Fair warning, this review contains some minor spoilers.
Home is good, and well worth its meager $2.99 price tag. Without going into detail why, I advise you to play the game before you read any further.
With that in mind…
In lieu of the recent controversy surrounding Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (let alone the controversy surrounding its creator), with some disparaging the rudimentary Choose Your Own Adventure design, I thought it would be of merit to review another game with a somewhat similar style. Can such a game be worthwhile, engaging? Benjamin Rivers’ Home was released June of 2012, and is available on Steam, PS4 & PS Vita, and the Apple app store.
You begin the game as a man awakening in an unfamiliar house with that common horror game protagonist affliction of amnesia, left to make sense of the things around you and piece together what has transpired. Think a much drearier version of The Hangover. As you trek through the house and beyond, with the simple goal of getting home to your wife, you come across many potential clues seemingly offering insight to what’s going on. But, which of these clues are really clues, and which are red herrings? That much is never totally clear.
The room you awaken in
Home walks an impressive tightrope. The game both drives the narrative in certain directions as a result of the player’s actions, but also leaves an awful lot up to the imagination. This is not a straight up Choose Your Own Adventure story, but subtle things like having looked at an item or not or taking a certain path lead to substantial storyline changes. There is a perpetual haze of uncertainty about what is really happening, with much of the story ultimately being left up to the player to decide, and a lot of loose ends are never fully resolved. To me this managed not to come across as lazy or pretentious, it’s actually pretty cool how well everything works together.
The main premise here seems to be that everyone is supposed to walk away from Home with a different version of events, sometimes slightly, sometimes majorly, and having gotten a couple friends of mine to play the game I can say that the author nailed this. This is the coolest part of the game. Home stages things in such a way that myself and two friends of mine ended up having completely different stories to tell, but all of us with logical and concise interpretations given what we had seen and done in the game. The game does this not through convoluted and obscure storytelling, something I hate in games with a passion, but via ambiguity. I don’t think I’ve seen a game do anything like this before.
Though this is a horror game, it’s not egregiously scary. There are some pretty substantial scares, but overall, what drew me into this game was the palpable ambience. It was a confusing, dreadful, lonely experience. It’s difficult to pinpoint why this game creeped me out so much since you never run into another living person—at least not one you can interact with—and this is a trope I usually find cheap and annoying in horror games. But here it actually felt warranted, natural even, enhancing the sense that something is terribly wrong somehow.
Home ultimately proves that a Choose Your Own Story-esque approach can actually create a compelling experience, something Depression Quest certainly failed to do. I will say that I’m left doubting this sort of storytelling mechanic could work in many other games, especially longer ones. There is also not a ton of replay value here, though I myself was curious enough to replay it a couple times and alleviate my nagging curiosity about choices I’d made and forks I’d taken. Lastly, though I’d disagree, it is fair criticism to say that there isn’t any real gameplay, and that the plot or rather the lack thereof is just smoke and mirrors.
I still recommend Home for fans of indie horror and people just looking for something new. It was a unique experience at the very least, and I’ve certainly spent three bucks on far less entertaining things than this before. I’d happily pay $2.99 apiece for 20 more short horror titles this cool before I’d shell out $60 for a triple-A snoozefest like The Evil Within.
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