Yesterday I spent a relaxed hour and a half with Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition, a narrative driven experience centred around the protagonist Kelly, who calls her family while driving home through a tornado. The first part of the game takes around 45 minutes to play, and tells the tale of a family damaged by alcohol, infighting and a young man struggling to fit in as part of society. As you drive, simply by holding R2, you navigate an array of dialogue options which allow you to shape the story as you believe it should be told, within the parameters of the choices presented by the developers Bracket Games. The second part of the game, titled ‘the epilogue’, shows Kelly some time in the future speaking to her Mother on the phone, whilst waiting for a bus in snowy Minnesota.
The gameplay is simplistic and could hardly even be called gameplay at all; the game is essentially a visual novel with some required button presses and the ability to decide, to some extent, how you build Kelly’s world around her. What impresses me about this production is how much it resonated with me on a personal level concerning self-doubt and introspection: Kelly’s two phone calls in Three Fourths Home begin innocuously, discussions about college work or how Kelly’s father tends to his garden. But as the conversations continue, and the storm conditions intensify around your car as it drives through the night, bottled up emotions of fear, loneliness and uncertainty come tumbling out as quickly as you can navigate the speech trees. The pacing presented here reflects a real life conversation, with coincidental asides breaking up heavy moments of confession or doubt. What I believe made the game so engaging was my ability to tailor answers as if the questions were being posed directly to myself rather than the protagonist Kelly, and answering them truthfully from my own experience. I could have made Kelly more dismissive of her brother in the first act, who tells a story to you over the phone while he hides in the basement of your house as a tornado siren wails outside. Or, I could have made Kelly more confident about her grades or her love life in the epilogue, but none of these options felt right from my own perspective. As you play, you can inject your own feelings about life into your responses and have that affect the story and the content you see.
Kelly herself will go some way to helping you self-analyse: she came across as a depressive individual who struggles to piece together each element of her life in cohesive fashion. This battle with emotions lends itself to an intense feeling of introspection – the beginning of the game and the coda scene after the credits both explain the trip out to an abandoned barn, where she could contemplate existence and reminisce before her drive back through the storm. It’s a refreshing approach to telling a story of self-analysis that isn’t marred by adolescent cliche in the same way as Life Is Strange, or as outlandish as the storytelling in Japanese visual novels. And yet, it could be argued that Three Fourths Home doesn’t do enough and doesn’t delve deep enough into the issues at hand, by dismissing relationship problems with your boyfriend or girlfriend (a player decision) and a failing degree grade in one fell swoop in the epilogue. Explained away as a lack of interest to discuss her own life, Kelly seems somewhat shallow at times, perhaps in an effort to keep the game succinct and, possibly, to have Three Fourths Home appear as more of an art piece than a video game.
The atmosphere of the game is an impressive attempt to make that art piece satisfying, however. Bracket Games focuses on minimalist presentation in the visual style and audio design and it does a fantastic job of complementing the topics at hand and the dialogue of a concerned mother. As you drive, your ears are filled with the constant patter of rainfall, and the sound of a car radio faintly playing in the background. As the story progresses, the noise of the storm intensifies and drowns out the radio, and your ears are battered by the sound of gales and the crack of thunder. The image becomes almost black as you drive, and all you can see are streaks of rain in the headlights of the car.
Three Fourths Home is an experience that encourages you not only to peek into the lives of Kelly and her family, but also at your own. The writing is excellent and portrays a struggling young woman seeking to find her place in the world, and also takes a hard look at love and relationships in families and the toll they take on young minds. It may not be a great gaming experience, but it presents a narrative that I heartily recommend.