Home (Horror Game) Review

Title: Home
Release date: 2012-06-01
Developer: Benjamin Rivers
English publisher: Benjamin Rivers

So, ehem... Benjamin Rivers decided to create a unique horror adventure experience without any combat or enemies and even without any way to die ingame. The game relies solely on an atmosphere. Did he succeed in his goal? I'd say: Partially.

"Home" is one of those retro indie games that have been spawning like a zerg-rush since a few years back and it's one of the two in a horror genre released in 2012. The other one being "Lone Survivor", of course. Actually, "Home" was a really low-key release, and if not for a few threads generated on GOG fora, I wouldn't have even heard of it. Not much of press fanfares there.

The game was released in two different forms: a digital DRM-free release and a physical release limited to 200 copies. I'm happy that I managed to snag the game immediately, as very quickly after the release Ben made the game a Steam exclusive. A pretty dickish move IMHO, especially as I absolutely loathe Steam. At least my DRM-free copy will continue to be supported, even if it's not possible to get the game in such a form anymore.

The game itself doesn't even need to be installed. You just launch an executable and voilĂ .On the minus side, there is no save function. At least the game can be finished in an hour without hurrying, though of course it will be replayed to experience different endings... or rather one cumulative ending that changes depending on your actions mid-game. "Home" subscribes to "Fallout" (the original one) school of ending stacking as many different statements will be presented to you in the end depending on many variables.
Ben uses the patented ID Software's "Can't see a shit"™ technology, previously used for DOOM3 :-)
The basic plot is quite simple - you're an amnesiac man who awakened in a strange house and is trying to find a way home. Equipped with only a torch to light a small portion of the environment you may pick up items or examine clues trying to piece together the answers to the obvious questions: "who am I? where am I? why am I here? I want to get home to my wife". OK, the last one is a statement, but it embodies the essence of the game. Our protagonist has one clear goal - he knows he has to find his wife as soon as possible. You see, not all of his memories are gone - only chunks of them.

How I have already mentioned, this is a game presented in retro graphics. While it might not be to the taste of some players, I like such an aspect of "Home" which is a very atmospheric game. I wouldn't call it scary, but even without any direct danger to you, it can be pretty uneasy. Stylistically I would call it a homage to both RE and SH. Actually, the opening door sounds and animations come directly from "Resident Evil" and the "search for your wife" quest was borrowed from "Silent Hill 2". Moreover, many similarities can be drawn between "Home" and the silent movies of the '20s. There are no dialogues of any kind and the story is told entirely through black and white intertitles that frequently present choices and questions to the player
Where's the "maybe" option?
You can gather various objects of value to you, scattered about and read clues in the form of letters and diaries. The game world is very dynamic and changes according to your actions. For example, picking up your wallet will make your ID and driver's licence to manifest somewhere in the gameworld. Picking your credit cards will make the bank statements appear in your house and so on. It's enough to say, that picking certain things or leaving them in their place may have different outcomes on the story... but those outcomes are just not different enough.

The game just has a pretty poor way of calculating the flags you have triggered. The final statements that appear as part of an ending are recorded based on a few different flags that might contradict each other. It's especially egregious during the final stages of the game where some questions are directly presented to you as a player and the answers to them might not register based on some obscure previous action of yours. For example, no matter how hotly I argue that Norman has never returned to the factory, the endgame states that he did... every fucking time! Of course that is not as bad as a certain bug (I am absolutely sure that it's a bug) where
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

I dubbed the game "a journey of a psychotic mind", as empty desolate world and surreal atmosphere made it clear to me, that the journey in fact happens in the mind's eye of our hero plus various clues and my own genre savviness just screamed that we are looking at a "Silent Hill 2"-esque ending. That is, until the final part of the game where a major mindfuck happens. In retrospect, it's made clear that the game world is fluid rather than solid and it's not only the ending, but also the beginning that changes based on your actions. I am not sure that I liked such a decision courtesy of the developer, as it makes the game world almost ephemeral and makes me care less about the protagonist whose whole personality is retconed based on one choice. In addition, I felt that all the clues scattered about the world pointed to a single conclusion and there just wasn't enough information to uphold the "NO" answer in the basement of your home.
Literal skeletons in the basement.
Finally, the letter in the safe appears to contradict both outcomes of your quest and the wording within would make a foil-headed conspiracy theorist sweat. The safe requests a special mention, as originally only the owners of the limited physical edition could open it by solving a riddle within a floppy disk. Yes, a fucking floppy! Just how many modern computers still have readers for those?! Since than, Ben made a page on his website with all the clues needed to piece out a password.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

In the end I quite liked the game's stylistical and atmospheric presentation and appreciated it's nods to two best horror franchises, even if the game wasn't scary. On the other hand, your choices didn't matter as much as I hoped they would and the game tried to steer you toward a certain conclusion by sometimes ignoring your input. The programming could really benefit from another pass and the game itself would certainly benefit from less mindfuck, just like "Remember11". As the protagonist itself said just as the game ended: "Now I have even more questions than answers".

Links of Interest

"Home" homepage
Benjamin Rivers' blog

Final Verdict: 67%


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