October 28, 2012 11:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the Halloween Bundle from IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
Home is a game that seems designed to teach you that there are much scarier things than bumps in the night. Billed as "a unique horror adventure" by creator Benjamin Rivers, Home shares very little in common with the usual indie horror style, opting for pixels and subtlety over obvious scares and loud sound design. It's psychological, but in the furthest possible way from most horror games with that label. It's a short hour and a half journey built entirely around the mysteries of the subjective, so prepare to be depressed, confused and guilty without really knowing why.
A man wakes up in a house that isn't his with a dead body he doesn't recognize and dozens of clues scattered all over the place. Taking over his shoes, you need to puzzle out a way to escape the house and piece together the broken chain of events that brought him there. It's not just confined to the house, of course, as you'll also be stumbling around in the dark in the usual terrifying locales like dark forests and spooky abandoned industrial districts. It's all in the name of getting home, but the journey isn't quite that easy thanks to the power of subjectivity.
I'm desperately trying to avoid spoiling anything here, but the biggest design point of Home is ambiguity. The game is designed to subtly tweak your personal experience in a way to colour your outlook and affect your interpretation Objects may appear and disappear between playthroughs, sound cues seem to chime in at different times and entire segments and routes can be swapped around by your choices. The most interesting aspect of all this is the choice system, as every question is introduced as an unsure memory. "Should I press the switch?" is always replaced with "did I press the switch?" which creates some disturbing connotations by making the player into their own unreliable narrator. Indeed, sometimes I felt like I was flat out lying to myself, muddying the clarity of the story even further.
Of course, this isn't going to be an experience for everyone. Those looking for the adrenaline rush of a jump scare should probably look elsewhere, and the ambiguity and lack of closure will irk others waiting for the big reveal. But subjectivity is the real beauty of the game, as the lack of a conclusive "true" ending makes the experience all the more horrifying. There's always doubt and regret; maybe watching that tape would have changed things, or picking up that gun, or checking out that train yard. Maybe there are others who did those things, and are wondering what would happen if they didn't. In an era lousy with purely Good and Bad endings, Home manages to create dozens of multiple endings without graphics or text, but simply with the minds of the readers.
[Home, Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse (full season) and three other titles are available now in the Halloween Bundle on Indie Royale.]