To kick things off here, we'd like to address a bit of criticism that we've seen for Three Fourths Home across social media since it launched on Xbox One. The main critique – despite the game's description containing the words "visual short story" – seems to be that the product is not a game at all. Then again, we wouldn't expect anyone who couldn't read the description of a product before buying it to understand what a visual short story actually is, let alone enjoy it.
Indeed, Three Fourths Home is a story that presents itself as a journey through a phone conversation between the protagonist – Kelly – and members of her family as she drives home through Nebraska during a storm. Set entirely in monochrome, the game's visuals consist of Kelly's car driving down the road, passing by cornfields and buildings while the rain teems down and the storm gets increasingly worse. The bottom portion of the screen is reserved for the conversation, which is a text-only affair. The left hand-side shows what people are saying to Kelly, while the right contains the responses that you can choose. With absolutely no introduction other than that Kelly is stood outside a barn that is twenty miles from home, should leave to get home soon, and has found a guitar pick, you have to piece together the entire story from the conversation as a great ambient indie soundtrack (that feels somewhat like La Dispute in places, which is no bad thing) plays out in the background.
Initially, we'd agree – as most players would - that the assumption that Three Fourths Home is not a game is correct. It certainly doesn't appear to be at first glance. You're just pressing buttons to advance the story and making choices in how you respond to the words that are being uttered. But then – when you've completed your first play through and looked at the achievements screen to see that you've missed a whole bunch of stuff, you realise that there actually is a point to your choices other than satisfying your own curiosities about the lives of the characters. No, it isn't an all-action affair with car chases or intergalactic battles, but there is indeed a game to be had here. Our first run saw us not even reach home, for example. In the epilogue – which is new to this Extended Edition over the original PC release - we got on the wrong bus to complete things because we hadn't paid attention to what was said in the conversation earlier. The choices you make in the conversation actually matter and affect the path of the rest of the game and there are a veritable stack of branching paths and choices that you can make.
That conversation can be incredibly intriguing, too. Almost every branch seems to veer away and then swings back to cover some sort of recent destructive event that has taken place that involves one of the family members, or indeed Kelly herself. These events aren't necessarily presented directly, so some prying and cajoling is usually involved to get to the bottom of things. The various threads all tie together nicely but you'll lose track (and the will to live) if you reach the point in the game where Kelly's brother Ben reads one of his pointlessly heavy-handed and mind-numbing non-interactive "short" stories down the phone. Outside of this, the first couple of minutes of play can also seem dull and somewhat unrewarding but players will find that if they stick with it, there's a decent chance that they'll have been hooked by the time the game is over.
You "control" the acceleration of Kelly's car by holding down the right trigger. Let go, and the game slows to a halt until you press and hold it again. There's no reason for this, since there's nothing to speed up or slow down for. The car just travels along the road, passing the occasional piece of scenery. For some reason, the developer thought it would be a good idea to force the player to hold the right trigger down for the entirety of the game. A run through might only take a half-hour or so, but it's still something of an annoyance. The length of the game also comes into question in a different manner. We ran through the main arc and the epilogue – which is narratively somewhat weaker than the main game in our opinion and takes place on foot, rather than in the car - in a total of 50 minutes. That's short, even if the $4.99 price appears to be designed to take that into account. Of course, repeated plays will be on the cards for those who are drawn in by the story or who want to pick up all of the achievements, but a second run through is less enthralling than the first attempt, even if you are uncovering new story beats and information. Not many books pack the same punch if you finish the last chapter and then instantly go back to the first page for a second read through and the same can be said here.
Three Fourths Home is a welcome addition to the Xbox library that single-handedly brings a whole new genre to the platform. If you don't know what you're in for, there's a definite chance that you'll feel short-changed but that's not in any way the fault of the developer. There's a compelling story here for those who give the game the time to grow on them, but there's also a good chance that just as you get into it, you'll be watching the credits roll. An interesting diversion, but there are definitely ways in which it could have been better.