A 2D, sidescrolling adventure title developed for iOS, PC, and Mac, Home isn’t really a game, but also really isn't ... not. At its simplest, Home is a choose-your-own-adventure murder mystery set in a classic art style that any neo-gaming fan will immediately recognize and latch onto. At its most complex, Home is an examination of love gone bad, depression, and like any good horror themed media piece, one of psychological torment.
But that’s all right because Home isn’t trying to appeal to your sentiments or your nostalgia or even your aesthetic preconceptions. It wants to tell you a little macabre story. And that it does… kind of.
You awake in a darkened room. The only illumination around is a small flashlight you pick off the ground; outside, a storm rages and the room alights intermittently with scrawling cracks of lightning splashing against the rain-spattered windows. Where are you? How did you get here? What was that sound? Is that a dead body? And most importantly, who are you?
Without all these questions, you begin your journey; no direction, no clues, no guide.
But "Home" attempts to answer these questions through player agency, by allowing the player to decide what happened and what didn’t by leading the highly pixelated protagonist – for which no name is ever given – through macabre and simple 8-bit environments that always feel larger than they really are. There are ladders to climb, doors to unlock, puzzles to solve, and mysteries to uncover. Did you take the knife or leave it? Where did you leave the key, the hammer, the note? Did you read the note or leave it? All of your decisions are like this, and all of your decisions impact the next, to an extent...maybe. Honestly, by the end of it all, I couldn't tell if my choices really had made a difference.
But see, this is the thing ...
That overarching sense of ambiguity and mystery imbue the narrative with a certain unease and tension: What if you’d read the note, would things have been any better? Which makes me torn on how I truly feel about it all ...
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
When Home begins, it’s wholly intriguing just how deftly the game manages to thrust the player into an amnesia-like situation (Oh, the ingenuity!) and infuse it with such furtiveness as to pique the player’s interest and hold it. And the diary-like exposition – and the search and find mechanic – is both endearing and all at once nostalgic, prodding, and irritating; just enough information is given to spur the player forward to solve this clandestine and wholly odd sequence of events.
But when it’s all said and done, all that tension, all the mystery, all that intrigue falls by the wayside. Even though the game pushes the player to revisit its narrative, to try things a different way, there’s not enough there to really capture the wonderment of the first time. The ambiance is what meshes with the tension of the narrative to make such a harrowing first experience that once you’ve experienced it, you’re likely to just run through subsequent playthroughs looking for alternate endings. It just won’t be - and isn't - the same.
You share in the befuddlement of the main character and that is what makes Home so endearing and so frustrating; there’s never a finality to it all. There’s never a thread that truly tells you, “This is what happened for sure, and how it all went down. You can rest easy now.”
If you’re looking for a fun, atmospheric romp to kill an hour or so – and you're itching to hunt down a killer – Home is right up your alley. It does a lot of things right, few things wrong, and even fewer things "just OK".
But as an initial foray into the gaming sphere, Home makes up for its faults with its vision, its wonderful score, and its overall unique nature in a marketplace of non-imaginative, rehashed remakes.