Developer: Benjamin Rivers
Publisher: Benjamin Rivers
Platform: PC (Steam, web)
ESRB: N/A (M suggested)
Release Date: Out now
When surveying the modern horror gaming landscape, it“s plain to see that a lot has changed. In the past, horror games seemed to be a lot slower, almost ponderous, but also fairly scary. Many current titles focus instead on action rather than scaring the player, but not all. What of the games which try to retain the old styles? Home is one such game that relies completely on atmosphere and narrative to disturb. The question is does it manage to succeed or is it a failed attempt?
Home is a bit of both. You begin the game by waking up in a strange house. Quickly you discover a dead body and other awful stuff. You can“t even recall why you“re in this building or how you got there. All that“s on your mind is returning home to your wife to make sure she“s okay. Starting us off with about as much knowledge as the lead character is a nice narrative effect. It makes every observation all the more important as both the player and avatar â€œlearnâ€ information. For better or for worse, you“ll be examining every item to try and glean insight into the story.
Searching through the world is really the main point of the game. Instead of focusing on some goofy threat like zombies, there“s only the very real threat of worrying something bad might have happened to your wife. Sometimes the game leads you to believe there are threats all around you, but the biggest one is your own mind. What was that sound? Is there really something behind you as the game suggests? Whether or not there is a threat really depends on your own perceptions, and that“s pretty cool. If you can get into the right mood it does really feel like terrible things are afoot - and they are.
The only problem is if you can“t get into the mood the game certainly feels like a dull slog. There is no run button, although the story makes this purposeful (the lead character hurt his leg). Home is short on any truly heart-pounding moments beyond a few sound scares, and threats are mostly imagined. For those who aren“t good at getting immersed the game will be a complete waste. Because of this, it“s really suggested that they not even try. This is a game made for having an experience with, not something to â€œcompleteâ€ or kick butt at.
If you“ve never seen a screenshot of this game before, then it's best to detail exactly how it looks. The entire thing is done with pixelated art. Although the character design isn“t the most aesthetically pleasing, it gets the job done and doesn“t look too cute for the subject matter. Strangely, the pixelated darkness around your character seems perfectly apt and still keeps the atmosphere uncomfortable. More than anything it“s the narrative that gets under your skin. For example, a pixelated cage with red stuff on the bottom isn“t all that scary but the accompanying dialog bothered me.
Home has been applauded by others because of its narrative. It does deserve some credit for attempting to frame a game completely as a horror experience (emphasis on the experience). Although it takes only an hour to clear, it manages to tell a murder mystery with branching story paths. However you choose to play the game will alter bits and pieces of your narrative all the way to the ending. This is meant to help show you the conclusion that you were unconsciously or consciously forming as the story unravels. This is certainly a cool idea although its execution is hit or miss. Sometimes it will feel like the story went just the way you planned while other times it seems the game is focusing too much on certain elements used to determine endings.
As the story is the main draw, it“s fair game for dissecting further. The coolest thing about the game is that it leaves interpreting events up to you. Many facts are presented to you but it“s up to you to piece together exactly what went on. There“s nothing wrong with this in theory although the game feels almost a bit too open-ended with possibility. Because of that, it doesn“t feel like you“re solving a puzzle when you come to your own conclusions. Instead it feels more like kind of plausible resolutions which aren“t nearly as satisfying. Still, perhaps this is better than having had only one ending which was rigid and would never please everyone.
Once you move beyond the story, there is very little to the game but this is intentional. The narrative is the entire focus of the game and the game itself is purely the vehicle used to deliver a story. If books were more capable of being interactive, this may have just been a short story. With Home not fully succeeding at telling a story, it is hard to recommend it for other reasons. A foreboding atmosphere permeates the game but this will only last for the first playthrough. Beyond that, you can easily replay but it just doesn“t feel the same.
At the end of the day, what is a singular hour experience worth to you? If you can answer that question around $3 then the game is for you. The small price seems completely fair to ask for a neat little narrative experiment in game form. If you are opposed to buying games that don“t hold millions of hours of replay value then this is definitely not for you. If you are willing to experience a neat little horror story though, then Home is worth your time. The game might only be an hour long but you just might find yourself thinking about the story for longer.
+ Story changes subtly depending on your moves in game
+ Players aren“t hand-fed a story - they must work for it
+ Graphics don“t downplay the grisly nature of the world
- Story may lead ways opposite of player“s opinions due to how it was made
- Doesn“t manage to maintain a nerve-wracking atmosphere after the first playthrough
- Overall, doesn“t feel like a completely satisfying experience
Overall Score: 6 out of 10
Horror fans as well as fans of creative storytelling methods will want to give Home a look.