"While gory zombies, Cthulhian beasts, and gentlemen without faces may be lacking, Home deftly executes a constant unease."
The horror genre has boomed (or splattered, or squished, or oozed) as of late in the indie scene. Ever since Amnesia made its grand debut — which, in turn, spawned a niche volume of reaction videos — independent developers seem to have rushed toward this once barren category of gaming. Since then, we've come to know Slender Man and the dauntingly encyclopedic SCP Foundation-related games. Although the aforementioned games rely more on shock value and odd "bad guys," other games have left a more cognitive impact more fitting of indie stereotypes. Home lays few, if any, expectations. Instead, its minimalistic approach relies on the player to craft her own story.
Set in a large-pixel home, Home's protagonist explores a large, seemingly abandoned house after waking. Experiencing a sort of amnesia, players bear witness to his internal dialogue as the 2D landscape is surveyed with highlighted clickables with which to interact. Typically, the protagonist will make some comment about the object and players must decide whether or not to take, use, or leave the object. Whether or not players obtain objects plays an intricate role in how the story develops. Unlike most games, simply grabbing every piece of equipment can drastically alter the experience. The goal of the developer seems to be offering every player an individualized experience. In terms of gameplay, this is the sum of Home, which doesn't sound like much, but it serves its purpose. While the occasional puzzle may take a solid minute to untwine, Home ensures that players are constantly engaged in the ever-changing environment and landscape as the protagonist calmly seeks answers during a rather unsettling night.
Lone Survivor shares a similar, though more sophisticated, graphical style, and during this age of high-end 3D graphics, many may glance at Home's style and expect that it can't be scary. While gory zombies, Cthulhian beasts, and gentlemen without faces may be lacking, Home deftly executes a constant unease. The style of horror here relies on the player's imagination due to the overwhelming number of unanswered questions and clues found along the way. At one point, I realized that no matter what the game threw in front of me, visually, I would not jump, but the scenario I drafted in my head based on the text and progress of the game kept me on edge. Of course, the game expects that players romp through this game in the dark, alone, and with a headset. The headset is of particular importance, due to the proximity of sound, which plays a key role during the game in terms of scares. No jump scares here, but the little sounds amidst silence complete the atmosphere.
Home's sixty to ninety minute experience is fraught with intrigue and suspense. Of course, while the entire game is important, players will want answers, and in an age where just about every ending has been done and redone, Home's ending is sure to satisfy, though I can't (or won't) say much beyond that. Some may wish to play through this game one or two times more to craft a different story or try out a few new things, but most players will find a single excursion sufficient. Whatever the case, I have thought about this game in the days since I played it off and on — truly, a game that facilitates conversation internally and with friends. Adventure fans have no excuse not to pick this game up, and horror fans may be fascinated by what such a minimalistic approach can do.