‘Home’ Review – Where The Heart Is
When I first started up Home, I was faintly surprised that it wasn’t one of the latest wave of XBLIG refugees. A short-form experimental interactive horror story with an impulse-friendly $2 price-tag, it tells the tale of an unnamed man who wakes up in a large house on a dark night, his memories fuzzy and patchy. Using just your four arrow keys to move and the spacebar to do Stuff(tm), you begin the long trek back to his home, discovering a variety of grisly sights along the way, each one part of a greater mystery. Something happened that night, and it’s up to you – and the protagonist – to piece together the truth.
Despite being rendered as a side-scrolling world drawn in an exaggeratedly pixelated style, Home is much more of an interactive short story than a traditional horror game. There’s no combat, no action, and only the very most cursory of puzzles. Your key interactions with the game are a variety of yes/no prompts on whether you want to examine something, take something or read a text. Depending on what you choose to do, the path through the game can very slightly change, and your protagonist’s confused internal monologue can form in slightly different ways, giving you a slightly different angle on the events of the night.
It’s a great concept, but slightly underdeveloped. Not only are quite a few of the binary choices thinly veiled ‘But Thou Must’ moments that halt progression until you agree to play along, there were also a few consistency errors that cropped up, with actions just a few screens earlier being contradicted shortly down the road, and attempts to ignore items were cast aside, with them being referenced in later monologue. Perhaps this was intentional, as it’s strongly hinted that the protagonist might not be the most reliable of narrators, but it definitely felt more like a flaw in the design. The flow-chart for story dialogue must be a nightmarish, spider-like mess for even a short experience like this – each playthrough is about 60-90 minutes depending how fast you move and read – but it still feels like you’re only making slight changes in perspective rather than really molding the story.
Aesthetically and atmospherically, Home does well, despite limiting itself to a very low-res world. Your visibility in most environments is limited to just a small circle of light around you, generated by the flashlight that you start the game with, and things are just vaguely defined enough to require closer examination, where the textual narration can provide a better perspective on what you’re looking at. The audio also takes a few pages from Akira Yamaoka’s playbook, although opting to accompany the game with ambient sound, rather than music. The background noise for each area is appropriate and works well, though, and there’s a few small audio jump-scares that unfortunately never develop into anything more concrete to worry about.
Home is an interesting experiment, based around a solid core concept, but it feels like it only takes it’s ideas only halfway to fruition in the end, opting to leave things off with an introspective textual info-dump rather than any convincingly solid denouement. Still, for $2, and with the potential for multiple playthroughs to see how the story subtly changes, it’s not hard to recommend this to fans of Lone Survivor and other such retro-horror adventures who want something else to get their teeth into, but there’s certainly room to improve and expand on the ideas presented here.
Home is available to pre-order from the official site here, and will be available to play June 1st.