Amidst a minimalist soundtrack and a fuzzy, pixelated title screen Home describes itself a a ‘unique horror adventure’ and, whilst Benjamin River’s creation doesn’t truly deliver on the latter two of these adjectives, those in need of a short,cheap burst of an experimental form of narrative may find something to entertain themselves for a short time here. But, be forewarned, in the case of Home, you certainly get what you pay for.
Home puts you in control of an unnamed character bearing only a flashlight to protect yourself; waking up in an unfamiliar house you must attempt to make your way home all the while stumbling into murder victims and trying to figure out what’s going on. This simple beginning does a fine job of instilling the world you navigate an uncanny atmosphere of dread; with only a flashlight to guide you, much of what you see is shrouded in a fuzzy darkness. The simple background of white noise and storms leaves you on the edge of your seat; when this is punctuated by the odd door creak or bang, its a terrifying effect.
However, this feeling quickly wears off and, even though Home can be completed in a little over an hour, the game quickly descends into tedium and boredom. Horror games have a fine line to tread between too much happening and too little; too much and we become desensitised, too little and we become bored. Home falls strongly on the latter side of this knife edge. After a mysterious start Home shortly descends into pulling switches to open doors, collecting keys and searching for the next exit. Rather than adding to the experience, the persistent backtracking found here seems only to be used to add a few more minutes of ‘gameplay’.
Home‘s problem is its a game so obsessed with its ending that it doesn’t really think about what it wants to do before then. Everything is building up to its conclusion and, whilst initially the anticipation of that ending is exciting and mysterious, it quickly becomes tiring.
Benjamin Rivers, the game’s creator, describes Home as a game you’ll think about more when you aren’t playing it than when you are, and this is certainly true. Throughout the game you are faced with different choices concerning how you react to different obstacles, what items you take and which you leave, and most importantly what you think took place in the game. Almost everything you do has an effect on how the game ends; there’s a multitude of possible conclusions and even more ways to interpret these. After finishing the game you are invited to upload your interpretation of what happened to a website where you can read what others have made of the game. After browsing through a vast array of submissions its difficult to find any two that are the same. Despite the claims of Home‘s title screen, the grandest part of River’s creation is not the horror, not the adventure but the devilishly ambiguous whodunnit mystery that pervades the entire experience.
Ultimately Home provides an interesting experiement in how narrative is told in a videogame, drawing on the advantages of a medium where every single person will play the game differently and draw upon different experiences. However, beyond this experiment the subjective narrative is somewhat of a double-edged sword; by focusing completely on the ending, the rest of Home feels blurred and incomplete, a tedious wander through poorly executed horror. If you like the sound of Home’s novel technique of storytelling and don’t mind the hour that it will take to truly appreciate it than you can pick up home for the affordable price of £1.99 (or £1.69 if you buy before the 7th of spetember) from Steam.