Home is the first game developed by indie developer Benjamin Rivers, and was originally released in 2012. It is a short horror title made with the premise of letting players choose their own interpretations of the game’s events. I am unsure how to feel about this approach to storytelling. On one hand, a good work of fiction should always involve some form of subtlety and allowing for multiple interpretations gives a work more versatility. On the other hand, actively trying to invoke “multiple interpretations” oftentimes comes across as if the writer wants to have an excuse to not finish writing the plot and addressing every plot point.
The game opens up with a message telling the player that they should play the game with all the lights out and with headphones on. While it is not uncommon for people to say that this is the definitive way that horror games should be played, I take issue with the game outright telling you. The reason for this is that a game should never have to be played “the right way” in order for it to be good. If a horror game is unable to scare me with the lights on, then it can’t be all that scary. That is not to say that one should not play horror games with the lights off, but it comes across as hypocritical for a game based around the player’s interpretation to be telling the player how they need to experience the game.
After you start the game, your main character wakes up in an unknown location missing his wallet and several of his other possessions. The game consists of you exploring an underground sewer, an abandoned office building, and an abandoned convenience store until you find your way back to your house where you discover the truth. Home is a game where a lot of the information to the plot comes from examining objects and listening to your main character’s inner monologues. However, it is possible to go through the game without picking up a lot of the items, nor do you need to explore every room.
Home is displayed as a 2D sidescroller where you simply use your arrow keys to move your MC left and right, but it also contains some elements of point and click adventure games where you pick up random objects that will be useful for something else. Unlike point and click games, however, the only real puzzles in Home consist of “find locked door, walk around until you find key, then return to door to unlock it.” There are also no enemies in this game that can kill you, or any traps; hell there is not even any jump scares (which could be either a good or bad thing), so Home is basically just a walking simulator.
Home’s graphics also look like an early NES title, thus making Home another game that tries to hide behind a “retro aesthetic” to mask lazy character design. There is also no music in the game other than the title theme, which is just a twenty second loop. The sound effects were moderately effective in setting the mood though.
I have to specifically call out the first half of the game for being rather boring. While the game as a whole is rather uneventful seeing as how you are never in any real danger, you at least have the plot making some revelations in the second half, while the first half has pretty much nothing. What makes the second half more interesting is that you start getting hints at what actually happened to your MC and his friends.
What is also of note in regards to the game is that there are multiple endings to it. These events are implemented in a unique way in that, when asked if something happens, you can choose to say yes or no. If you say that it didn’t happen in this situation, you will see your character react differently. This does give the game a bit of replay value just to see how things can turn out differently. Unfortunately though, this game is rather light on content and can be finished in under an hour, so your playtime would still be relatively small.
Once I reached the end of Home, I had an idea of what happened in the game, but seeing as how Benjamin River’s purposefully left in a lot of loose ends and was rather vague, I ended up not getting as connected to the game as I could have been. The entire game built itself up to having a huge twist at the end, and while the twist actually was there for once, my reaction was more so “eh, that’s kind of interesting I guess” as opposed to being blown away.
Home did have a decent atmosphere to it, but there was never a point in the game where I actually felt scared. When you stack all of these flaws against Home, the game just starts to seem rather pointless. Even at the price of $3.00, I’d still be hesitant to recommend Home, and I would be quicker to recommend 2014’s Neverending Nightmares, a game that takes a similar approach in design, but does it infinitely better (although it is unfortunately much more expensive while not possessing much more content). Otherwise, it’s best that Home should just go home, and not come back until it has a complete storyline.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on October 6th of 2016, and has been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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