PlayStation Universe

Going Home: Is Sony's social experiment fit for PlayStation 4?

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on 10 October 2013

Home is a loaded word. When you think of home, you think of familiarity. It should be some place of comfort, somewhere you want to go back to. It shouldn't feel like a glorified billboard. The latter is the case with Sony's heavily tauted but oft-forgotten feature, PlayStation Home, leading to a sour taste in my mouth and very few visitations. However, DLB Network provided visual evidence as early as August that Home may be returning for PlayStation 4. I felt that it was time to go back and see if it has a place on the next-generation console.

The initial reintroduction proved to be rather clumsy. After creating my character, I was forced into a mini-tutorial. 'Mini' is the operative word as, for the most part, players are thrown into the world, and have to resort to in-built help guides if they want to know how to fully interact with it. It's as if the developers didn't have the enthusiasm to add detailed tips in-game.

My displeasure was somewhat tempered by the pleasant surprise of Home's visuals and audio. Your starting apartment and the surroundings are gorgeous, and the audio seems to consistently be of high quality. It's hard to appreciate the beauty of the rest of the world to the same degree as your apartment, though, as it is often too cluttered.

The clutter comes from the array of advertising, with the world of Home disappointingly keen to show you that it isn't a social hub or an MMO. Home seems to be an advertising platform, with areas dedicated to various product; your only place of solitude from this barrage of product placement is your apartment. Really, though, that isn't an escape from commercialism, as in order to spruce up your place you'll need to make microtransactions.

The reasonably active community should be an escape from all that, but design choices make getting used to conversing a clunky exercise, as it isn't made particularly clear how to engage in conversation with specific people. The various hubs aren't massively populated, but the community is rather conversational and I was keen to get involved. Home would be a decent place to hang out with friends, though you'd want a keypad; the tedium of typing using the DualShock is maddening.

The main redeeming feature of Home is the now-sizeable games catalogue. The games are by no means innovative, but are genuinely enjoyable and cover a variety of genres. It makes Home feel like a great starting point for new PlayStation 3 owners, who might only have a couple of purchases to play. Sure, the quality varies, but it's hard to complain when the games are fun and mostly free, bar some such as the arcade cabinets in the GAME hub.

Where the games fall down, and Home in general, is the lack of immersion. It doesn't feel enough like a real-world place, with the quick travel system and no clarity provided as to what this world is. Neither do the games convey the feeling of being in a fantasy world; the suspension of disbelief is somewhat taken away when your character is wearing jeans and a shirt aboard a spaceship.

There is a division in quality between games, with some feeling rather half-hearted. For instance, top-down spaceship shooter Nova Prime has decent voice acting, helping to involve you in the game, whilst action-RPG Marcia thrusts you into the world with little lore and written speech, somewhat reducing its epicness.

Gaming Capacity pointed out one serious issue that undermines Home's attempts to create a virtual home: the loading times. If, as it envisages, Home is brought to us by Gaikai, the cloud-gaming service that can stream games, the feature will become much more inviting. I would gladly dip into a much faster Home to meet friends in order to, say, decide what game we're going to play.

Home just doesn't feel totally cohesive, which makes it easy to understand why the experience is still in beta. The only chance Home has of success is to recognize that sales will come from living up to the name it bears. It's frustrating that Sony hasn't fulfilled the mode's full potential five years after players were invited in. It seems, then, that Los Santos will remain my virtual place of residence, but my fingers are crossed that PS4 will usher in a new era and a new Home.

Are you a user of Home? Would you be interested in seeing it on PS4? Let us know in the comments below.

This feature is based on the EU version of PlayStation Home.