Game Review: 'Home'



I feel odd referring to my discussion of Home as a "game review," as Home is not really a game.  Sure, there are simple keyboard controls that guide your player-character, flashlight in pixelated hand, through a series of environments that hold a series of secrets, but there is no combat, there are no monsters to fend off, there are no puzzles to solve.  Instead, Home is a dark, heady experiment in interactive storytelling that certainly bucks the status quo of gaming, horror or otherwise.  The main question it worth exploring?

Home begins its brief, mysterious run in earnest.  You, a nameless protagonist with nothing but a flashlight to his name, awaken in a darkened house that isn't your own, with no clue as to how you got there or what has happened.  The already choking sense of foreboding is elevated upon the discovery of a mutilated body--the first of several--that lies upon your path to the safety of your own home and your wife.

Little is revealed from there, with tiny clues and evidence littering the various halls, tunnels, and pathways that you must traverse, but nothing really laid out for you.  Interactivity is slim at best, limited to the most basic of choices.  Do you take a blood-caked knife?  Do you leave a gun, another possible murder weapon, where you found it?  These simple choices lead up to the game's abrupt, meaningless ending, where you don't exactly find the truth, but try to stitch together the disparate theories into your own patchwork version of the truth.

Reading my description of Home may make it sound a little pretentious, and it is.  The game encourages you, upon completion, to log into a website to discuss your playthrough and exactly what you think transpired.  There's a book club/coffee shop vibe to this post-game discussion, and it gives the game a pseudo intellectual air that is normally the byproduct of literary works or art house cinema.  Furthering the artsy-indie ideal are the game's graphics, a grid of simply rendered sprites that manage to render the world in a reduced, but effective palette.  You may not be able to see every wound on a corpse, but the blocky streak of ruddy pixels conveys that the victim died a nasty death in an abstract fashion that lets your brain fill in the truly gruesome details.

It's this attempt to get into your brain that makes Home work so well at its lofty goal.  Even when all of the clues are laid out for you at the game's conclusion, it doesn't make any decisions for you.  It simply asks what you think happened, and then compiles the final information.  It's an incredibly depowering experience knowing that, for all of your efforts, the only thing you can fall back upon is the evidence you've gathered yourself to try and determine just what the hell happened, and even that is not really enough to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Home is another entry in a long line of titles that try to reevaluate just what a "game" truly is, and it certainly does a bang up job of making the player try and rethink that definition.  It's deeply involving for the brief time that it lasts, and its haunting structure will certainly stick with you long after its conclusion.

Home is available on Steam