Home describes itself as a ‘unique horror adventure’, and it certainly is unique. Developed and published by Benjamin Rivers, it places you in the blood-stained shoes of a man who has woken up in a strange house with no memory of how he got there. While that might not sound like a particularly original premise for a horror game, the way that Home gradually reveals its chilling and ambiguous story makes it totally unlike anything else I have played.
Anyone who has ever experienced the disorientation and fear that comes with waking up in a dark and unfamiliar room will immediately empathise with our nameless protagonist’s situation. Things quickly go from bad to worse as he discovers that he has injured his leg and there is a dead body right outside the door. As he explores the house and the areas beyond, his thoughts and feelings are expressed through short, text-based monologues told in the past tense. These are well written and effectively capture his growing terror and confusion.
The graphics may be rudimentary but they don’t really detract from the experience. The story is the star of the show, and more modern visuals wouldn’t really improve the game in any meaningful way. The subtle and unnerving audio adds a lot of ambience and tension, though. Occasionally the near-silence is punctuated by sudden, jarringly loud sounds, and I’m ashamed to say that even though it’s pretty much the oldest trick in the book it makes me jump every time.
Home uses its narrative like pieces in a puzzle. Each new gruesome discovery or bit of back story reveals another clue, and as you play you can’t help but try to put them together to try and understand what’s happening. The thing is, no matter how hard you try, your explanation never seems to fully account for everything you’ve seen. There is always a lingering suspicion that you are missing some vital part of the picture that, if found, will suddenly make sense of it all. The truth is always just out of reach.
The decisions you make while playing subtly alter the experience, and can lead to quite different outcomes. Home is designed to be played through multiple times so you can see how different choices will affect the game. With each play-through being only about an hour long, it’s easy to run through it a few times in a single sitting. The new information you glean the second and third time around is tantalizing, but instead of resolving anything it just creates more questions. The ending to Home is just as ambiguous as the beginning, and offers no real answers. There is no right or wrong explanation for events, only your perspective on what has happened. Home expects you to make your own mind up.
While this is somewhat disappointing if you want closure, it’s ultimately what Home is about. This is a game designed to make the player an active participant in the narrative, with their own suspicions shaping the story as they play it. It’s a bold idea, and one that is executed brilliantly. Home is not a long game, taking about an hour per play-through, but it’s available for such a small sum of money on Steam that there really isn’t any excuse not to get it.