A short but satisfying indie horror story
Home is a low-res 2-D indie horror mystery game by Benjamin Rivers. And of the elements of that last sentence, the “horror” and “mystery” parts are handled with much more success than the “game” part. The interactive elements here are certainly de-emphasized in favor of atmosphere and storytelling. There is no real action nor even any jump scares, but rather the sort of tense, psychological scares games like Silent Hill 2 are loved for. But luckily, much as a good action game can get along with a merely passable story as long as it doesn’t get in the way, the reverse can be true as well. Home's simple point-and-click style gameplay is neither challenging nor particularly engaging on its own, but as a way to experience the tight story and thick atmosphere, it is more than adequate. Home sets out to tell a terrifying story that mixes old-school murder mystery with modern psychological horror, and the result is a short but enjoyable game that you’ll want to play multiple times to see all the ways you can affect the outcome.
You start off by waking up in a house that’s not yours, having no idea how you got there. You then spend the rest of the game trying to get home, and figure out what has happened along the way. I like that the story takes place in the protagonist’s town, including where he used to work and his own house. Horror relies a lot on the fear of The Unknown, and writers often get halfway there just by putting characters in places that are unfamiliar to them. Benjamin Rivers didn’t take that shortcut here (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and it’s a stronger, more impressive story for it, in my opinion. And I won’t give any of the story away, but I also appreciate the grounding of the story in real life as opposed to the supernatural. As I’ve said before, the horrors people inflict on each other in the real world have always been scarier to me than ghosts and zombies.
That bravery is true of most of the story elements, in fact. There are a lot of moments in the story, big and small, that not everyone would have gone for (and not everyone will like), but I appreciated the bold choices. Of course, your experience may differ from mine significantly. Home subtly changes depending on some choices you make in the game. You come across a gun, but you hate guns - do you take it? Your answer to that and other choices in the game affect the way the story plays out. And these are not small changes - your choices affect the way several key scenes happen as well as the resolution of the main mystery. I have some sort of weird inability to replay games, but if I were going go break that rule, I would certainly replay Home. Seeing your choices play out differently is always interesting, and the game’s short length (1-1.5 hours) makes multiple playthroughs easy to justify.
As I mentioned, though, the gameplay is certainly weaker. This is basically a point-and-click, only even simpler, because there aren’t even any puzzles, apart from a few locks which need keys. You just go left or right and hit the spacebar to inspect things in the environment, and make the occasional choice when prompted. I don’t have any real problem with any of this, but the game is so streamlined as to take me out of the experience. You can only inspect a handful of things, all of which gain a glowing border when you get near them. I would have preferred to remove that very obvious hand-holding and have the player be able to look at whatever she wants. Having that ability to explore and find things on your own would have made this feel more like a game and less like an interactive story.
But ultimately, you come to Home for the story, and it delivers. There is a really tense, disturbing tale here, bolstered by the dark and quiet atmosphere, and one made all the better by your ability to change the story with your actions. As long as you know what you’re getting (short runtime, little action, low-res art style), I think this is a game that will satisfy most players. It’s a genuinely good horror story easily worth the price of admission.