Home Review — Another Fine Indie Horror Offering
Home suggests when you first start it up that you put on headphones and turn off the lights, and both are great suggestions. The game’s strongest feature is its atmospheric sound design. The things you detect taking place just out of your visual range or off in a screen you just left are the things that make Home frightening; it’s the subtleties of the presentation, rather than (for the most part) things jumping out or taking you by surprise, that make the game frightening.
The majority of player interaction with Home is the pressing of the space bar. Whenever you see an object with which you can interact, it’ll be highlighted with a white outline as you approach it. Hitting the space bar triggers your character’s ability to paw through papers on a desk, analyze a map, or make a decision to open a door. Occasionally, you’ll also be asked about what happens, even though the story is being told as a memory. The protagonist is having trouble remembering, so often you’re called in to fill in the blanks, answering questions that run through a spectrum of meaning. Sometimes, you’ll be called on to answer whether the character goes through a desk or flips through some papers (often with unintended consequences, like getting fingerprints everywhere). Other times, you’ll have to make decisions about how the story unfolds. The result is a presentation that’s filtered through your perception, and in fact, Home plays out a little differently for everyone who plays it.
On the whole, Home is pretty short, and it’s not overly expansive. The whole thing lasts about an hour, and if you’re expecting your horror game to involve fighting off monsters and the like, Home will disappoint. It’s much more about the mystery of the events and the possibilities hidden in the darkness than anything else. And while the storytelling takes the game’s primary focus and its binary choices have some effect as to how the game plays out and you’ll see the events, it’s not an incredibly branching game. Much of your influence on the story as a player will be in how you interpret what you’re learning, not in how your specific play affects what happens. Like titles such as Dear Esther, Home is something of an experiment in horror storytelling. As an experiment, there are some ways in which it is not fully formed.
There’s also no save system. You should expect to go through Home in one shot, as that’s how it was designed, and if you have to give up midway through, you’ll be replaying it. It’s short enough, however, that the experience is fully formed in that one playthrough and having to go through things a second time isn’t too oppressive.
An important caveat to this review is that Home is very affordable — creator Benjamin Rivers prices it for download at just $2. For that price, I can’t give any recommendation other than to play it: I found it to be a quality entry into the horror genre with atmosphere to spare, and though Home had its drawbacks that become apparent on reaching its end, I was still fully enthralled with the journey. Still, price plays a factor in overall score for Home, because the cost of the game is so low. If it were more expensive, it’d be easier to be a little more critical. As it stands, however, Home is a great deal and brings some fresh and interesting ideas to a genre that supports more innovation than many others. It’s worth supporting, and worth playing.
Download it from homehorror.com.
- Beautifully atmospheric
- Cool, exaggerated pixel art style
- Strong sound design adds a pervasive feeling of dread
- Mysterious story leaves a lot to be interpreted by the player
- Low investment: takes about an hour to play through, costs $2
- A little on the simple side
- Storytelling doesn’t player input into account as much as it would like you to believe
- Lack of a definitive story might turn off some players
- Feels like the start of something, but could be a deeper and stronger experience
Final Score: 80/100