becomes clear that some of the choices on offer ultimately lead to the same result, making these decisions builds a sense of involvement in the lives of the characters.
By the time events and tone start to shift towards the slightly ominous and Kelly nears the end of both her physical journey and the narrative, the player has become invested in the fate of the characters, and now the thematic genius of the driving mechanism becomes clear. The player can take their finger off that ‘D’ key if they like, and doing so at the right time exposes some interesting changes to the background.
But the player must also know that in doing so, he or she can only hope to delay the inevitable. Save the game, put it off, come back later, and the only option available is to resume your journey again. No matter how difficult it seems to face the future, you can never go back.
An epilogue chapter sketches out some more of the story and seems to answer some lingering questions from the main chapter, while extra materials provide some interesting additional (traditional) reading. While the epilogue is again well written and does interesting things with temporal perspective, it loses a little bit in comparison to the main chapter simply by virtue of the fact that it shifts the action from a car to Kelly’s walk while waiting for a bus. The graphics style is again reasonably effective here, but the setting just doesn’t create atmosphere in the same way the car streaking steadily along under the moody grey skies does.
If you’re looking for action, Three Fourths Home will most certainly not scratch your itch, but if you’re a gamer who’s hungering for a good short read, this tasty wee storytelling snack may be worth checking out – if only to get an idea of what might we might be driving towards in the future with Books 2.0.